Kreisky, Bruno

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KREISKY, BRUNO (1911–1990), Austrian statesman and the first Jew to become chancellor of Austria. Born in Vienna, Kreisky was the son of a rich textile manufacturer. He joined the Socialist Workers Youth Association at the age of 15 and became head of its education department. After the Fascist seizure of power in 1934, Kreisky was active in the clandestine Socialist Party and was arrested in 1935. He spent nearly two years in prison and after the Nazi Anschluss in 1938, immigrated to Sweden.

Kreisky returned to Austria in 1946 and joined the diplomatic service. He was personal assistant to the Socialist president of Austria, Theodor Koerner, and in 1953 became undersecretary for foreign affairs in the coalition government of the People's Party and Socialist Party. He participated in the negotiations with the Soviet Union which led to the Austrian Treaty of 1955 and from 1959 to 1966 was foreign minister of Austria. Following the Socialist defeat in the 1966 elections, Kreisky was made leader of the Socialist Party. He succeeded in creating a new image for the party by the formulation of new economic, social, and cultural policies and with the Socialist victory in the general election of 1970 – with a relative majority – he became chancellor of Austria. In 1971 – after early elections – the Socialist Party achieved an absolute majority. In 1975 and 1979 these victories were repeated. After the next elections in 1983, when the party failed to get a majority, Kreisky resigned as chancellor and as head of the Socialist Party.

Contrary to frequent assertions Kreisky never denied his Jewish origin. But he came from an assimilated background and left the Jewish community in his youth. He never committed himself (until the 1980s) to the unsatisfactory restitution of Austria's Jews.

In 1970 Simon *Wiesenthal informed the German magazine Der Spiegel that Kreisky's government included no fewer than four former members of the Nazi Party. Kreisky defended his cabinet members and reacted furiously against Wiesenthal. The secretary of the Socialist Party Leopold Gratz called Wiesenthal's work private policing which operated outside the law and asked whether Austria needed this organization.

But in 1975 the conflict between Kreisky and Wiesenthal became much more bitter. In that year, Wiesenthal discovered that Friedrich Peter, the head of the Freedom Party, Kreisky's intended coalition partner, had been a member of an ss brigade, whose explicit duty was the killing of civilians. Peter declared that he was never personally involved in atrocities and Kreisky said he believed him. Accordingly, he attacked Wiesenthal for his "mafia-like" methods, hinted that he was a collaborator of the Gestapo, and said that he wanted to stop Wiesenthal's work in Austria. The end of the affair was a compromise. Because of Kreisky's parliamentary immunity Wiesenthal withdrew his legal action; the Socialist Party's threat of a parliamentary inquiry committee was withdrawn. Kreisky said in Parliament that he never accused Wiesenthal of collaboration with the Nazis. Later, after Krei sky was no longer legally immune as a parliamentarian, Wiesenthal took legal action against Kreisky, who in 1989 was required to pay a fine of 270,000 ats. During this trial Kreisky hinted at alleged intelligence reports from Communist countries at Wiesenthal, which were never revealed, and he tried in vain to get the former Nazi and later federal German politician Theodor Oberländer to appear as a court witness.

Kreisky's vicious attacks on Wiesenthal caused antisemitic comments in the Austrian press.

During the 1970s Austria became the most important transit point for 270,000 Jews from Russia. In 1973 two Arab terrorists took three Russian Jewish hostages on a train in Austria. They demanded the closing of the transit camp in the castle of Schoenau. Kreisky negotiated with the terrorists, who released the hostages, and closed the castle. Israel's Prime Minister Golda *Meir flew to Austria and asked Kreisky in vain to change his decision. With the help of the Red Cross other transit camps were opened and the emigration process through Austria continued. In her memoirs Golda Meir conceded that Kreisky's decision "was not altogether unreasonable" and that Schoenau "had become far too well known."

Chancellor Kreisky consistently adopted a pro-Arab and anti-Israel position. However, he arranged two meetings in 1978 between Shimon *Peres, Israel Labor Party leader, and President *Sadat, under the auspices of the Socialist International, of which he then was a vice president as well as chairman of its permanent fact-finding mission for the Middle East. The first took place in Salzburg in February and the second in Vienna in July, which led to a statement to the effect that there was a "negotiating potential" between Israel and Egypt.

In September 1978, in an interview which he gave to the Dutch daily Trouv, Kreisky made an unprecedented vitriolic attack upon Israel and Menahem *Begin, referring to him in the most abusive terms, calling him a small political peddler. It roused a storm of protest, and caused the resignations of Leopold Gottesmann, honorary consul general of Austria in Israel, Elimelech Rimalt, co-chairman of the Israel-Austria friendship league, and Otto Probst, a veteran member of the Socialist Party and co-chairman of the Israel-Austria friendship league. A few days later Kreisky stated that he was "prepared to apologize," but he did not do so. After the signing of the Camp David agreement, however, in congratulating all three leaders for their efforts, he formally apologized to Begin, still maintaining, however, that there would be no peace without a solution of the Palestinian problem and without an agreement with Syria.

In July 1979 Kreisky officially received Yasser *Arafat in Vienna, and in November, during what was ostensibly a private visit to the United States in connection with the U.S. tour of the Vienna Opera, he appealed to the United States to recognize the plo as the sole legitimate representative of the Arabs and made a similar plea in his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, proposing that as a first step toward peace, Israel should likewise accept the plo.

Kreisky's complex personality and his efforts to advance the Middle East peace process were recognized by his Israeli friends. Shimon Peres wrote in his memoirs: "Judged by his political pronouncements, he was Israel's most implacable adversary among European leaders. And yet, when judged by actions rather than words, he was one of our staunchest friends."


E. Adunka, Die vierte Gemeinde (2000), 384–451; M. van Amerongen, Kreisky und seine unbewältigte Gegenwart (1977); G. Bischof and A. Pelinka (eds.), The Kreisky Era in Austria (1993); I. Etzersdorfer, Kreiskys große Liebe (1987); E. Horvath, Aera oder Episode: Das Phaenomen Bruno Kreisky (1989); J. Kunz (ed.), Die Aera Kreisky (1975); P. Lendvai and K. Ritschel, Kreisky (1972); W. Perger and W. Petritsch, Bruno Kreisky: Gegen die Zeit (1995); W. Petritsch, Bruno Kreisky (2000); A. Pittler, Bruno Kreisky (1996); V. Reimann, Bruno Kreisky (1972); F.R. Reiter (ed.), Wer war Bruno Kreisky? (2000); P. Secher, Bruno Kreisky. Chancellor of Austria (1993).

[Evelyn Adunka (2nd ed.)]

Bruno Kreisky

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Bruno Kreisky

Bruno Kreisky (1911-1990) was chancellor of Austria from 1970 to 1983, presiding over a period of domestic prosperity combined with the a growing importance in international affairs.

Bruno Kreisky was born in Vienna, Austria, on January 22, 1911, into a wealthy Jewish family whose industrial fortune and political involvement could be traced to the early 19th century. Critical of his bourgeois background and angered by the poverty around him, Kreisky joined socialist working youth at dances when he was 16 without becoming a doctrinaire Marxist or entirely alienating his family. This fortunate set of circumstances later enabled him to appreciate much of the old Austria even as he adopted a progressive and socialist attitude toward the contemporary world.

In religious matters Kreisky was agnostic but found it difficult to escape the Jewish stereotype. Relations with his Catholic countrymen remained correct rather than cordial despite a personal friendship with Cardinal Koenig. He never considered himself Jewish, which ultimately limited his usefulness as a mediator between Arabs and Israelis when Zionists accused him of betraying the Jewish cause.

The Austrian government also considered the young lawyer a traitor. After the socialist uprising of 1934 he spent two years in prison and repeated the experience in a Gestapo jail for a short time after the 1938 Anschluss with Nazi Germany. He then took advantage of a period of grace toward Jews to flee the country. In Sweden for the duration of World War II, he worked in a consumer cooperative, got married, and formed a lifelong friendship with Willy Brandt, the future chancellor of West Germany.

Upon returning to Austria after the war, he found employment in the diplomatic service and was active in negotiating the state treaty that restored Austrian independence in 1955. He became a senior state secretary in the Chancellery in 1953 and foreign minister in 1959, leading the negotiations for entry into the European Free Trade Association in the same year. Other important activities during his seven-year term included efforts to associate Austria with the Common Market within the framework of Austrian neutrality and an attempt to solve the problem of the German-speaking South Tyrol where Italy had been governing since 1918.

"Kaiser Bruno"

Kreisky left the foreign ministry in 1966 when the opposition People's Party abandoned the coalition to form a cabinet by itself, and he used the next four years to consolidate his position within the Socialist Party. He defeated Bruno Pittermann for the chairmanship in 1967, won over the party newspaper, and redirected the Socialists away from the ideology of class struggle toward social reform on the Scandinavian model.

Kreisky's efforts to broaden the base of the party paid off in 1970 with an electoral victory that gave the Socialists a relative majority in the Parliament. Unable to form a coalition government, he assembled a weak minority cabinet that ruled precariously for 18 months until the voters gave the party an absolute majority. The Socialists then ruled alone for 13 years with the fatherly Kreisky as chancellor. He thus became the longest-running chief executive since the Hapsburgs, leading nostalgic Austrians to dub him "Kaiser Bruno."

Kreisky's achievements were notable both at home and abroad. Austria experienced solid domestic prosperity under him while it assumed an important role in international affairs. The first was partially attributable to a general economic upswing in the 1970s, but Kreisky made a contribution by cultivating a "social partnership" between labor and capital based on openness and compromise. Furthermore, his international contacts brought economic returns in the form of trade agreements and contracts for Austrian industry.

Leader In International Diplomacy

It was in the international arena that Kreisky received the most notice. He maneuvered with ease among the superpowers, arguing for coexistence, making forthright statements, and taking initiatives that could not be made by more powerful leaders. In 1974 Kreisky was the first head of government to meet with Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), thereby giving legitimacy to a movement thought to be only a cover for terrorism. He followed it by inviting Arafat to visit Vienna in an official capacity and arranged meetings with other Western European leaders. He broke the diplomatic isolation of East Germany as well, becoming in 1975 the first Westerner to sign a consular treaty with that country and conducting a state visit there. He used his position as vice president of the Socialist International to visit Libya in 1975 and in 1982 invited Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to Vienna. He also led a mission of the Socialist International to Iran in 1980, stressing always the importance of keeping communications open between opponents.

The limitations of Kreisky's foreign policy became evident when he alienated Israeli leaders with critical remarks and when Austria proved too weak to be of much use to Arab leaders. Furthermore, Vienna became a target of terrorism, with an assassination, the bombing of a synagogue, and threats against Kreisky's life. He thereafter put distance between himself and the Palestinians.

Austrian domestic and environmental politics eventually turned against him. He made a referendum in 1978 on the startup of a nuclear power plant at Zwentendorf a test of his personal popularity but did not resign as he had threatened when the vote went against nuclear energy. The worldwide recession of the early 1980s hit Austria as Kreisky's health began to fail. He underwent dialysis twice a week and eventually received a kidney transplant, but insisted he was strong enough to run again in 1983. When the electorate gave the socialists only a relative majority, he resigned rather than lead a coalition government. Kreisky went on to serve as honorary chairman of the Social Democratic party until 1987. He died on July 29, 1990, in Vienna.

Kreisky's accomplishments could be seen symbolically in a Vienna transformed during his years in office. The modern subway system was a remarkable engineering achievement to serve the metropolis, and the towering UNO-City building complex had become home to several departments of the United Nations.

Further Reading

There is almost nothing in English by or on Bruno Kreisky himself. James Reston wrote an insightful column on him in the New York Times of February 6, 1983. Pertinent material on the economic, political, and cultural conditions of the time can be found in Kurt Steiner, editor, Modern Austria (1981). □

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