Alois Mock at 75

The former head of the Austrian’s Peoples Party cut down the wire of the Iron Curtain

It was in June 1990 when the first post-Communist Hungarian Prime Minster József Antall (1932 – 1993) invited Alois Mock, Austria’s Foreign Minister and President of the European Democrat Union (EDU) for talks at the gilded, neo-gothic 19th century parliament building located at the banks of the Danube River in Budapest.

After exchanging formalities, Antall asked Mock whether he had already seen the newly erected Ferenc Puskás Football Stadium further down the river. Mock shook his head.

“But you have to see it, “Antall insisted; and when Mock, with some impatience, insisted on discussing the business matters at hand, Antall paid no attention.

“No, no, I insist,” he said. “I will show you!” All official talks had to wait, and the politicians were off to the stadium; even during the car ride Antall was unwilling to discuss anything but football.

When they arrived, the Hungarian Prime Minister indicated that the best spot to see the Buda section was from the center of the stadium. Once the two politicians reached that point for the kick-start of the football match, Antall finally spoke freely.

“Now we have reached the only location in Budapest that is not bugged,” and he confided to Mock the truly historical step he would proclaim the following day.

“Dr. Mock, tomorrow I shall announce that we will withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets might turn off our supply of oil and gas – would Austria be prepared to step in?” Mock agreed without hesitation, and the rest is history: With Hungary’s unprecedented step, the Communist military alliance was finally dissolved in Prague in July 1991.

There is no question that Alois Mock shaped Austria at a crucial point of its post-war history: Until 1970, all chancellors had been nominated by the Austrian People’s Party ÖVP – the proud Christian-democratic party, formed in April 1945, just days before World War II ended and the new Austrian Republic was to be founded. Together with the other political parties, it was instrumental in shaping the new Austria.

In March 1970, the Social Democratic era of Bruno Kreisky and his successors began, which lasted until 1995 when Austria entered the European Union.

In those 25 years, Alois Mock was instrumental in shaping Austria politically in the positions he held: As both party and opposition leader, he led the ÖVP (from 1979 to 1989) on a strong political course, marked by Roman Catholic social doctrine paired with social market economy policies nationally.

In those years, Mock came to the fore as a challenger to Bruno Kreisky, whom he at times openly confronted on foreign policy, Kreisky’s very own area of politics. It was time of the triumvirate of Social Democratic leaders: Willy Brandt in Germany, Olaf Palme in Sweden and Bruno Kreisky in Austria, supported by the Socialist International, envisioning a Europe-wide politics and enjoying widespread support among the public.

As EDU President, the international working group of like-minded Christian-Democrats and Conservatives, Mock not only prepared the ground for the neutral countries – Austria, Finland and Sweden – for EC membership, but also supported the launching of a European People’s Party that would be the largest political group in the European Parliament.

Mock built an influential international network – from the EDU as well as the International Democrat Union (IDU) – with U.S. President Ronald Reagan as prominent partner.

As Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister, he successfully brought to an end the conflict over the Südtirol region (Southern Tyrol) in Italy in 1993 – thus resolving the dispute between Austria and Italy with internationally protected autonomy of the Austrian minority.

But perhaps his most important achievement was to convince his coalition partner, the Social Democrats led by Franz Vranitzky, that it was in Austria’s interest to join the European Community (EC). The application of membership – the legendary letter to Brussels – Mock delivered personally on 17 July 1989 to EC President Roland Dumas.

In exciting but nevertheless exhausting negotiations – which eventually concluded on 1 March 1994 – the Austrian government prepared the public for the membership and campaigned for the referendum. The sensational result – two-thirds of the cast votes in favour – led Austria into the secure haven called Europe. It was no longer in the uncomfortable position of being a neutral country ‘sitting on the fence’ while still depending on NATO in cases of military conflicts – one of the conundrums of Austrian history, which it has never fully admitted even to itself.

Mock’s work was by no means fully supported within his own party. The business faction was after his job as party leader, and in 1989 he resigned, but remained Foreign Minister until 1995. In those years, however, Mock celebrated his most important successes: in April 1989, he delivered a significant contribution in bringing down the iron curtain when he met Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn and cutting the barbed wire at the Austro-Hungarian border – a picture that went around the world.

Equally important was Mock’s role in supporting the new democracies in developing a democratic party system in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. And in 1991, Mock also laid the ground work for the international recognition of Slovenia and Croatia as independent countries, and broke the ice on an international level.

When Wolfgang Schüssel took over as ÖVP party leader from Erhard Busek in 1995, Alois Mock withdrew, but not willingly. Despite his serious illness, he was uncompromising in the work he took on. And even today, Alois Mock remains committed to the ideals of the Austrian People’s Party, as well as remaining an active and fervent patriot.

A great Austrian, a father to his country, celebrates his 75th birthday on 10 June 2009.

 

Dr. Andreas Khol is the former president of the Austrian Parliament. 

Edited and translated by Matthias Wurz

 

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