UNITED NATIONS. DR. KURT WALDHEIM: "A LAST WORD."

 

DR. KURT WALDHEIM: "A LAST WORD."

15 September 2007

"Guided by the Lord, I depart this life in deep gratitude. It has bestowed upon me more years and more experiences as well as more responsibilities than I had ever hoped for. I leave as one of the last of a generation whose arch of life spanned the distance from war to peace, from dictatorship to freedom, from poverty to plenty. Each day, I experienced anew the miraculous path that our country and our continent have taken -- all the more so given my knowledge of the past and the continued present-day sad realities in many other parts of the world.

Many of my compatriots -- men and women -- have played a significant part. But the outcome was not solely the fruits of our labours. Austria was and is also a blessed country.

The fact that we are not privileged to share this blessing with all people -- in Austria and beyond -- has always caused me particular anguish, as has the fact that we forget so many who live with us and alongside us in hunger and poverty. This terrible divide, which I experienced so very intimately for ten years at the helm of the United Nations, has distressed me up to the very last days of my life and moved me profoundly. It is at the root of all major threats that confront us. I would have liked to live long enough to see a sustained change towards a world more just.

In the face of death, all the fractures of life dissolve. Good and evil, light and dark, accomplishments and failures now stand before a judge who alone knows the truth. I step before Him without hesitation, confident in His justice and His mercy.

I wish to thank with all my heart all those who stood beside me, who supported me and upheld me in my work for Austria and for the peoples of the world, and tell them that without them I would have achieved nothing and would not have survived. My gratitude begins with my own family and with all those who accompanied me in unfailing loyalty over decades -- and it reaches out to the most distant corners of the earth.

Moreover, I extend my greetings to those who were critical of me and ask them once more to reflect upon their motives and -- if possible -- to grant me late reconciliation. Maybe my departure from this earth will make this easier as well.

Yes. I have also made mistakes; I have been fortunate to have had much time to ponder them again and again. These mistakes, however, were surely not those of a fellow traveler or even an accomplice of a criminal system. For this, my family's beliefs and fate were too great an influence.

Looking back, my all too late assessment of these events was largely the result of the hectic pace of my overly full international life and the years and decades spent away from Austria and Europe. As Secretary General of the United Nations I was confronted almost on a daily basis with wars, violence and despotism, with millions of people living in need and desperation, persecuted and struggling for mere survival. The fate of these people and our efforts to secure aid and save them, our accomplishments as well as our failures obscured and overshadowed for too long the memory of the crimes committed in the past.

Added to this, we young post-war diplomats were influenced by (and also instructed to represent) the raison d'etat that, in characterizing Austria as 'Hitler's first victim', had opened the door to liberation from fascism and paved the way to the State Treaty establishing Austria as an independent nation. I profoundly regret that I failed to address Nazi crimes publicly and condemn them unequivocally until I was confronted with the external pressure of monstrous accusations that could not have been further removed from my life and my way of thinking. This was not the result of a questionable belief held nor calculated politics of any kind, but rather because I was bewildered and dismayed, took offence and, yes, was horrified by the content and extent of the allegations raised against me. "Let us assume responsibility for our mistakes in a form suitable to prevent future mistakes." These were my words in a television speech on 10 March 1988 -- 50 years after the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany. More than ever I firmly believe today that everything we Austrians have achieved for future generations is only sustainable, if we acknowledge a common understanding of history.

Wherever possible, my wish was to reconcile and reconnect people with one another; in conflicts, I wanted to build bridges and strengthen common ground. In this respect, there is hardly a richer function than that of the U.N. Secretary General. My subsequent disappointment as Federal President of my beloved Republic of Austria was all the more bitter when I discovered I was unable to maximise this global experience and implement my many plans as I had hoped.

I do not, however, fear the verdict of history; it will know what was and what was not.

My professional life, the fate of my time and my faith have taught me many important lessons. The most important of these is so self-evident and yet so difficult that I wish to recall it once again: we will only survive if we recognise each other much more than hitherto as brothers and sisters and if we live with each other, care for each other and act much more considerately. Each and every togetherness is a blessing.

My generation is leaving this world. It was defined by the recognition that seeking compromise and peace between men, groups, parties and nations is not a sign of weakness, nor of defeat, but rather the precondition for internal and external peace. That this knowledge will live on is my hope for the future."