The Fifth Column: November 2013

1914 – 1918:  Spreading the Blame

VR_13_7-8_p15_TheFifthColumn12_WEB“I’m not saying it’s your fault,” goes a common managerial expression.

“I’m saying we’re going to blame you.”

In this pre-August 1914 anniversary year, historic shifts-of-responsibility are coming under fresh scrutiny.

One is the idea that the old softie Emperor Franz-Josef was reluctant when he uttered the ominous words: “So, it’s war”, at his hideaway in Bad Ischl.

But historians looking afresh at all this now insist that, despite Austria-Hungary’s routine humiliations on the battlefield, the First Bureaucrat was downright gung-ho.

In fact, it was more of a Marx-Brothers-ish: “So! it’s war!” though the emperor must have known that the alleged Serbian attack on K.u.K troops was a fiction.

One of the revisionists is Dr. Manfried Rauchensteiner, whose latest work on the fall of the Habsburgs weighs in at 1,222 pages, and is surely the last word on the matter.

He’s sceptical about Franz-Josef’s great-nephew, the (last) Emperor Karl, whom the Habsburgs are determined should go down as the man who tried to stop the madness and be declared a saint.

As former director of Vienna’s Museum of Military History, he is dismissive of Karl’s beatification. “I am simply baffled by this,” he told me flatly. “Karl was endlessly weak as a man, and was not even halfway capable of running Austria-Hungary. I suspect Zita (the Empress) of talking him into believing he could.”


Mahü chaos:  Was Maria pushed?

Back in modern unrealities, the debacle over pedestrianising the Mariahilferstraße shopping mile continues. At least it’s democratic. Cyclists used to find negotiating the “Mahü” dangerous.

Since the wholly unnecessary and ill-thought-out attempt to rid the wide boulevard of traffic, everyone is angry, but most of all with the cyclists who careen through the pedestrians as if it is their God-given right. It is, after all, the Year of the Cycle.

Despite police deployment of radar guns and even breathalysers, none of them has yet been prosecuted for exceeding the 20 km/h limit.

The body language of some of the dramatis personae, and well-sourced gossip, suggest that the champion of this foolish scheme, Vienna’s noisy Green deputy mayor Maria Vassilakou, 43, will be its main victim.

The Socialist coalition partners who backed the idea are now busy keeping their distance following local and parliamentary elections in which the Greens lost a gratifying number of actual and (most likely) potential votes.

It may not be all her fault, but it mostly is, and the Mahü affair should side track Maria Vassilakou’s ambitions for a good long time.

As shopkeepers’ petitions take fire, and protests and costs (now north of €3m) mount, the old political fox Socialist Mayor Michael Häupl says contentedly: “The Frau Vizebürgermeister will find solutions.”

He’s loving it.


Driving along (but not alone?) 

When Team Stronach skidded into the political crash-barriers in a cloud of burning rubber the general view was a dismissive “Außer Spesen nichts gewesen” (Aside from expenses, nothing happened).

But the Austro-Canadian motor-parts tycoon who wanted to wreck the Red-Black coalition unquestionably added a touch of the gaiety to the proceedings. A ringside seat was worth the price just for Monika Lindner, former general-director of the behemoth ORF, and now part of the small Team Stronach contingent in Parliament…

Except she isn’t; she changed her mind about Frank. Now she has ditched the party but kept her €8,300 monthly salary (on top of her €10,000 pensions). And no duties. Depite massive media scorn she is digging in her heels and staying put.

But back to Stronach: Remember how, during the first furore over the NSA, he was so unconcerned? “I have no problem if my phone is being bugged,” Frank said, “because I’m transparent.”  The U.S. was spooking Austria to protect it from massive terror attacks, he explained, “so they have a better idea of what might happen.”

But then, Frank launched his career back when technology was getting artful, and built his fortune on making 300,000 sun visors for General Motors. Were these only providing shade? Were they maybe watching us too? Vindobona is as transparent as they come, but would be very interested to know.

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