April 18. 2024. 12:28

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Far-right attacks on Austrian president spark outrage

Far-right leader Herbert Kickl’s verbal attack on President Alexander Van der Bellen at the traditional “political Ash Wednesday”, where politicians have carte blanche to publicly criticise eachother, has sparked widespread outrage among Austria’s political parties.

In Germany, Political Ash Wednesday is a century-old tradition where politicians vent their political frustrations at colleagues in front of an audience and often fuelled by beer.

In 1992, the Austrian far-right FPÖ adopted the tradition and following a multi-year disruption due to the pandemic, this year’s joking and venting may have gone slightly overboard.

Addressing his party colleagues, Kickl referred to Van der Bellen, a now unaffiliated politician aged 79 who once led the Austrian Greens, as a “mummy” and a “senile” person.

In response, politicians lashed out on behalf of the president who, in Austria, holds a revered position as the army’s supreme commander and the only directly elected official.

“While the federal government works, Herbert Kickl practices radical slogans,” said Christian Stocker, secretary-general of the conservative ÖVP, adding that the far-right leader “is driving the radicalisation of his party step by step.”

The head of the social democrat SPÖ, Christian Deutsch, noted that the far-right leader had “shown the ugly face of the FPÖ in his unspeakable Ash Wednesday speech.”

Sigrid Maurer, the Greens’ party leader, noted that parliaments regularly experience “that Herbert Kickl thinks nothing of a civilised tone in politics.” Kickl’s comments about the president “are yet another attempt to destroy public trust and incite hatred,” she added.

In 2016, Van der Bellen, now in his second term, won his first presidential election in a runoff against the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer.

Kickl apparently had not recovered from the fact that the far-right “did not win the presidential election,” she added.

(Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de)