- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000

Austria revived

Maria Rauch-Kallat knows something about bitter political contests and close elections.

As secretary-general of Austria's People's Party, she recently brokered a dispute between two provincial party rivals that threatened the national party's base.

In elections last year, her conservative party, which traditionally finished first or second, fell to third place. The People's Party outpolled its nearest rival by 415 votes out of about 5 million cast not unlike George W. Bush's lead in Florida going into the weekend, she noted.

The Austrian conservatives were able to form a government after the leading Social Democrats failed. Their coalition partner is the Freedom Party, a movement variously described as populist or fascist.

When Mrs. Rauch-Kallat came to Washington last week to review the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, she was hardly shocked.

"Before I left, I told my colleagues that I solved our political problem, now I will go and solve another one," she told Embassy Row.

It was a joke, a little Germanic humor.

Mrs. Rauch-Kallat was here for a conference of the European People's Parties, a coalition of 37 conservative movements throughout Europe. They have met regularly in Washington after U.S. presidential elections to discuss the results.

The U.S. contest may still be in dispute, but Mrs. Rauch-Kallat said one lesson is clear.

"The election shows that every vote counts," she said.

In Austria's election, the consequences were more severe than a Florida Supreme Court decision.

The People's Party's choice of a coalition partner sent the other members of the European Union into a political fit. The EU declared the Freedom Party to be little more than neo-Nazi rabble and imposed sanctions that lasted from February to September.

The EU especially objected to Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider, who had made statements in support of Austrian members of the Nazi SS and expressed opposition to immigration. Mr. Haider, a provincial governor who held no position in the coalition, resigned his party leadership post in May to ease criticism of the national government.

Again Mrs. Rauch-Kallat played a role behind the scenes, dealing with Mr. Haider.

"Haider is not a fascist. He is a populist," she said.

He has often been accused of appealing to base elements in Austria to gain political power.

Mrs. Rauch-Kallat said the EU sanctions backfired. Many Europeans sensed political hypocrisy and flocked to Austria to ski, despite EU declarations that Austrian vacations were immoral.

"Tourism from Belgium boomed, and exports to Germany rose," she said.

Mrs. Rauch-Kallat said Austria appreciated the United States for refusing to follow the EU. Washington, she said, took a hands-off approach to the controversy.

New Nicaraguan envoy

Alfonso Ortega Urbina thanked President Clinton for U.S. hurricane relief in 1998 when he presented his diplomatic credentials as Nicaragua's new ambassador.

Mr. Ortega, in a White House ceremony last week, passed on the "warm wishes" of Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman, who expressed his commitment to the further strengthening of ties with the United States.

A career diplomat, Mr. Ortega has served as ambassador in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Iliya Yuzhanov, Russia's minister for anti-monopoly policy and entrepreneurial support, signs an agreement with the Small Business Administration to promote small- and medium-size businesses in Russia.

• Lecha Ilyasov of the Chechen Center for Pluralism and Lamand Edilbek of the National Library of Chechnya, who discuss the crisis in Chechnya with guests at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Thursday

• Former Mexican Finance Minister Jesus Silva Herzog, who participates in an 8:45 a.m. news conference at the Inter-American Dialogue, 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 510, to release a report on Western Hemisphere issues facing the new president. For more information, call 202/462-2579.

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