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Fall 2009

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Austrian Greens say no to Schwarzenegger, death penalty
Execution ok'd by California governor spurs international action
by Mike Feinstein, Advisor, International Working Group
Green Party of the United States

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to commute the death penalty sentence of former Los Angeles Crips gang leader Stanley "Tookie" Williams in December 2005, not only did it spur negative reaction in California, but the backlash reached around the globe, bringing calls for clemency from Desmond Tutu to the Vatican.

But it took the Austrian Green Party "Die Grünen" to bring the protests close to home for Schwarzenegger-literally. After the US Supreme Court declined to hear William's appeal on October 11, 2005, Greens in the Austrian city of Graz went into action.

Graz is just six kilometers from Schwarzenegger's birthplace, the tiny village of Thal, and had since been adopted by Schwarzenegger as his official hometown. In 1997, Graz named the local 15,000-seat sports stadium "Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium."

Sigi Binder, leader of the Graz, Austria Greens

Graz Greens, led by Sigi Binder, began a petition drive to have Schwarzenegger's name removed from the stadium. In the first two days, more than 1,500 people signed the petition, then Binder submitted it to the 56-member local Gemeinderat (Municipal Parliament), upon which she serves as one of four elected Greens, seeking "to remove Schwarzenegger's name from the stadium, and take away his status as an honorary citizen." 

Capital punishment is illegal in Austria, and across Europe. But in liberal Graz-which in 2001 named itself Europe's 'First City of Human Rights'-the death penalty is regarded as a medieval holdover of barbaric proportion. 

Not surprisingly, the Greens' petition was welcomed by a majority of the Gemeinderat, which features 15 Social Democrats, four Greens and 11 Communists. A hearing on the matter was then scheduled for January, 2006. 

But before Binder and the other three Greens (Hermann Candussi, Christina Jahn and Lisa Rückercould) could vote on the issue, Schwarzenegger struck back, writing a letter to the city, saying that he was withdrawing their right to use his name in association with the stadium. The result? The new name is now simply Graz-Liebenau Stadium-Liebenau being the district of Graz in which the stadium is located.

That did not stop the Austrian Greens. Next Peter Pilz, leader of the Green's national parliamentary group in Vienna, made a formal request to the Austrian Interior Ministry, requesting the process begin to revoke Schwarzenegger's Austrian citizenship. Says Pilz, "Once upon a long time there had been a young Austrian citizen, who pumped enough iron to become Mister Universe. Today he is governor of California. He is responsible for the death of at least three persons. He is still Austrian. And we cannot accept that Austrian citizens participate in murder in state degree."

"First of all, it is illegal. Our law is very clear on cases like this. Citizenship not only should be renounced, it must be."

"Second, Austrian law provides that citizenship can be revoked if an Austrian substantially damages the interests or reputation of the republic by his or her behavior. Schwarzenegger is possibly the most prominent Austrian abroad, and he shapes the picture of Austria. We can not have that picture shaped by someone who commits state murder. It does not correspond to the political culture of this country and is very damaging to the reputation of the republic."

Peter Pilz, leader of the Greens parliamentary group

"Third, we Europeans support challenging the barbarism of state murder everywhere it happens-China, North Korea or the USA. The axis of murder has to be broken. And the USA is one of the most important breaking points." 

"Fourth, capital punishment is illegal all over the world and in the long run. International law is stronger than American law, even if US-governments consider themselves stronger than any law."

Pilz's action drew praise from the Green Party of California (GPCA), which issued a statement of support on January 17, and adding "the Green Party, locally and internationally, opposes the death penalty as a matter of principle and rejects its use as a policy in society," quoting Fred Hosea, GPCA International Protocol Committee coordinator."

With a center-right coalition in power in Austria, and with the Greens holding only 17 out of 183 seats in the Austrian Parliament, it is unlikely that the Greens will ultimately persuade the government to revoke Schwarzenegger's citizenship. Not even Kurt Waldheim, the former Austrian president and U.N. secretary-general linked to Nazi war crimes, had his citizenship revoked, and the Interior Ministry has taken the view that the definition of 'treason' upon which one could have one's citizenship revoked is a very narrow one.

But as Pilz reminds, "until recently a huge majority of Austrians were proud of strongman Schwarzenegger. Things have changed. The Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium in the Styrian capital of Graz has been renamed. And Austrian politicians have stopped trying to be photographed together with the governor."

For more information:

Die Grünen - Alternative Liste Graz - www.graz.gruene.at/

Der Grüne Klub im Parlament - www.gruene.at/im_parlament/nationalrat/  


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