Eight former lawmakers reflect on their years in top-tier politics in “Der Preis der Macht”.
Ex-Greens MEP Ulrike Lunacek, former SPÖ state secretary and Siemens board member Brigitte Ederer and six other women have agreed to speak about their experiences in various opposition and government positions for a new book.
ORF news presenter Lou Lorenz-Dittlbacher asked Heide Schmidt what it felt like being considered as just a liberal figleaf for the right-wing Freedom Party under Jörg Haider. Gabi Burgstaller described her way from growing up on the Upper Austrian countryside to becoming governor of Salzburg.
Waltraud Klasnic opened up about the Lassing mine tragedy, arguably the hardest moment of her 10 years as head of the Styrian government, while ex-FPÖ Vice Chancellor Susanne Riess speaks about prejudices concerning women in influential positions in politics. “There is such a great difference in the perception of men and women in politics. People used to discuss my weight instead of my political agenda. Half of the reactions to a long interview on television used to refer to what I was wearing and the colour of my nails,” she told Lorenz-Dittlbacher.
Former ÖVP minister for women and health Maria Rauch-Kallat (“There’s never a lot of time for close friendships in politics. Unfortunately you lose many friends when you’re a politician.”) – whose parents managed a busy Viennese inn – started working at a school in the city’s infamous Favoriten district before having finished her studies. At the same time, she raised two daughters, one of them slowly losing her eyesight.
Rauch-Kallat caused a stir by attempting to change the national anthem’s lyrics in a bid to honour Austria’s “great daughters”. She eventually succeeded – despite some harsh reactions, also within her own party. “I’m fully aware that this isn’t the biggest issue in politics concerning women. Fair salaries are much more important. But it’s a signal,” she says, reflecting on those turbulent weeks back in 2011.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner served as foreign minister and European commissioner. “Other foreign ministers pretended not knowing me anymore,” she reveals, looking back on reactions in Brussels after her party, the conservative ÖVP controversially formed a coalition with Jörg Haider’s right-wing FPÖ. “It was ridiculous,” the former presidential candidate added.
None of the women interviewed by Lorenz-Dittlbacher are filled with self-pity or bitterness about their current situation. But some experiences must have been hard to digest. Asked whether shedding some tears during a speech shortly after an enormous financial scandal emerged has had a bad effect, Burgstaller says: “Yes. People made fun of it. I think it’s a shame. What’s wrong with emotions, also in politics?”
“Der Preis der Macht” is a brutal reminder of the lack of fairness towards women in politics but also in society in general. Confronted by patronising and harassing counterparts, it is an undeniable fact that women often have to work harder than their male colleagues and competitors.
However, this collection of interviews is impressive proof how to get back on your feet after suffering raw and painful defeats. Riess said: “Stepping down was an emotional moment because it was a really hard time physically and mentally. But avoiding self-pity was so important to me. I think letting go is easier for women because they are less vain. There are expectations, of course, but women don’t take themselves so seriously.”
The can-do spirit of Klasnic and Burgstaller – who lived from hand to mouth as children – is as impressive as the achievements of Ederer (“I’ve always strived for power. It helps you getting things done.”) to ensure Austria’s membership of the European Union and Rauch-Kallat’s tireless efforts to improve disabled people’s lives.
The only deplorable aspect about this book is that the eight interviewees did not make it on the cover.
Der Preis der Macht. Österreichische Politikerinnen blacken zurück
By Lou Lorenz-Dittlbacher
Published by Residenz Verlag (www.residenzverlag.at)