|10th President of Austria|
8 July 1992 – 6 July 2004
|Preceded by||Kurt Waldheim|
|Succeeded by||Presidium (Acting)
4 November 1932|
|Died||6 July 2004
|Cause of death||Multiple organ failure complicated by lung disease-related heart attack|
|Political party||Austrian People's Party (ÖVP)|
|Spouse(s)||Edith Klestil (div.)
Thomas Klestil (German pronunciation: [ˈtoːmas ˈklɛstɪl] ( listen); 4 November 1932 – 6 July 2004) was an Austrian diplomat and politician. He was elected the tenth President of Austria (Bundespräsident) in 1992 (on 56.9% of the popular vote) and was re-elected to the position in 1998. His second—and final—term of office was due to end on 8 July 2004, but his death two days prior to his retirement from office cut his term short.
Biography until 1992
Born in Vienna to a working class family—his father worked for the tramway—Klestil went to school in Landstraße where he made friends with Joe Zawinul. He studied at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and received his doctorate in 1957. After entering the civil service he worked in Austria as well as abroad, for example for OECD. In 1969, he established the Austrian consulate-general in Los Angeles, where he befriended Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fluent in English, Klestil was the Austrian Ambassador to the United Nations (1978–1982) and Ambassador to the United States (1982–1987) prior to his election as president.
After being nominated by the conservative Austrian People's Party to run for Federal President, he succeeded Kurt Waldheim on 8 July 1992. However, in the course of his two terms of office, Klestil's alienation from his own party became increasingly obvious, so much so that there was open antagonism between Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Klestil when, in 2000, the latter had to swear in the newly formed coalition government with Jörg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party. Klestil, who during his election campaign had vowed to be an "active" president, repeatedly criticized the Austrian government and, in an interview with a Swiss daily given in 2003, stated that, theoretically speaking, it was in his power to dismiss the government any time he found it necessary to do so. As a matter of fact the Austrian Constitution does give far-reaching powers to the Federal President, but these had never been exercised by any of Klestil's predecessors.
Support of Kiryat Mattersdorf
Klestil gave his support to the development of Kiryat Mattersdorf, a Haredi Jewish neighborhood in northern Jerusalem founded by the Mattersdorfer Rav, Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld, in 1959 in memory of the Siebengemeinden (Seven Communities) of Burgenland that were destroyed in the Holocaust, Mattersdorf being one of them. Ehrenfeld's son, Rabbi Akiva Ehrenfeld, who served as president of the neighborhood, established close ties with the Austrian government to obtain funding for several institutions, including a kindergarten and the Neveh Simcha nursing home. Following Klestil's official state visit to Israel in 1994, which included a side tour of Kiryat Mattersdorf, Klestil hosted Ehrenfeld at an official reception at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna on 24 January 1995.
Klestil, who had three grown-up children by his first marriage, divorced his wife of many years shortly after his successful election campaign of 1992 and subsequently, in 1998, married work colleague Margot Löffler, the woman he allegedly was already having an affair with at the time of his election. In 1996 he was taken seriously ill but recovered.
Death and burial
On 5 July 2004, three days before he was to leave office, he suffered a heart attack or heart failure, probably caused by his long-term lung problems, and was left in critical condition. He died on 6 July at 23:33 local time at the AKH (Allgemeines Krankenhaus - General Hospital) in Vienna from multiple organ failure.
On 9 July 2004, he was interred in the presidential crypt at Vienna's Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof). Among the notable dignitaries who attended his funeral were Russian President Vladimir Putin, former Austrian President and UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, and the Austrian-born Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Klestil was the fifth President of Austria to die in office since 1950.
Honours and awards
- Austria : Great Star of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria (1992)
- Italy : Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (27 January 1993)
- Netherlands : Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion (1994)
- United Kingdom : Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George
- Norway : Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav (1996)
- Sweden : Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim (1997)
- France : Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour (1998)
- Poland : Order of the White Eagle (1998)
- Slovakia : Grand Cross (or 1st Class) of the Order of the White Double Cross (1998)
- Romania : Sash of the Order of the Star of Romania (1999)
- Croatia : Knight Grand Cross of the Grand Order of King Tomislav ("For outstanding contribution to the promotion of friendship and development co-operation between the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Austria." - 2 March 2001)
- Grand Gold Medal with Star for services to the city of Vienna (2002)
Notes and references
- "Thomas Klestil, 71, Austrian Who Redeemed the Presidency". The New York Times. 2004-07-07. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- "Diplomatic Representation for Republic of Austria". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- "Destroyed Jewish Community: Mattersdorf (Part 1)". Scholem and Friends. 20 February 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Engel, Reinhard (5 February 1995). "Jerusalem rabbi visits Austria 'to create a bridge' to Vienna". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 4 October 2012. (subscription required)
- Klestil, Thomas (2005). Thomas Klestil--der Verantwortung verpflichtet: Ansprachen und Vorträge 1992–2004 [Thomas Klestil Undertakes the Responsibility: Speeches and lectures, 1992–2004] (in German). Verlag Österreich. p. 315. ISBN 3704647578.
- "Funeral held for Austrian leader". BBC News. 10 July 2004. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
- Slovak republic website, State honours : 1st Class received in 1998 (click on "Holders of the Order of the 1st Class White Double Cross" to see the holders' table)
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Karl Herbert Schober
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