Austria upset with `Our Arnie' over execution

December 14, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

For years in his Austrian homeland, the tabloid papers affectionately referred to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as "Our Arnie."

Yesterday, after he refused to pardon convicted murderer Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the headline stripped across one of the country's largest newspapers was "Terminator."

Williams was executed by lethal injection early yesterday morning after a worldwide campaign to persuade Schwarzenegger or U.S. courts to spare him.

In Schwarzenegger's home province of Styria, liberal Green Party leaders in the provincial capital of Graz moved to strip him of his honorary citizenship and rename the local Arnold Schwarzenegger sports stadium.

In much of Europe, people paid little attention to the execution or expressed merely pro forma dismay about the United States' continued use of the death penalty. But, in Austria, there was a sense of betrayal by a native son.

Many Austrians previously had thought that Schwarzenegger burnished the small country's image overseas, showing that they could play on the world stage and bring European attitudes into American politics.

"In Austria, Schwarzenegger at the beginning of [his] term as governor was the darling of everybody - of the press, but also of the politicians in Styria and in all Austria," said Sigi Binder, the Green Party leader in the province. "His support for the Special Olympics was especially praised."

"But, of course, the situation has changed quite a bit; a little bit of a sense of shame has developed among our politicians," she said.

Anneliese Rohrer, a popular columnist for Kurier, a daily newspaper, said the disillusionment among Austrians over Schwarzenegger was striking, given the national excitement when he was entering the American political scene.

"We loved him when he got elected, and now people say, `Oh, Arnie, he's an American, he's not an Austrian anymore.' It's a very emotional thing for them," Rohrer said.

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