VIENNA, Austria (AFP) — The far-right candidate in Austria’s troubled presidential election wants the house where Adolf Hitler was born to be demolished and to improve relations with the Jewish community, according to comments published Sunday.
“Well, the only options are turning [the site] into a memorial or tearing it down. If you ask me, I would be for demolishing it,” Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPOe) told the Austria Press Agency in an interview.
Earlier this year the Austrian government approved legislation forcibly expropriating the owner of the house in Braunau am Inn in northern Austria where the Nazi dictator was born in 1889.
This is to prevent the site becoming a neo-Nazi pilgrimage site. But it is unclear what will happen now. The building has protected status — not because of Hitler — so demolition is legally tricky.
Hofer also said that he wants better relations with Austria’s Jewish community organization, the IKG, representing Austria’s 15,000 Jews.
The IKG often accuses Hofer’s party — whose first leader in the 1950s was formerly in the SS — of having neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic sympathies, something the party denies.
Hofer said that if elected on October 2 — although the election looks likely to be postponed — he would “naturally” seek a rapprochement with the IKG.
“Problems exist in order to be resolved. And I think that I can handle relations (with the IKG) very, very well. This is a task that is of great interest and importance to me,” he said.
Regarding Austria’s Muslim community, Hofer said he wants an official German translation of the Koran so that non-Muslims “can understand this religious community better.”
He said though that if elected, he would not continue the tradition, introduced by the previous president, of hosting a reception for Muslims at the end of Ramadan in the Hofburg presidential palace.
The FPOe has stoked concerns about recent record immigration, and should Hofer eventually win it would make Austria the first country in Europe since 1945 to elect a far-right president.
The role of the Austrian president is largely — but not entirely — ceremonial, and a victory by Hofer would be a major boost to Europe’s other surging populist movements.
An embarrassing postponement of the election is however looking all but inevitable due to glue on postal votes coming unstuck.
The interior minister is expected to confirm the move on Monday following high-level talks late Sunday.
Both Hofer and his challenger, independent ecologist Alexander Van der Bellen, have said they expect the vote to be pushed back.
The last election result from May — won narrowly by Van der Bellen — was annulled after Austria’s highest court upheld claims of procedural irregularities made by the FPOe.
Die Presse daily on Saturday cited unnamed sources as saying that the government was looking at several possible dates in November, but that mid-December or even January were being considered.
Pushing the election back poses legal problems, however, and the government is considering drawing up special legislation allowing it to happen.