8. An unusual assassination attempt

by Dr. Hellwig Valentin. From the book: "Der Sonderfall. Kärntner Zeitgeschichte 1918-2004/08", 2009, 2nd edition, Klagenfurt/Laibach-Ljubljana/Wien (Hermagoras-Verlag).

Translation by Liz Finney

In 1987 a former classmate made an assassination attempt on the life of state governor Wagner of the SPÖ, who was seriously injured by the shooting. The assassin, a dedicated high school teacher from Ferlach, who belonged to the socialist teachers’ society, was considered to be unconventional and maladjusted. As a result of work-related setbacks, the educationalist had turned on his schoolfriend Wagner but was let down by a certain inabilitiy to make himself heard. Unable to speak out from the edge of the room at a class reunion in Klagenfurt, the assassin fired at the state governor from a revolver that he had brought along. A jury in Klagenfurt obviously sympathised with the assassin’s motive and surprisingly acquitted the accused. The presiding judge invalidated the verdict on the basis of „an apparent delusion on the part of the jury“ and a new trial in Innsbruck led to a conviction.

In the shaping of public opinion during the trial proceedings the withdrawn assassin was cast increasingly in the role of the victim, with the power-conscious state governor in court appearing to be the actual person responsible. This popular prevailing mood supported the jury members in their judgement at the Klagenfurt trial, although the legal judgement was not savable. In 1988 Wagner resignedly gave his post back with the reasons for his resignation appearing to be complex. Public debates concerning the assassination attempt covered subjects such as the question of the occupation of positions in public office („a party membership card system“) and the sort of exercise of power employed by the political elite in the foreground. This is thought to have had a detrimental effect on the SPÖ (Social Democratic Party), it being the most influential political force in the state.

This first assassination attempt on an Austrian state governor took place against a backdrop of an intensifying political climate in the state. The steady advancement of Haider with his point-scoring sort of politics made the SPÖ especially nervous, as they feared he may gain an absolute majority. Wagner aggravated relations between the political opponents and anyone at all who critically opposed him, even in his own party. When the party chairman wrote off a defiant SPÖ representative of the people from Villach as being „mentally ill“ and cajoled him out of the party, this opened up a worrying perspective on the inner workings of Carinthian social democracy. Following similar goings-on in other federal states – where the explusion of the famous commentator Günther Nenning from the SPÖ was the most spectacular case - the Carinthian party obviously wanted to make its own contribution to the disciplining of unwelcome critics. The louder the demand to withdraw political intervention to a justifiable extent, the more Wagner needed to assert his authority. The conflicts resulting from the assassination attempt on the state governor dramatically intensified. The operation of the party by Bruno Kreisky was less than enthusiastically supported by the Carinthian social democrats. When the editorial department staff of the SPÖ-inclined „Tageszeitung“ – a Carinthian daily paper concerned with a more open type of reporting - protested about Wagner’s emphatic interventions, the state governor reacted angrily.

9. Premature goodbyes