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EXPLAINED: Why Austria won’t allow Ukraine’s Zelensky to speak before parliament

A proposal by liberal party NEOS to invite Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to make a speech to the Austrian parliament has brought back old neutrality feuds.

Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen (R) and his wife Doris Schmidauer (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (2ndR) and his wife Olena Zelenska (2ndL) listen to the national anthems in Vienna, Austria on September 15, 2020, during a welcoming ceremony at the beginning of Zelensky's state visit. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP
Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen (R) and his wife Doris Schmidauer (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (2ndR) and his wife Olena Zelenska (2ndL) listen to the national anthems in Vienna, Austria on September 15, 2020, during a welcoming ceremony at the beginning of Zelensky's state visit. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

The German Bundestag, US Congress, European Parliament, the Israeli Knesset and Westminster.

The list of parliamentary houses where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has (remotely) spoken is impressive. So why is the Austrian parliament, or its Nationalrat chamber, not among them?

This Tuesday, liberal party NEOS posted on its social media that it wanted to “allow the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak in the National Council”. They then said:

“However, our proposal did not receive the approval of the SPÖ and FPÖ. This mistaken idea of neutrality leaves us wondering!”

Austrian neutrality

The right-wing party FPÖ was quick to make an announcement stating that Austrian neutrality is “an achievement that we are rightfully proud of”, according to a social media post.

The party presented a five-point document to preserve Austrian neutral status, which included “mediating instead of sanctioning” and “a no-fly and no-transport zone” in the country.

Party leader Herbert Kickl justified the rejection of a Zelensky appearance, saying that they would also be against a speech by Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Austria in NATO?

The issue of Austrian neutrality has been highly debated recently, as Russia invaded Ukraine and several talks began arising regarding Austria’s role in such a conflict and in sanctions against the Russians.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) had to come out and state that discussions on Austria’s status were not needed at the moment and that Austria was, is, and would remain neutral.

SPÖ ‘not against it’

SPÖ said that statements that it had been against an invitation for Zelensky to talk to parliament were false. In a press release, the centre-left party noted that there was a “short political discussion” on the subject last week, with no vote or decision.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The history behind Austria’s neutrality

The party stated that, during the discussion, it “pointed out that Austria’s neutral status must be taken into account”, adding that such a status could be of great advantage when it comes to acting as an intermediary.

Finally, the SPÖ added that it wouldn’t oppose such an invitation.

“One thing is clear: Austria strongly condemns the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine by the Putin regime because Austria is never neutral towards the violation of international law and human rights”.

‘He said, she said’

While the SPÖ statement said Neos’s claim was false, the liberal party called the latest red press release “an obvious change of heart”.

“Now that almost all parties seem to be in favour of a Zelensky speech, we propose a special meeting next week, during which it could take place”, according to the liberals.

READ ALSO: Ukraine conflict: Would NATO protect non-member Austria?

Traditionally, an invitation can only be issued by the National Council president, currently ÖVP politician Wolfgang Sobotka. However, he told APA today he would only invite the Ukrainian president to speak with Parliament if there were agreements between the different groups of parliamentarians.

How much of an agreement, considering that the FPÖ has not had a ‘change of heart’, is not certain. 

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.