With populism on the rise and the likes of Donald Trump in power in America and Sebastian Kurz in Austria, we’re in an incredibly dangerous period in world politics. At the same time, knowledge of the horrors of the past which were committed on European soil seems to be fading. Without learning from history we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Today, it’s Islamophobia and Xenophobia. Seventy years ago, it was anti-Semitism.
Since World War II, Austria have been a bit of a wild card in Europe. Whilst the culpability of the German nation was obviously beyond doubt, Austrians found themselves in a strange position; both the victim and the perpetrator. Kurt Waldheim served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981. In 1986, he ran for election as President of Austria. Ruth Beckermann was one of the activists in Vienna trying to prevent this. Her new film, The Waldheim Waltz, tells the story of the populist politician with a hidden past.
By cleverly weaving together a vast wealth of archive footage, The Waldheim Waltz manages to impart a lot of information whilst still being an utterly riveting documentary. Waldheim was such a divisive political figure, but commanded great support in his homeland. However, Beckermann’s film is as much about the Austrian psyche as it is about one enigmatic and very slippery character. When it comes down to it, most European nations are highly accomplished at forgetting the darker days of their past. The Waldheim Waltz is a powerful film about the importance of remembering our history and holding politicians to account for their actions.