Councillors resign over film with Nazi symbols

Two Burgenland ÖVP councillors who appeared surrounded by Nazi memorabilia in Ulrich Seidl's new documentary feature, In The Basement, have resigned.

Councillors resign over film with Nazi symbols
The controversial scene

The film, which premiered in Vienna on Thursday night, depicted five musician friends – including the two councillors – singing in a Burgenland basement under a portrait of Adolf Hitler, surrounded by swastikas and SS flags.

Following widespread outrage from ÖVP leaders among others, the two councillors handed in their resignations on Thursday.

Police too have filed a complaint against the men and the prosecutor is currently deciding whether to initiate an investigation into their Nazi activities.

The councillors have issued a statement distancing themselves from their actions.

"With the deepest conviction we dissociate ourselves from any Nazi ideology and atrocities," they said.

"To prevent further damage to the community and the party, we have voluntarily decided to resign, with immediate effect. It was a mistake to participate in this film."

The men also added that, "at the time of filming, in 2009, we were not members of the council."

Gerald Hüller, ÖVP mayor of Marz, in the district of Mattersburg, issued a press release stating: "We do not need outcry from others. We have realized ourselves that our portrayal in the film leads to devastating conclusions and that we must take responsibility for our actions."

"Anyone who knows the two municipal councilors and other parties involved are aware of the distorted representation in this film. Regrettably, the musicians have been part of a movie scene set against the background of Nazi memorabilia."

Extract from the film by Ulrich Seidl called "In the Basement."

According to TV channel Puls 4, the Documentation Centre for Austrian Resistance responded to the case as follows: "It is expected, especially for political office-holders sworn to the Republic and laws of Austria, that as elected officials they should know about the issue of symbols in relation to the law. One has the impression here that Nazism and its symbols have seeped into popular culture."

ÖVP General Secretary Gernot Blümel urged the two ÖVP politicians to resign on Thursday evening.

"Extreme right ideology has no place in the ÖVP," said Blümel. "National Socialism is one of the darkest chapters in our history and should not be trivialized."

There was also criticism from other parties, including the Burgenland Socialist Youth and the Greens.

The incident was the second one this week involving apparent Nazi sympathizers, when a mayor in Carinthia was expelled from the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) for expressing support for Nazi views.

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Austrian rapper arrested over neo-Nazi songs

Austrian authorities said Tuesday they have arrested a rapper accused of broadcasting neo-Nazi songs, one of which was used by the man behind a deadly anti-Semitic attack in Germany.

Austrian rapper arrested over neo-Nazi songs
Austrian police officers patrol at the house where Adolf Hitler was born during the anti-Nazi protest in Braunau Am Inn, Austria on April 18, 2015. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

“The suspect has been arrested on orders of the Vienna prosecutors” and transferred to prison after a search of his home, said an interior ministry statement.

Police seized a mixing desk, hard discs, weapons, a military flag from the Third Reich era and other Nazi objects during their search.

Austrian intelligence officers had been trying for months to unmask the rapper, who went by the pseudonym Mr Bond and had been posting to neo-Nazi forums since 2016.

The suspect, who comes from the southern region of Carinthia, has been detained for allegedly producing and broadcasting Nazi ideas and incitement to hatred.

“The words of his songs glorify National Socialism (Nazism) and are anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic,” said the interior ministry statement.

One of his tracks was used as the sound track during the October 2019 attack outside a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle.

In posts to online forums based in the United States, the rapper compared the man behind the 2019 Christchurch shootings that killed 51 people at a New Zealand mosque to a saint, and translated his racist manifesto into German.

Last September, an investigation by Austrian daily Der Standard and Germany's public broadcaster ARD said that the musician had been calling on members of neo-Nazi online forums and chat groups to carry out terrorist attacks for several years.

They also reported that his music was used as the soundtrack to the live-streamed attack in Halle, when a man shot dead two people after a failed attempt to storm the synagogue.

During his trial last year for the attack, 28-year-old Stephan Balliet said he had picked the music as a “commentary on the act”. In December, a German court jailed him for life.

“The fight against far-right extremism is our historical responsibility,” Austria's Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said Tuesday.

Promoting Nazi ideology is a criminal offence in Austria, which was the birth place of Adolph Hitler.