VIENNA – The name of a late mayor known for his anti-Semitic views will be removed from a section of Vienna's posh Ring avenue, an official announced Thursday, in a change hailed by Jewish representatives but denounced by Austria's rightist party.
The section now called Dr. Karl-Lueger-Ring will be renamed Universitaetsring (University Ring) for the university that is located on that section of the avenue circling the inner city, the official said.
Lueger was mayor for 13 years, starting in 1897. While in office, he expanded Vienna's pipeline network supplying the city with alpine spring water, established a public transport system and strengthened social welfare services. But he also openly espoused anti-Semitic sentiments. Adolf Hitler, who lived in Vienna for part of Lueger's tenure, saw him as an inspiration for his hatred of Jews.
Lueger nonetheless had Jewish friends and once famously declared, "I decide who is a Jew." His views were shared by many Austrians at a time when anti-Semitism was widespread across much of Europe and before it became associated with the Holocaust.
Vienna Counselor for Culture Andreas Mailath-Pokorny of the governing Social Democrat-Greens coalition announced the name change on Thursday, saying the city "should not act as if there were no dark spots" in its history. At the same time, he said, statues and other reminders of Lueger's tenure spread throughout the city will remain standing.
Austria's rightist-populist Freedom Party — whose supporters range from those disillusioned with more traditional parties to Islamophobes and Holocaust deniers — criticized the decision.
In his comments Thursday, Strache invoked a decision by Vienna's Social Democratic government four years ago to erect a bust of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in a city park.
"The socialists set up a memorial for a foreign mass murderer like Che Guevara, but an excellent Viennese mayor is stripped of a street name," said Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. "This is a scandal!" His party is Austria's second-strongest political force.
However, Oskar Deutsch, who represents Vienna's Jewish community, praised the action. In an allusion to the Freedom Party, he said the name change should "also serve as a warning on our present politicians who frivolously and reprehensibly use anti-Semitic, racially motivated and xenophobic slogans."
Austria has moved from its postwar portrayal of being Nazi Germany's first victim to acknowledging that it was Hitler's willing partner. Most young Austrians reject Nazi ideology and condemn the part their parents might have played in the mass murder of Europe's Jews.
The centrist People's Party — which governs together with the Social Democrats nationally — also took Vienna's Social Democrats to task.
While agreeing that Lueger's heritage needed to be looked at critically, People's Party chief Manfred Juraczka said the municipal's coalition government did not have the moral authority to decide on a name change after commemorating "the mass-murderer Che Guevara" with a bust.
Greens official Alexander Van der Bellen described Lueger as a "great communal politician" whose image was nonetheless besmirched with "his expressions of anti-Semitism."