Phil Graham on Thu, 15 Jun 2000 17:36:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Fwd: Letter to Thomas Klestil

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    Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2000 08:59:54 -0400
    From: "Richard Mitten" <>
    Cc: <>
    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 
    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 
    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 
    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.
    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

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

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