SALZBURG, AUSTRIA, JULY 25 -- Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel, defending a planned meeting with President Kurt Waldheim, said in an interview published today that the international boycott of the Austrian head of state has lost its original moral meaning and become a senseless game.
Havel is to deliver the keynote address Thursday at the 70th annual Salzburg Festival, a state-funded cultural event. Waldheim is to preside over opening ceremonies. The Czechoslovak leader has faced a series of appeals, including one from the Charter 77 human rights group, which he co-founded, to cancel the Salzburg appearance in order to avoid contact with Waldheim.
Western heads of state have shunned Waldheim since his election in 1986, when he was found to have hidden his service in a World War II German army unit involved in Nazi atrocities. The United States placed Waldheim, a former United Nations secretary general, on its "watch list" of unwanted aliens in April 1987 after a Justice Department investigation into his military service. Israel refuses to send a new ambassador to Vienna as long as Waldheim is in office.
In an interview published on the eve of his visit to Salzburg, Havel, a former dissident, affirmed that he would "go against the stream" in meeting Waldheim. He declined to comment on the validity of allegations against his Austrian counterpart but indicated that he believed Waldheim had been made a scapegoat.
"The whole boycott game by statesmen has become a certain stereotype, a game," Havel told the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper. "It is a game played by both sides, a game by one side to break through the boycott and by the other side to maintain it. And suddenly it stops having any meaning. By this I do not want to say that this stance did not originally have an ethical basis . . . but through ritualization it has been emptied, lost its original moral content and become a cliche."
Refraining from either direct criticism or praise of Waldheim's handling of the revelations about his past, Havel said: "It seems to me that in our geographical area, in which I include Austria and Czechoslovakia, each of us has some sort of blemish on his life history. It looks as if there is a tendency always to find someone and push him to the forefront, making out of him a symbolic figure, a sort of representative offering for all our guilt, and thereby to rid ourselves of our own bad conscience."
Although U.S. and Israeli officials in Vienna stressed there would be no change in their countries' positions, diplomats said Havel's remarks could help ease Waldheim out of his four-year quarantine.
Havel will be accompanied to Salzburg by West German President Richard von Weizsaecker. Today, New York Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Center for Russian Jewry and three other American Jews demonstrated against the visit in prayer shawls outside Weizsaecker's residence, Reuter reported from West Berlin.
Havel, the playwright-turned-president, accepted the invitation to address the festival opening while he was still a dissident and stressed that he was coming to Salzburg as a private citizen. He and von Weizsaecker are due to adhere to protocol necessities, shaking hands with Waldheim and attending a lunch with him given by the provincial governor. No official talks are scheduled, and the visit is expected to last little more than six hours.
The former director of the London School of Economics, Ralf Dahrendorf, and prominent Austrian author Hilde Spiel turned down invitations to deliver the keynote address at previous festivals, objecting to Waldheim's presence.
A decision to cancel the visit to Salzburg would not represent a moral act, Havel said, adding that foreign leaders avoided Waldheim more out of a politically motivated anxiety than ethical considerations. "There is not a bit of moral courage in it, rather a cold-blooded calculation -- if one of them does not go there, then the others do not go there. They fear one another. What is moral in that?"
In his first six months in office, Havel has visited all of Czechoslovakia's neighbors except Austria. Despite his view of the Waldheim boycott, Havel said he had no plans to make a state visit here before the summer of 1992, when Waldheim's six-year term is at an end. The Austrian president has refused to rule out his candidacy for a second term, but the conservative People's Party, which backed him in 1986, appears unlikely to do so again.