"... Cannot Allow Them to March in Again"

Der Standard (04/08/05)

Thursday evening Hugo Portisch presented his new ORF four-part series, "The Second Republic - An Amazing Story." He promised Harald Fidler that nothing about the times leading up to its National Socialist history was left out.

Standard: May one try to question the icon, Hugo Portisch?
Portisch: Please, not an icon, no legendary figure, nothing at all but a very normal journalist.

When did you begin practicing critical journalism?
I hope, the entire time. But, of course, one was able to storm the barricades in Der Kurier, but that’s not possible on public television. I truly believe that Der Kurier was one of the most critical newspapers during the time I was editor-in-chief. Der Kurier de facto got rid of Taras Borodajkewycz because of his anti-Semitic comments made at the University for World Trade. And the first of the politically dead during the Second Republic, Ernst Kirchweger, died defending the Kurier-Ecke when up against the Nazi students. We initiated the referendum in order to depoliticize the broadcasting station and, in doing this, rebelled against both big parties. You always believe that you invented critical journalism.

We are trying to practice it. In your production the main emphasis in on you. How many people do you have researching such documentaries?
Alone fourteen people worked as my crew on this project.

You appear particularly proud of a virtual archive in your new documentary. What are we allowed to conjure up in our minds?
That was created by our producer, Paul Sedlacek. The audience sees me standing in a bright room with levels as if made of glass. When I call for a particular picture, a document, a film or a witness, they back out. We have created something that allows me to call forth people, so to speak, from the after life. If we didn’t have the virtual archive as a resource, how else could we depict that?

With cuts, for example. The way documentaries are usually made.
But then we would have the dead suddenly appearing among the living. We have created something completely new in television, technically speaking.

Virtual studios are nothing new.
Studios perhaps not but archives from which things are drawn.

Can one imagine your new four-part series as a Reader’s Digest version of Austria II?
In no way. That would be too simple. When the documentary, Austria II, was made in the eighties, one had no access to important archives, neither in Austria nor the Soviet Union. In the meantime, a large number of historians have accessed material. Two-thirds of the audience viewing Austria II remember having experienced the end of the war. We now have a new view of things, we have a new presentation, and we speak to a new generation. But I cannot allow, of course, the Russians to march into Vienna again or chase Karl Renner across the Rathausplatz. Important historical material naturally reoccurs.

You begin with the last days of the war and end with the State Treaty. If I remember correctly, you cut out from Austria II what occurred before that time.
That’s entirely not true. We have sixteen episodes of Austria I and Austria II on this topic, and eight episodes alone are dedicated to the Holocaust, Hitler, and the Nazis. The criticism that there was only rejoicing and embraces in Austria is constantly made. And one asks: ‘Austria, what happened to Peymann? Where is Jelinek?’ Well, we included all of them, also Thomas Bernhard.

Have you included the times leading up to National Socialism in the new four-part series?
The four parts are intended to illuminate the two big dates being celebrated. So, I unfortunately cannot begin 1920 with the anti-Semitic demonstration of Mr. Hunschak. However, we are keeping this viewpoint strongly in mind. When I speak of construction works at the Südostwall, I am mentioning, of course, Hungarian Jews, and death marches. When we say, the freeing of Mauthausen, it is self-understood that what is meant are all of the concentration camps in Austria and their witnesses as well. In the first,- second- and third parts, there is a thread throughout the series highlighting what the Republic of Austria failed to address during the Nazi times. Part IV looks back at the year 1938, on aryanization and pogroms. And I emphasize that long after the signing of the State Treaty, Austria still owed us something: the confession of shared responsibility. I do my best possible in four times one hundred minutes.