Austrian far-right leader seeks top post
Martin Graf may become deputy parliament president after dramatic gains by his Freedom Party in recent elections.
Vienna -- Martin Graf says he "respected" the political views of an infamous Austrian neo-Nazi leader during a recent televised interview. In the same venue, he declines to say explicitly that Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
This is the politician that might get one of Austria’s top political posts.
An Austrian lawmaker for a total of 10 years, Graf is now seeking one of those posts after dramatic election gains made his Freedom Party the third-strongest force in parliament.
Surging support for the party once led to prominence by far-right firebrand Joerg Haider has focused attention on its current leaders -- and its right to name one of two deputy parliament presidents.
Foes of Graf's nomination for the post point to the lawyer's membership in a Vienna student organization that critics call a hotbed of the far right.
The opposition Greens, who finished fourth in Sunday's parliamentary election, say he is unfit to for a job so high in the constitutional order of power.
Graf, 48, brushed away or deflected questions during an interview Wednesday on Austrian public TV during which he was asked about the Holocaust.
Prompted by host Armin Wolf to acknowledge that Nazi Germany and its helpers killed six million Jews, Graf seemed to parse his words.
"Masses of people were annihilated and I cannot approve that," he said. "On the contrary -- that must never happen again. I don't doubt that masses of people were annihilated ... Millions, if you like. Even one would be too many."
Graf also voiced sympathy for Norbert Burger, an Austrian neo-Nazi convicted in Italy of terrorist activities. Austria dissolved Burger's National Democratic Party in 1988 after the nation's top court ruled it was reviving Nazi ideology.
Burger was "a good father, an upstanding taxpayer and a respectable citizen," Graf said. "I believe one should also let the dead rest in peace."
He said he did not share Burger's political views, "but I respected them."
Graf, whose district lies in Vienna, belongs to a student club in the Austrian capital whose website praises the "community of the German people and German culture."
Burger, who died in 1992, also belonged to the group, known as Burschenschaft Olympia. And Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, 39, once dated Burger's daughter.
Burschenschaften -- roughly, "young men's clubs" -- began as part of democracy movements in 19th-century Germany. Nowadays, they are widely seen as ultra-conservative.
The Freedom Party and Haider's rival Alliance for Austria's Future nearly doubled their voter support on Sunday to a combined 29 percent, fueled in part by campaigns tinged with xenophobia.
With coalition talks still under way, it's unclear whether either party will be asked to join the Alpine nation's next government.
Austria's two main parties, the left-leaning Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party, have pledged to keep them out of power.
In 2000, the Freedom Party joined a conservative-led government, prompting months of European Union diplomatic sanctions against Austria. The Freedom Party, and later the Alliance for Austria's Future, remained the junior coalition partner until January 2007.