Austria and the Czech Republic: “More community of convenience than friendship”

Austria and the Czech Republic: “More community of convenience than friendship”


Sketch of the planned renovation of the memorial in Vorderweißenbach
Image: Manfred Wolf

The unification came on December 11, 1989 with wire cutters. Upper Austria’s then governor Josef Ratzenböck and his South Bohemian counterpart Miroslav Senkyr tore apart the barbed wire on the border between Austria and Czechoslovakia and thus united Europe. Of course, this was preceded by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, just under a month before. On that day, Austria and the Mühlviertel moved from the edge to the center of Europe.

Yesterday, the “DenkStein Iron Curtain” association took this anniversary as an opportunity to commemorate this and to present numerous innovations. Above all, the new name – “DenkStein” Iron Curtain instead of “Mahnmal”. The reason for the name change, says chairman Bernhard Winkler, is less to issue a warning than to start a thought process. “Consider, think, think ahead,” he said. “We promote the debate about freedom and democracy in a borderless Europe.” How important this is, said Winkler, is shown by the fact that in no EU country is EU skepticism greater than in Austria.

Keyword skepticism: The former Vice Chancellor of Austria, Reinhold Mitterlehner, who grew up not far from the Iron Curtain, pointed out that in all these years it had not been possible to grow together with its northern neighbor as hoped at the time. “The finding is that it is not an ideal situation. Living together has developed rather slowly; it is still more of a community of convenience than friendship between peoples,” said Mitterlehner. The language is one thing, but on the other hand the discussion about Temelin has created a major difficulty – both parties still have an unshakable opposition stance. And then there are historical reasons – Austria always had a dominant position during the monarchy and made the Czechs feel this, according to one side. The other often still struggles with the consequences of the Benes decrees and the associated cruel expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after the end of the Second World War as well as the expropriation.

But, and the former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who died a few days ago, once confirmed this to him, the next generation is different, wants to know, process things and is eager to learn.

Keyword inquisitive: Historian Roman Sandgruber named a period of 35 years when it comes to human memory. After that, direct memory is gone, and historical memory – through history books – only begins much later, also because there are still complications and problems with it. And that would now threaten history with the Iron Curtain. Therefore, new commemorative impulses are needed.

Keyword impulse: The “GedenkStein” association wants to install one in 2024. A new logo and a new homepage have already been implemented, numerous events are planned, and the monument in Vorderweißenbach is being adapted. The FH Hagenberg and the Linz University of Art are and were involved in the process. However, the young students first had to research what the Iron Curtain meant. A curtain should be installed at the monument that can be pushed away, but should also offer protection, according to artist Malina Merlitsch: freedom and protection instead of fear and division.

Sketch of the planned renovation of the memorial in Vorderweißenbach
Image: Manfred Wolf

Read more about this:

  • Comment: “Evil on both sides?”
  • Border walk between Austria and the Czech Republic to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain

Homepage: eisennervorhang.eu

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