Austria's longest serving mayor - 50 years realpolitik

Governments may come and go, but this is of no concern to Valentin Deutschmann. The 80-year-old has seen it all - coalition crises, snap elections, scandals - whatever may have hit Austria, mayor Deutschann has weathered every storm. ( dpa )

For the past 50 years, Deutschmann has ruled over the small village Grafenstein in the southern province of Carinthia, making him the country's longest-serving community leader, and probably among the top contenders for this particular honour in Europe.

Realpolitik rules in Grafenstein, where the octogenarian mayor holds a seemingly permanent monopoly on an absolute majority. Coalition gambles, voter deceit or breaking promises is never on, he believes.

"You have to keep the promises you make," the experienced local politician said, voicing his lack of understanding for the current coalition squabbles that continue to shake the Austrian government.

As a mayor, one has to keep honest, openly discuss negative issues as well as positive ones, and stay with both feet on the ground, Deutschmann said, relating the secrets of his success for his long stint on top of the community of 2,800 residents.

"The people have to know that they are taken seriously," he said. And if there was trouble, the main goal was to find a consensus and not have an all-out media war.

Andreas Tischler, head of the municipal office, is full of praise for his boss: "He never tried to sell miracles to the people, like promising them a public swimming pool." The mayor was a man who stuck to his word, but despite all realism still had some visions for Grafenstein, a farming village about 12 kilometres from the provincial capital, Klagenfurt.

Grafenstein was one of the first communities in rural Austria to have a kindergarten, a small revolution for the Catholic country with strong conservative family values.

Since taking office in 1958, only three years after Austria re- gained its full independence after World War II, Deutschmann worked for improving his community - rebuilding the school and improving the sewer system. This may not sound earth-shaking in the grand scheme of things, but certainly hit a nerve with the Grafensteiners.

From 1966 to 1987 Deutschmann was a member of Austria's parliament in Vienna for the conservative People's Party. However, things were going downhill in the capital. "A politician has to lead by example," Deutschmann warned sternly.

That meant a spotless record, being well-dressed, always well- mannered and never forgetting about proper behaviour.

Yet, after 50 years of quasi-Deutschmann hegemony, there are here and there some still muted voices of discontent. Criticism against Deutschmann's long time in office could be heard among the patrons of her inn, Alwine Kulterer, proprietress of the Grafenstein guesthouse, said. "There are some people here who would like to replace him."

Deutschmann said he was not planning to stick around forever, and was eying retirement, now that he has reached 80. Already in the starting blocks is a possible successor - Deutschmann's son Stefan, currently serving as a deputy mayor. If the Grafenstein voters agree, things can be kept in the family.

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