Kurt Waldheim was president of Austria from 1986 to 1992, after being the Secretary General of the UN. During his election campaign, it was revealed that he was an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht and he was implicated in Nazi mass killings – a fact that did not keep him from getting elected, despite many discussions about it. Beckermann was involved in the protests against Waldheim at the time and filmed a lot of material – material she thought lost, but found again and now uses to look back at how things unfolded.
Waldheims Walzer is an excellent documentary. It’s informative, concise and brings home the flabbergasting outrageousness of it all, proving yet again how little Austria has done to reckon with its own past.
I was a baby when the Waldheim Affair hit and by the time, I was old enough to understand, the story had been reduced to its bare bones: Waldheim was elected president although it was revealed he was a Nazi soldier. Which is horrifying enough as it is, but when you watch Beckermann’s documentary, you get to see the steps leading up to that point unfolding one by one. You see just how much denial went into it happening. You see how many people brought the most unbelievable arguments to the table, not to defend Waldheim, but to negate that there is anything that needs to be defended in the first place.
I felt like I spent most of the time sitting slack-jawed in the film, absolutely floored by the brazen audacity of everything. They really just looked at clear facts and handwaved them away, not even trying to pretend that this wasn’t what they were doing – and it worked. And I know that this shouldn’t surprise me, given both my general knowledge of how crappily Austria handled its Nazi involvement (past and present) and the way politics are unfolded right now, but Waldheims Walzer leaves you no choice to hide behind a cynical “we all know politics are corrupt” shield. It forces you to face the enormity of the situation.
At the beginning of the film, Beckermann says that she found the material at just the right time. I agree. It’s just the right time to watch history repeating itself yet again with right-wing populism and right-wing extremism on the right practically the world over. We’re in a situation where we have people saying and doing things ON TAPE more than ever – and not even that kind of evidence has much effect. And it does feel like some people studied Waldheim and the Waldheim Affair to see what people can get away with, and then they perfected his technique.
Most crushingly of all, the film makes clear that we as Austrians in particular and as the world in general have learned nothing from the horrors of World War II and what came after. Not a single thing. And if that doesn’t make you angry, you’ve really not been paying attention.
Summarizing: should be required watching for everybody.