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Re: <nettime> Arnold at the gates [3x]
. __ . on Sun, 12 Oct 2003 23:52:33 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Arnold at the gates [3x]

Try this from the beautiful faery land of Austria, play some "Sound of=
 Music" tunes and relax... it may not be as bad as you painted the picture=





A Boy From Graz

October 9, 2003

While Californians were voting on Tuesday, Finance Minister
Karl-Heinz Grasser of Austria ended a television interview
here about budget deficits and European Union economics
with an emphatic "Good luck to Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Mr. Grasser, like Austrians in general, has been pumped up
with pride over Mr. Schwarzenegger's accomplishments.
That's the case even though, or maybe because, Arnold
Schwarzenegger's life - from lower-middle-class boy in the
bland town of Graz to governor of California - is as alien
to the mentality of the average Austrian as a recall vote
is to an Austrian political system in which official
careers proceed like clockwork.

Mr. Schwarzenegger's career, by contrast, has all the
elements that the average Austrian - with his dreams of a
tenured job in the bureaucracy that leads to early
retirement, with his love for his 38-hour work week and his
five weeks of holiday per year - would despise: venturing
into the unknown, enduring hard work and physical pain,
testing the limits of body and mind, and drawing a road map
to the top.

On the other hand, there is enough in Governor
Schwarzenegger that Austrians can recognize and admire, or
so they think: a touch of machismo, a moving admiration of
one's mother, a bit of a sly dog, a cheeky view of the
country's Nazi past, and generally what is known in Austria
as "Schm=E4h," inadequately translatable as "patter."

So the hype here around California's recall was
understandable, but there is something else at work, too.
The frenzy is a result, at least in part, of one of the
main features of the Austrian national character: the art
of transference.

In Vienna in 1972, Austrians held their biggest
demonstration since the Allies ended their occupation. The
cause was not an end to the arms race or any of the other
usual issues of the era. Instead, they were protesting the
expulsion of the alpine ski champion Karl Schranz from the
Olympic Games in Japan for violating his amateur status.
Schranz was supposed to be our hero, winning gold medals
for Austria. His being barred from certain success brought
an outpouring of frustration by his countrymen, who
perceived themselves as victims of dark international

So, too, Arnold Schwarzenegger represents a success the
average Austrian would have neither the stamina nor the
inclination to pursue. Nor is he the only object of
transference. The stunning success in 1999 of the
right-wing politician J=F6rg Haider - wrongly viewed in the
United States as a full-fledged Nazi - was possible only
because voters transferred their protest against a rigid
political system to him. The individual reluctance to
openly oppose Austria's two major political parties, which
had pooled their power in a joint government in 1986 and
dominated every aspect of public life, was transformed in
the secrecy of the voting booth: J=F6rg Haider should do the
job of breaking up that system instead. Austrians could
express sentiments without being publicly known for having

The admiration that is showered on Mr. Schwarzenegger now
in Austria has a parallel in the devotion that the
country's elite and public have for Frank Stronach, another
Austrian who did well overseas, in his case by founding a
Canadian auto-parts company. To the Austrian eye, Mr.
Schwarzenegger and Mr. Stronach are larger than life - or
at least larger than any Austrian would conceive himself.
And that touches a chord in the Austrian soul and stirs
memories of the time when there was an emperor - and an
empire for that matter; when the country was a force to be
reckoned with, not an insignificant spot on the map of
Central Europe, squashed between the powers of Germany and
Italy and up-and-coming countries like Hungary and the
Czech Republic, which once were dependents in the Hapsburg

Besides, Austrians love vindication, and Mr.
Schwarzenegger's victory is certainly seen as one: for the
humiliation Washington dealt Austria by putting Kurt
Waldheim (president of Austria from 1986 to 1990) on its
"watch list" of undesirable aliens; for J=F6rg Haider's being
called a Nazi in the United States and Europe; for the
disapproval when the conservative People's Party and Mr.
Haider's Freedom Party formed a coalition government in

Thus Mr. Schwarzenegger's victory is seen as a signal to
the world: look here, we too are somebody. A country like
Austria that has been downsized by history vacillates
between a national inferiority complex and exuberance. Now
these are days of compensation.

The anxiety with which some Austrians watched the American
reaction to reports that Mr. Schwarzenegger made positive
comments about Hitler was proof of the uneasiness about any
possible new rebuke of the country of his birth. His defeat
at the polls would have been seen as further evidence of a
global misconception about Austria. The country would be a
victim again.

In Austria, Mr. Schwarzenegger was not criticized for any
Hitler comments or for his groping. Here, neither is seen
as reprehensible: on Hitler the attitude is, let bygones be
bygones; on groping, it is not a criminal offense - yet (a
new law is before the national legislature). Neither slip
has damaged the career of any Austrian politician in recent

Still, despite our pride over Mr. Schwarzenegger's
election, there is open agreement, and relief, that it
would have been impossible here. Stars, whether from
entertainment or sports, have all failed politically in a
country where party politics is a lifetime profession. This
is not a land of self-made men who can take positions on
issues contrary to their own party. And Mr.
Schwarzenegger's one-liners (and those of the other
candidates) would have been perceived as a sign of an
inferior intellect.

Austria is basking in Mr. Schwarzenegger's California
triumph. We are enjoying the moment. But although we admire
Mr. Schwarzenegger for what we are not, unlike Americans,
we'd never elect him.

Anneliese Rohrer is foreign news editor for Die Presse, an
Austrian daily.


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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