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Vienna Theater A.D. In Political Fracas

Reverberations from recent right-wing terrorist bombings in Austria have reached as far as Vienna’s renowned Burgtheater.

In the days following the Feb. 5 murder of four Romanies (as the settled Gypsy population is known) by a bomb thought to have been the work of neo-Nazis here, Vienna’s four state-run theater houses collected some $20,000 in donations earmarked for a foundation set up for the families of the murdered men.

The Burgtheater’s often controversial German-born artistic director, Claus Peymann, followed this with statements critical of the police and the justice system in the handling of the case, and of what he called the “farce” of politicians elbowing their way into front row seats at the well-publicized funeral of the Romany victims.

In reaction, the far right Freedom Party, founded by the remnants of the banned Nazi party and now known for its Nationalist, anti-foreigner stance, called for Peymann’s resignation. A Social Democrat MP, protesting that he had been ushered to his front row seat, demanded that Peymann apologize for his remarks and suggested that the director get a job abroad in a theater not subsidized by the government. The Austrian People’s Party joined the fray, mildly suggesting that Peymann should not have been so outspoken.

That left only the small Green Party backing Peymann, thanking him for his “open and just” words. The Cultural Minister has not commented on the matter.

Peymann rejected the demands, saying, “It is almost scandalous if one has to apologize for something that others might not dare to say.”

Support of the Romanies continued with the first-ever appearance of a Romany theater company on the Burgtheater stage on Feb. 18 and 19. The group, Roma Theater Pralipe, originated in Skopje, Macedonia. Three years ago it drew critical raves for its performance at Vienna’s prestigious Festival. The company performed “Romeo and Juliet” set on the war-destroyed bridge of Mostar, Bosnia, and “The Great Water,” by Romany playwright Zivko Cingo.

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