Waldheim report cites proximity to crimes, leaves guilt issue unclear
Vienna — What now for Austrian President Kurt Waldheim? A report on Mr. Waldheim's wartime career released yesterday found no evidence that he was involved in war crimes. But the six military historians on the commission suggested that he neglected a ``human duty'' to oppose Nazi crimes. The commission members said they find no instance in which he protested or sought to hinder injustice.
The report will hardly solve image and foreign policy problems faced both by Waldheim and the country he leads, diplomats and observers in Vienna agree. But though it may put some strains on Austria's coalition government, it is unlikely to spark immediate calls for his resignation - either from the world community or from Austrians. (British press makes new charges, Page 8.)
``Overall,''the report said, ``a picture emerges of a proximity ... to measures and orders deemed criminal by martial law. With these discoveries, the question of Waldheim's culpable behavior during the war cannot be conclusively answered.''
Only hours after the report was released, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal appealed for Waldheim's resignation. Mr. Wiesenthal originated the idea of appointing an independent commission of historians to investigate charges that Waldheim had taken part in Nazi atrocities.
Wiesenthal appealed to Austria's intellectuals and artists to push for Waldheim's resignation. ``Democracy is based on truth,'' he said, ``and a democratic country cannot permit itself a president who lies.''
But a Gallup opinion poll last week found that 72 percent of Austrians thought Waldheim should stay in office. The findings pointed up the contrast between Waldheim's isolation among Western nations and his popularity at home.
Waldheim is a thorny issue for the coalition between Chancellor Franz Vranitzky's Socialist Party and the conservative People's Party. The conservatives backed Waldheim for president in the mid-1986 election and remain loyal.
Mr. Vranitzky has launched an emotional appeal to the international media not to damn Austria along with its President. He asked the press to remember that modern Austria is the antithesis of the Nazi regime, and that the post-war republic was built by those who suffered most from the Nazis, through imprisonment in concentration camps or forced emigration.
Vranitzky has not urged Waldheim to resign. If he did, it would mean the collapse of the current coalition government, and would put the Socialists out of office. He said it was up to Waldheim to determine the moral consequences of the report.
Waldheim himself appeared on television on Monday evening, pleased with the report. There was no reason for him to resign, he said, claiming the commission had exonerated him.