Hannes Richter

There was Life in the Eighties

Hannes Richter

Eugen Freund (1979 – 1984) Another well-known Austrian journalist working several years with the Austrian Information Service was Eugen Freund, who later became Austrian correspondent and bureau chief of the Austrian Radio and Television in Washington D.C. In his own words, he recounts his vivid memories of those years in the early 1980s:

“Before Haider, before Waldheim, was anything happening in Austria that could have been of interest to the U.S.? Indeed. Of course, although we were not always happy with what we saw; for example, on March11, 1982, The New York Times had Col. Muammar Ghaddafi on its cover. That was alright in principal, but the gentleman next to him, arm in arm, was Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky. At that time Ghaddafi was the embodiment of evil, the Saddam Hussein of the eighties. The U.S. Administration was deeply disturbed becaused it was alleged that Ghaddafi had sent an armed commando to the U.S. to have Ronald Reagan assassinated. Like the infamous weapons of mass destruction, there was more legend to the story than truth. But for Kreisky and Austria, this did not arouse any wave of sympathy.

On November 22, 1982 things changed dramatically. The cover of the New York Times depicted a symbol of Austrian statesmanship: It belonged to the world-renowned Lipizzan stallion. It was a gift of the Austrian chamber of commerce and its president, Rudolf Salinger to President Ronald Reagan. All of the U.S. networks carried this uplifting story.

The first images of something “Austrian” I saw on the networks a few months earlier was a story even less political. A truck, loaded with soap powder had fallen into the Lavant river, causing the water to look like a bubble bath – great images even for the “CBS Evening News.” Much to my chagrin there was almost no attention paid to the historic visit of the Austrian president, Kirchschlaeger, to Washington in January of 1984. Ronald Reagan caused some amusement among the Austrian delegation when he confused the lyrics of the “Sound of Music” with those of the national anthem. Our attempts to generate interest in the U.S. media for Kirchschlaeger’s visit were nearly in vain, had there not been for his unforgettable interview with Sandy Freeman of CNN, Larry King’s predecessor. She asked the president how, as a catholic, he could have signed a law on abortion rights in Austria. Kirchschlaeger obviously did not understand, or mistook, the word abortion. So he said,”You know, in Austria, there is no conscription, and women do not have to go in the army.” “I am sorry, Mr. President, the issue is abortion” “Yes, as I said, Austria is a very peaceful country; we have no wars in Austria!” After about three minutes of further misunderstanding, it was clear that Kirchschlaeger had confused “abortion” with “warfare.” “Can we cut this out, you can cut this?” he pleaded, but the broadcast was aired “live.”
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Austrian radio- and TV journalist and book author Eugen Freund was born 1951 in Vienna. He began his career as a journalist contributing to “Profil,” and changed over to the Austrian Radio and Television in 1974. In 1978, the foreign minister at the time, Willibald Pahr, recruited him as press spokesman. The following year Freund relocated to New York where he served until 1984 under Peter Marboe in the Press and Information Service. He was instrumental in attempting to create a new image of Austria in the USA. After returning to Vienna, he worked as an independent journalist and filmmaker. Since 1986 he has been with Austrian television as anchor for the TV Evening News, as part of the editorial staff from 1987-89 and as anchor of the foreign affairs magazine “Auslandsreport” from 1989-1995. In 1995 he was assigned to Washington as correspondent and from 1997-2001 as bureau chief of Austrian Radio and Television in Washington, D.C. Shortly before the terrorist attack of September 2001, he returned to Austria. Between 2004 and 2007, Freund worked in the foreign department of Austrian Radio and in June, 2007, returned to television, where he has been special correspondent and analyst of foreign events. During his journalistic career Freund has published several books on the U.S., was guest lecturer with expertise on America and published several articles in the European and American press.