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Habsburg claims Austria was victim

The week commemorating the 70th anniversary of the "Anschluss" or German annexation of Austria in 1938 has proven to be a sensitive occasion as it invokes a period of history that many Austrians would prefer to forget.

Otto von Habsburg, the son of the last Austrian Emperor Karl I, has aroused controversy because of his remarks at an ÖVP event commemorating the Anschluss.

Habsburg, 95, claimed that "there is no country in Europe that has a better claim to be a victim of the Nazis."

He also called the 1943 Allied Declaration of Moscow assigning Austria part of the blame for World War II "one of the worst instances of hypocrisy and deceit in history."

Habsburg added that it was natural that so many Austrians had turned out to hear Hitler speak at the Heldenplatz on March 13, 1938 since people had been curious about him.

Habsburg admitted that there had been "60,000 people there" but added that the same number regularly attended football games. He received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.

In response, SPÖ Defence Minister Norbert Darabos called Habsburg's remarks "unacceptable" and "a veritable democratic-political scandal" that had "insulted the victims of National Socialism." He called on the ÖVP to distance itself from them.

Darabos recalled that former SPÖ Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in remarks to the Israeli Knesset had correctly portrayed Austria in 1938 after "years of ignorance."

The minister added that "collective consciousness-building" had occurred since Vranitzky's remarks, which should have laid the groundwork for "a basic national consensus."

Darabos stressed that Austria had a responsibility to tell the truth about the past rather than to distort it. He also deplored the standing ovation that Habsburg had received.

ÖVP military spokesman Walter Murauer came to Habsburg's defence, stressing that his remarks had focussed on states rather than on people.

Murauer claimed that there was another reality behind the mass of people who listened to Hitler on the Heldenplatz: "thousands in the resistance and thousands in prison waiting to be transported to (Nazi concentration camp) Dachau" near Munich.

Murauer also recalled that Mexico had been the only country formally to protest the Anschluss and that (former Austrian Chancellor Engelbert) Dollfuß had been the only head of government in Europe to have been murdered by the Nazis.

As for Darabos, Murauer said that the minister "would be well-advised to avoid populist potshots against an honourable European of the highest calibre."

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