Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Austria’

Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Today is the first anniversary of Britain’s EU Referendum. Doubtless some arch-Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Maggie, have been celebrating what they consider to be the UK’s first anniversary of independence. This is of course tosh, on almost every level. We are still members of the EU until at least 29 March 2019, but more importantly, being an EU member state does not undermine a country’s independence, but rather member states voluntarily share aspects of sovereignty for the common good. Britain has done very well as an EU member state, though not a single UK Prime Minister since we joined in 1973 took full advantage of the opportunities offered. Theresa May, or whoever will replace her, can only look on impotently over the coming months as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron help fashion a reformed and confident EU, in which the UK will have no formal role, unless Brexit is reversed, which at present seems unlikely. Last year I came to Lisbon  immediately after the Referendum, to salve my wounds with some continental culture and joie de vivre. By coincidence, I am in Lisbon again now, but this evening I did not raise my glass to celebrate the Brexit vote but rather to savour being a full European citizen while I still can.

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AEJ Congress Neusiedl

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014

NeusiedlBurgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.

The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.

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Vienna’s Albertina

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th May, 2014

Durer's hareAlbertinaEvery time I go somewhere abroad for a Liberal International or ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) gathering I make sure to tag on at least one cultural outing or event. No matter how much one travels, there are always new things to discover, not least in the great cities of Europe. Hearing that the ALDE Council and European Election Rally was going to be in Vienna this Bank Holiday weekend I knew immediately that my cultural treat this time would be the Albertina Museum, home of Albrecht Durer’s astounding portrait of a hare, which is still able to cause wonderment over five hundred years after its creation. Like many great works of art, it is small, almost modest, and it is displayed at the Albertina in a row of other watercolours and drawings, but one is immediately pulled towards it, not just by its celebrity (as I felt was the case with the Mona Lisa in the Louvre) but rather by its perfection, both as a life study of a creature of the field and in the way it captures the essence of hare-ness, as a Zen Buddhist might say. It takes a great deal of force to produce such an image of calm that could be at any moment be shattered if the hare is alarmed and scampers away. So I was certainly not disappointed. But there is so much more than just tat one miniature masterpiece in the Albertina, including a wonderful current show, from Monet to Picasso, with works by many of the greatest painters of the age of Modernism. The paintings of this show are hung sparingly across the exhibition rooms, so one can take in the full impact of each, and unlike in the Louvre or the Hermitage or many of the other great art galleries in the world, one can linger in front of each image as there are no great thronging crowds. Then after the eyes have been satiated with works of art, one can walk through the furnished rooms of the palace itself, redolent of the grandeur of the Habsburgs (who ruled over so much of central Europe), beautifully restored and maintained. In short, a real treasure house.

Link: http://www.albertina.at

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ALDE in Vienna

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th May, 2014

ALDE Rally ViennaThe  NEOS Party in Austria is a new force on the scene, incorporating the former Liberal Forum, but it is predicted to win as much as 14 per cent in this month’s European elections — a figure the UK Liberal Democrats can only envy. This is despite the fact that NEOS is an overtly Federalist Party, calling for a United States of Europe. or maybe that is the reason why, and also why it has attracted so many young, idealistic supporters, who thronged to the Marx Halls in the city for a huge rally on Friday night, at which the speakers included the twin heads of the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) campaign, Guy Verhofstadt and Olli Rehn, as well as the president of ALDE, Sir Graham Watson. The rally was also the culmination of the ALDE conference and Council, which NEOS had bravely decided to host, despite being the new kid on the block. It all went remarkably smoothly, with no contentious issues raising their ugly head. Indeed, the mood was one of celebration, though in several EU member states the Liberal and Democrat cause is under threat by populist forces on both the right and left.

Links: http://www.aldeparty.eu and http://europa.neos.eu

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1938 Hitler’s Gamble

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th August, 2009

1938The British historian Giles MacDonogh’s last acclaimed book After the Reich was an admirable study of the disruption and misery prevalent in continental Europe that followed the defeat of Nazi Germany. Few nations came out smelling of roses in their treatment of the hordes of refugees then, not to mention the misdmeanours of the victorious armies. So there is a pleasing reverse symmetry in the conception of Giles’ latest offering, 1938 Hitler’s Gamble (Constable, 20 pounds), which charts month by month the prelude to the Second World War while demonstrating just how shitty almost everyone was towards the Jews. Inevitably, the canvass becomes a little cluttered, as the tale has to embrace the Anschluss of Austria, and the betrayal and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia as well as the central theme of increasingly institutionalised anti-semitism. But the author is good at presenting telling details and poignant vignettes in sometimes journalistic prose that is vivid and effective. I winced at the description of Neville Chamberlain as Britain’s Head of State, but such occasional slips aside, this is a gripping and at times disturbing read. At least there are some genuine human souls in evidence, including British and American Quakers who were involved in organising the Kindertransporte evacuating German Jewish children to safety as well as good upper class Germans who realised early on just what a ghastly — and dangerous — little man Adolf Hitler was.

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Austria Confronts Its Past

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st February, 2009

Being part of the European Union is partly about forging a new destiny, in partnership with the other 26 member states. But often this involves re-evaluating the past — whether this is a history of conflict, as between Britain, France and Germany, or a period of Communism, or the dark days of dictatorship. Austria is going through such a period of re-evaluation now, in relation to its own Nazi past. There is an old joke that the Austrians perfected the art of spin, by portraying Beethoven as an Austrian and Hitler as a German. But at long last — decades after Germany went through the process — Austria is confronting the Hitler years.

I wrote about this in a article in the current issue of ‘Diplomat’ magazine, focussing on Linz as this year’s European Capital of Culture (alongside the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius). The castle in Linz has a vast exhibition on Hitler’s plans for it as his capital of culture, which includes some chilling film footage of his triumphal entry into the city at the time of the Anschluss. But here in London, too, the Austrians are examining what happened following 1938, with a whole series of lectures and events at their Cultural Forum in Rutland Gate. The next one is a talk on the legacy of Nazi-expropriation in Austria, given by Clemens Jabloner, former Chairman of the Austrian Historical Commission, on Tuesday 3 March at 7pm. Given the rise of anti-semitism in this country, following the Israeli assault on Gaza, it is salutory to be reminded where anti-semitism can lead.

(for further details email: culture@austria.org.uk)

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