Phil Graham on Thu, 15 Jun 2000 16:03:12 +0200 (CEST)


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[Nettime-bold] Fwd: Letter to Thomas Klestil



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>Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2000 08:59:54 -0400
>From: "Richard Mitten" <mittenr@wwic.si.edu>
>Cc: <phil.graham@mailbox.uq.edu.au>
>Subject: Letter to Thomas Klestil
>
>Please find below the text of the open letter sent to Austrian President 
>Thomas Klestil, which appeared as a full-page ad in Der Standard, 
>Thursday, June 15, 2000. Please feel free to distribute this as widely as 
>possible.
>
>His Excellency
>Dr. Thomas Klestil
>President of Austria
>
>Dear Mr. President,
>
>We are writing to you to express our grave concern about the recent 
>conviction of Univ.-Prof. Dr. Anton Pelinka for defamation of character 
>because of a statement he had made to a foreign television station one 
>year ago about Jrg Haider, recently retired FP national chairman and 
>current Landeshauptmann of Carinthia. We were not surprised, nor 
>particularly worried, to learn that Haider had brought yet another lawsuit 
>for an alleged defamation of character: this is his right, and has become 
>his habit. What we do consider extremely troubling is the willingness of 
>an Austrian judge to countenance such a transparent attempt by Haider to 
>use the courts to intimidate his political critics. The verdict thus not 
>only aims to silence Professor Pelinka by threatening his livelihood, but, 
>if not forcefully opposed, it threatens to limit freedom of speech, and 
>therefore political debate, in Austria at a time when it is most needed. 
>Many Austrian citizens, and friends of Austria abroad, have expressed 
>their concerns about possible dangers to democratic freedoms in Austria 
>since the Austrian People's Party agreed to form a coalition with Haider's 
>Freedom Party last February. We consider Pelinka's conviction to be a 
>serious warning sign that should not be taken lightly. We urge you to 
>speak out, and to use your constitutional prerogatives and the moral 
>authority of your office to the fullest extent, not only to defend 
>Professor Pelinka, but also to help preserve the broadest possible scope 
>for political criticism of public officials.
>
>As you doubtless have already heard, on May 1, 1999, the Italian 
>television station RAI broadcast a report on Haider's political career. 
>Among those interviewed for the program was University of Innsbruck 
>political scientist Anton Pelinka, an internationally renowned and widely 
>respected authority on Austrian and European affairs. During the course of 
>the interview he gave RAI, Pelinka stated, among other things, "In his 
>career, Haider has repeatedly made statements which amount to trivializing 
>National Socialism. Once he described death camps as penal camps. On the 
>whole, Haider is responsible for making certain National Socialist 
>positions and certain National Socialist remarks more politically acceptable."
>
>For having made this statement, Pelinka was convicted by a court in Vienna 
>of having defamed Haider's character, and fined ATS 60,000.00. While this 
>is not an exorbitant sum, it does not include court costs or lawyers' 
>fees. Yet the size of the fine is the least significant aspect of this case.
>
>It is virtually certain that Pelinka's recent conviction (like so many 
>before it), will be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights in 
>Strasbourg, if it is not dismissed on appeal by an Austrian court, which 
>we hope it will be. Not infrequently, indeed, Austrian judges do come down 
>squarely on the side of more open political debate. For example, in a 
>similar suit Haider had brought against Austrian Green politician Peter 
>Pilz for having described Haider as the "ideological foster father of 
>right-wing extremism," the court found in favor of Pilz's right to express 
>this view. Nevertheless, all such cases involve significant expense for 
>the defendants (a consideration of no consequence for Haider, who is 
>independently wealthy), and the appeals process can take years to run its 
>course.
>
>We recognize that Haider is not the first, nor the only, Austrian public 
>official to make use of the courts to silence political criticism. It was 
>condemnable when Former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky sued Peter Michael 
>Lingens of Profil (subsequently overturned by the European Court of Human 
>Rights), and it was equally reprehensible when former President Kurt 
>Waldheim initiated criminal proceedings against then Weltwoche editor 
>Hanspeter Born (subsequently withdrawn by Waldheim himself). For this 
>reason we are encouraged by your recent decision not to authorize a 
>criminal prosecution against the leader of the Vienna FP, Hilmar Kabas, 
>for allegedly having insulted you in a particularly crude way. Though from 
>the press reports we have seen there was strong evidence suggesting that 
>Kabas had made the statement in question, and hence a conviction seemed 
>highly likely, you demurred, letting it be known that such statements by 
>themselves adequately expose the political and moral bankruptcy of their 
>speakers. We agree most readily that in a healthy democracy, the courts 
>are not the proper place to conduct, nor to adjudicate, political debate, 
>even when it is considered insulting.
>
>But while Haider might not be the first to do so, no one has attempted to 
>use state organs to throttle political criticism more frequently or 
>deliberately than he. Indeed, another defamation suit brought by Haider 
>against Pelinka is pending for an interview the latter gave to CNN. 
>Politicians' ability to limit, or even suppress unwanted critical comment 
>by means of the defamation and libel laws has always burdened Austria's 
>democracy. Yet with Haider's party now in the government, and with Dieter 
>Bhmdorfer, Haider's former personal lawyer (and the original counsel of 
>record in the suits brought against Pelinka), currently serving as the 
>Minister of Justice, the problem has become more acute, and far more 
>serious. We therefore once again register in the strongest possible terms 
>our opposition to this recent misuse of the court system for political 
>purposes, and urge you to do all within your power to preserve the widest 
>possible arena for political expression in Austria. For it is this quality 
>above all which distinguishes stable democracies from other less desirable 
>political systems.
>
>Sincerely,
>
>Prof. Dr. David Abraham
>University of Miami Law School
>
>Prof. Dr. Christopher S. Allen
>University of Georgia
>
>Dr. Steven Beller
>Independent Historian, Washington, D.C.
>
>Prof. Dr. Seyla Benhabib
>Harvard University
>
>Prof. Dr. Guenter Bischof
>University of New Orleans
>
>Prof. Dr. John W. Boyer
>University of Chicago
>
>Prof. Dr. Christine Day
>University of New Orleans
>
>Prof. Dr. Istvan Deak
>Columbia University
>
>Prof. Dr. Robert Dupont
>University of New Orleans
>
>Prof. Dr. Geoff Eley
>University of Michigan
>
>Prof. Dr. Thomas C. Ertman
>Harvard University
>
>Prof. Dr. Michael Geyer
>University of Chicago
>
>Prof. Dr. David Good
>University of Minnesota
>
>Prof. Dr. Helmut Gruber
>Polytechnic University, New York
>
>Prof. Dr. Peter Hall
>Harvard University
>
>Prof. Dr. Julia Hell
>University of Michigan
>
>Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Herf
>Ohio University
>
>Prof. Dr. Michael G. Huelshoff
>University of New Orleans
>
>Prof. Dr. Tony R. Judt
>New York University
>
>Prof. Dr. John J. Kulczycki
>University of Illinois at Chicago
>
>Prof. Dr. David Large
>Montana State University, Bozeman
>
>Prof. Dr. Richard S. Levy
>University of Illinois at Chicago
>
>Prof. Dr. Charles Maier
>Harvard University
>
>Prof. Dr. Andrei S. Markovits
>University of Michigan
>
>Prof. Dr. Richard Mitten
>Central European University
>
>Prof. Dr. Johannes von Moltke
>University of Michigan
>
>Prof. Dr. Regina Morantz-Sanchez
>University of Michigan
>
>Dir. Dr. Beth Simone Noveck
>Yale University Law School
>
>Prof. Dr. Peter Pulzer
>Oxford University
>
>Prof. Dr. Anson Rabinbach
>Princeton University
>
>Prof. Dr. Jonathan Steinberg
>University of Pennsylvania
>
>Prof. Dr. Michael Steinberg
>Cornell University
>
>Prof. Dr. George Steinmetz
>University of Michigan
>
>Prof. Dr. Vladimir Tismaneanu
>University of Maryland, College Park
>
>Prof. Dr. Liliane Weissberg
>University of Pennsylvania
>
>Prof. Dr. Steven Whiting
>University of Michigan
>
>Prof. Dr. Jack Zipes
>University of Minnesota
>
>
>
>Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
>One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
>1300 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
>Washington, D.C. 20523
>Tel:   (202) 691-4069
>Fax:  (202) 691-4001

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Opinions expressed in this email are my own unless otherwise stated.
Phil Graham
Lecturer (Communication)
Graduate School of Management
University of Queensland
617 3381 1083
www.geocities/pw.graham/
www.uq.edu.au/~uqpgraha
http://www.angelfire.com/ga3/philgraham/index.html
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