Lawmakers from the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) staged a walkout during a video address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the country’s lower house of parliament. The FPO members cited a violation of Austria’s principle of neutrality as their reason for protest. During the address, Zelenskyy thanked Austria for its support on various humanitarian projects, including clearing landmines.
Ahead of the speech, the pro-Russian FPO had warned that they would hold some form of protest against Zelenskyy’s address. The party has been a strong opponent of Austria’s government and currently has the third-largest number of seats in the lower house. After attending the start of the speech, the FPO lawmakers left the chamber.
Austria, which supports Ukraine politically, maintains that its principle of neutrality prevents its military involvement in the conflict. Therefore, it cannot provide weapons to Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion. FPO leader Herbert Kickl stated that the party takes Austria’s ever-lasting neutrality seriously and therefore stands up for peace. The party left small placards on their desks featuring the party logo and either “space for neutrality” or “space for peace.”
Although the video address was not legally binding, the FPO’s actions suggest that its lawmakers are willing to take a strong stance on issues related to Austria’s neutrality. The party has a history of supporting Russia’s actions, including praising Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Additionally, the FPO has opposed European Union sanctions against Russia, and its former leader was involved in a scandal that linked him to Moscow’s attempts to influence the 2017 Austrian election.
Currently, the FPO has a slight lead in opinion polls over the opposition Social Democrats and Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservatives, who govern in coalition with the left-wing Greens. Austria’s current parliament runs until next year’s autumn.
Despite the FPO’s walkout, Zelenskyy’s address emphasized the importance of cooperation between Ukraine and Austria. The two countries have had diplomatic relations since 1992, and Austria has been a key supporter of Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with the European Union. In recent years, Austria has provided aid to Ukraine in various areas, including health care, education, and demining.
The walkout by the FPO highlights the ongoing debate in Austria regarding the country’s relationship with Russia and Ukraine. While Austria supports Ukraine politically, its principle of neutrality prevents it from providing military assistance to the country. The FPO’s actions indicate a desire to maintain Austria’s neutrality and peace, but also raise questions about their stance towards Russia and their opposition to EU sanctions.