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Who will open the Bregenzer Festspiele?

The internationally renowned Bregenzer Festspiele has been left with no one to open it - after Austria’s highest court ruled that May's presidential election must be repeated because of widespread procedural "sloppiness".

Who will open the Bregenzer Festspiele?
Turandot on the lake stage. Photo: Bregenz Festival / Ralph Larmann

The opera festival, which is held in late July and August in Bregenz in Vorarlberg, is usually officially opened by the Austrian president, but the court’s ruling means that Alexander Van der Bellen, who won by a narrow margin in May – cannot be sworn in on July 8th.

His rival, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPÖ), will have another shot at becoming the EU's first far-right president.

The festival is due to open on July 20th. Its famous floating stage, the Seebühne, on the shores of Lake Constance has even featured in a James Bond movie (Quantum of Solace), and it lures huge crowds every summer.

In the absence of a president, one of the three parliamentary presidents – who are Doris Bures (SPÖ), Karlheinz Kopf (ÖVP), and Nobert Hofer – would normally assume any presidential duties. However, it’s been decided that they will not undertake any festival openings or state visits in the interim period before Austria’s next president is sworn in.

Three weeks before the festival opens one of its highlights – Puccini’s opera Turandot  – is already almost booked out, with only 30 percent of tickets remaining.


 

FAR-RIGHT

Norbert Hofer: new ‘friendly face’ of Austria’s far-right

Norbert Hofer, who is expected to be formally elected on Saturday to lead Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) into national elections, has gained a reputation as the party's friendly face in contrast to some of its firebrands.

Norbert Hofer: new 'friendly face' of Austria's far-right
Norbert Hofer greets supporters as he arrives at the party congress in the city of Graz. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP
But sceptics say that behind the grin lurks a steely, dyed-in-the-wool ideologue.
   
In the run-up to national elections on September 29, Hofer has declared he wants to “put his stamp” on the party and see it in government again in a renewed coalition with the conservative People's Party (OeVP).
   
It remains to be seen whether he can unify party hardliners behind him, as well as overcome a corruption scandal that led to the resignation of his predecessor and the collapse of the previous OeVP-FPOe government.
 
Keen amateur flier
 
Hofer grew up in the city of Pinkafeld in Burgenland state, near the border with Hungary.
   
His father was a businessman and involved in the OeVP, which formed the coalition with the FPOe in 2017, and again looks set to win the most votes.  Even now, the softly-spoken aircraft engineer with a disarming smile maintains his links to Pinkafeld, where he is regularly seen cycling, shopping and visiting the same kebab restaurant.
   
A Cessna air plane that the 48-year-old bought with two others last year is kept there, too. Hofer himself walks with a cane after a paragliding accident, but he remains a keen amateur flier.
   
Politically, Hofer — most recently transport minister and long touted as a leadership contender within the far-right party — was the FPOe candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
   
In the end, he lost the race for the largely ceremonial post to a former leader of the Green party, but he turned in a strong performance, surprising many — including some in his own party.
 
'Loyal to the homeland'
 
Christian Rainer, editor-in-chief of weekly magazine Profil, once described Hofer as “wolf in sheep's clothing”.
   
This time again, he is campaigning with slick posters that show him with the slogan “loyal to the homeland”, and has returned to the party's tradition of anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric.
   
“Islam is not part of our culture, not part of our history and will never be so,” he said recently.
   
Hofer, who wrote the FPOe's party programme, also hailed his “long-term friendship” with Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a visit to Budapest this week.
   
A father-of-four, on his second marriage, he first took on an official role in the FPOe in 1994 in his home state, before starting to work at a national level two years later. He became FPOe deputy head in 2005.