Austria's far-right lawmakers walk out of Zelensky's address to parliament

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Austria's far-right lawmakers walk out of Zelensky's address to parliament
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and Austria's chancellor Karl Nehammer (L) attend a press conference in Kyiv, on April 9, 2022. Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

Members of Austria's far-right FPÖ party walked out of parliament on Thursday in protest against a video speech by Ukrainian president Volodymir Zelenksy claiming it violated Austrian neutrality.


During a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, members of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) left the lower house of Austria's parliament.

Zelensky expressed gratitude to Austria for providing humanitarian assistance and assisting in initiatives such as clearing land mines via a video link to the Chamber. However, he also said that it is essential "not to be morally neutral towards evil". 


 "Thank you for the assistance in clearing mines and medical treatment in Austria," Zelensky said.

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

"When we turn to you for support, we ask to protect human lives. Ukraine wants to live in security, peace and freedom", he said. Finally, the Ukrainian leader invited the lawmakers to travel to Ukraine and see the situation themselves.

Although Austria supports Ukraine politically, it is prevented by its neutrality from military involvement in the conflict and is unable to supply the country with weapons in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Far-right opposition

The Freedom Party was the only group to oppose the Ukrainian president's speech. As announced, the FPÖ protested against Zelensky's video appearance in parliament. After the welcome by National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP), the FPÖ deputies were the only ones not to applaud. 

Instead, at the beginning of the speech, the Blue Party took out placards with the inscriptions "Place for Peace" and "Place for Neutrality", which they placed on the desks in front of them before leaving.

Party leader Herbert Kickl had previously said: “Even though we condemn the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine: Austria is constitutionally a neutral state, perpetual neutrality is a cornerstone of our self-image, and the speech of a representative of a belligerent party in the heart of our democracy is an absolute taboo”.


Austrian neutrality

Austria's long-standing and constitutionally protected neutrality was tested during Russia's invasion of its neighbour, prompting questions about the meaning of neutrality and whether Austria should remain a neutral country

Chancellor Karl Nehammer of the centre-right ÖVP has repeatedly stated that Austria's neutrality is non-negotiable. However, the country appears to have adopted a new form of neutrality, which includes military support, but not political support, for Ukraine, with the provision of aid and supplies but no weapons or tanks. 

However, Austria's neutrality and its connections to Russia, both economically and politically, have drawn international criticism since the Ukraine conflict began.

BACKGROUND: EXPLAINED: Why has Zelensky's speech to the Austrian parliament caused so much controversy?

Austrian politicians, particularly from the far-right FPÖ, have been forced to confront the country's long history of close ties with corrupt Russian politics and oligarchs due to the Russian war. 


Chancellor Nehammer was also heavily criticised for visiting Moscow, where he was one of the few Western political leaders to meet with Putin after the invasion.

The neutral country has also faced other challenging situations, such as allowing sanctioned Russian delegates to attend an OSCE meeting in Vienna. Austria claimed it could not prevent members from attending the meeting and acted following the organisation's regulations.

Nonetheless, the arrival of the Russian delegates sparked protests and caused Ukrainian representatives to boycott the event.


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