Mozart at the centre of a political dispute

W. A. Mozart

He's one of the greats of classical music and you wouldn't expect him to get mixed up in politics. Yet, more than 200 years after his death Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is at the centre of a dispute between the far-right Austrian Freedom Party and the Czech tourist agency Czechtourism.

Mozart is almost as close to the hearts of Czechs as he is to Austrians. Which is probably why the Czechtourism agency chose to feature him in their billboard campaign. "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stayed in the Czech Lands five times. What about you?" reads the billboard that is now prominently displayed in many parts of Vienna. The Austrian Freedom party has reacted to it with anger, claiming that the billboard "distorted history and was an insult to Sudeten Germans who were expelled from the Czech Republic after WWII.""The Czechs are trying to create the impression that the Czech Republic always existed on its present territory. But, Mozart never visited the Czech Republic. You could only say he visited Bohemia and Prague was considered a German city at the time" the party's spokesman Johann Herzog pointed out. The Freedom Party wants the billboards removed but Czechtourism says it has no intention of doing so. Karin Seligova is the agency's spokeswoman:

"Czechtourism had no intention of distorting history. Our campaign has only one goal and that is to attract more tourists from Austria, which traditionally ranks tenth on the ladder of foreign visitors. We do not intend to curtail this campaign because we have monitored a positive response to it from Austrian citizens."

Czech historians point out that denoting this country as Czech has been normal since the late Renaissance. For the most part, though neither Czech nor Austrian politicians feel the need to enter into this particular debate. Like many Czechs and Austrians they welcome a reminder of how close the two peoples once were.