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Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl's Curtsy To Vladimir Putin Draws Criticism

Vladimir Putin (by [CC BY 3.0 ] via Wikimedia Commons)

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl's curtsy to Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn criticism from Austrian politicians and international media.

On Saturday, August 18, Putin attended Kneissl's wedding in the state of Styria, in southeastern Austria. Among the guests were Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom party (FPÖ).

Karin Kneissl is a former journalist. On December 18, 2017, she was sworn in as Austria's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and Integration. She is an independent, but she was recommended for the role by the Freedom Party.

At the wedding Vladimir Putin gave a short speech congratulating Kneissl and her husband, businessman Wolfgang Meilinger. Kneissl danced with Putin and at the end of the dance she gave the Russian leader a curtsy.

Footage of the Austrian politician bowing to Putin became the centerpiece of TV news coverage of the event in Russia. Journalists from the Russian state-run network Russia Today (RT) were present at the ceremony.

Kneissl's curtsy was criticized as a symbolic act of submission to Putin.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin tweeted that the Foreign Ministry of Austria being forced to reaffirm its foreign policy commitments in light of a "private" visit caused "a sad smile." Ukrainian lawmaker and chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Hanna Hopko said that Austria can no longer be regarded as a neutral mediator in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.   

Criticism also came from Jörg Leichtfried, spokesperson for the Austrian Socialist Party, and from the Green Party EU lawmaker Michel Reimon, who called on Kneissl to resign. Othmar Karas, EU lawmaker of the ruling Austrian People's Party, told the Tiroler Tageszeitung that he could not understand "the logistics and the intention to stage and exploit in this way a personal ceremony."  

Putin's visit drew backlash for its cost to taxpayers, too. A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry stated that the "normal security measures for the visit of a foreign leader were implemented." 

Vice chancellor Strache defended Kneissl, saying that the curtsy was simply part of the traditional Austrian dance and had no political meaning. 

Putin is known for cultivating ties with far-right groups spreading Christian-conservative, white supremacist ideology across the West.

Freedom House classifies Russia as "non free" due to its authoritarian system of government, in which President Putin and loyalist factions control the media and elections. 

According to Amnesty International, most Russian media remain under effective state control and are used by the authorities to smear human rights defenders, political opponents and other dissenting voices. Political activists and dissidents face harassment, administrative and criminal proceedings and physical violence by pro-government activists and “unidentified” individuals, who are believed to be security officials. 

The Russian government has banned anonymizers and virtual private networks, and has approved a "Strategy for the Development of the Information Society for 2017-2030" which prioritizes "traditional Russian spiritual-ethical values." In November, a law was passed allowing authorities to recognize as “foreign agents” media outlets that were both registered abroad and foreign-funded. 

Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia 148th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom

In April 2017 investigative journalist and Novy Peterburg co-founder Nikolay Andrushchenko died weeks after he was severely beaten. Dmitriy Popkov, editor of the investigative online outlet Ton-M, was killed in May. 

In December, the Central Election Commission banned opposition leader Aleksey Navalny from running for President. He would have been the only serious challenger to Vladimir Putin in the 2018 presidential election.

The Russian government continues to crack down on religious minorities and LGBT communities. In Chechnya the gay community is subject to violent persecution. In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a 2013 law that made it illegal to talk about homosexuality in public was discriminatory and violated freedom of expression.

In March 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the first direct act of territorial expansion in Europe since the Second World War.


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