A statue of an antisemitic politician who is said to have inspired Adolf Hitler is to be tilted 3.5 degrees to the right.
The monument to Karl Lueger, situated in Dr. Karl Lueger Platz in the center of Vienna, has long been a subject of fierce debate in the Austrian capital.
Lueger, who was elected mayor of the Austrian capital in 1897 and governed the city until his death in 1910, is known to have exploited anti-Jewish feeling in his bid for office, emphasizing Christian and Germanic supremacy.
He was much admired by fellow Austrian Hitler, who later wrote of Lueger’s charisma and popular appeal in his 1925 political manifesto “Mein Kampf.”
In recent years, the Viennese authorities have been grappling with Lueger’s legacy. In 2012, a section of the Ringstrasse, the city’s central boulevard, that had borne Lueger’s name since 1934, was renamed Universitätsring.
However, after much debate, the city has decided to keep its bronze statue of Lueger—albeit with one slight alteration: The monument will be tilted 3.5 degrees to the right.
The move was announced in a string of tweets from the city’s official Twitter account on May 31.
Debate over the future of the statue, which was erected in 1926, has been raging for years. The statue has been repeatedly defaced, and in 2020 demonstrators held a “vigil of shame” to prevent the authorities from removing graffiti that had been daubed on it.
Last year, a round table of representatives from the worlds of art, science, politics, administration and civil society decided that some “artistic contextualization” would be added to the statue.
A specially appointed jury subsequently opted for a proposal by Viennese artist Klemens Wihlidal.
In a press release issued by Public Art Vienna, Wihlidal said he did not want to change the monument, but the “view and perspective on it.”
He said a “minimal intervention” would see it shifted 3.5 degrees to the right, altering the observer’s point of view.
“With this, I would like to cause an irritation, or even more, a moment of insecurity, which may only become perceptible upon a second look,” he added.
He said the effect would be reminiscent of a “sinking ship” and “evokes the feeling of transience and impermanence, as if one had to watch the monument about to topple over or at least expect that it won’t stand for much longer.”
It is not yet known when the change will be made to the monument, though they are expected to be at some point in 2024, a spokeswoman for the city council told CNN in an email.
For some, however, the move does not go far enough.
“Political antisemitism was invented by Karl Lueger. He was therefore one of Hitler’s teachers,” Ariel Muzicant, president of the European Jewish Congress and former president of the Jewish Community of Vienna, told CNN in an email.
“Tilting the statue is a halfhearted approach to dealing with this issue. At the very least, the local authority should change the name of this square and of many other locations in Vienna bearing Lueger’s name.”
Oskar Deutsch, the current president of the Jewish Community of Vienna, told CNN in an email: “The current approach is a step towards the right direction. But one must not forget that to date squares, streets, bridges and other monuments are still named after antisemites all over Austria.”
He added: “Dismantling the memorial of Lueger and replacing it with an installation referencing the history would be more appropriate and in line with a sincere culture of remembrance. Renaming all streets named after antisemites in Austria is long overdue. The Jewish community strongly believes that it also remains important to draw lessons from history not only by transforming memorials but also through combating antisemitism and hatred against minorities in today’s politics and society. The far right entering more and more local governments is a threat to liberal democracy.”
In a 2018 survey, a third (35%) of Austrians told CNN that Jewish people were at risk of racist violence in their country. Nearly half (45%) said antisemitism was a growing problem there. The findings were part of a ComRes/CNN survey exploring antisemitism in seven European countries.
In Austria, 12% of people aged 18 to 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust. Austria also had the highest number of people in the survey—four out of 10 adults—who said they knew “just a little” about the Holocaust. And a third of Austrians (32%) said Jewish people have too much influence on business and finance around the world, echoing a long-standing antisemitic trope.