5 MARCH 1988, Page 41

High life

Don't blame Austria


Edgar M. Bronfman is a billionaire booze-maker, president of the World Jew- ish Congress, and one of the most un- pleasant men I've ever had the bad luck to meet. Fortunately I met him only once, but it was enough. After all, as the great Oscar almost said, 'It is only superficial people who don't judge by first appearances.' My friend Zographos and I were in the south of France, and he had talked me into going to the kind of party where I knew in advance I'd be considered an intellectual by the RIWTs it was bound to be full of. Sure enough, I was right. Both the men and the women, even the children, knew how to count, but Zographos and I were the only two who could read.

In the middle of the sumptuous dinner a man sitting across the table from us said something to a woman and she burst into tears. I could not hear what he was saying but he kept on saying it, and she finally got up and ran away. Although most of the people there had no manners but only money, everyone acted impeccably and kept staring at their food. Everyone but my friend King Zog, that is, who protested out loud at the treatment the woman had been subjected to. But he was immediately told to cool it by our hosts, because the bully was Edgar Bronfman, and the woman his wife. Bronfman, we were told, did not suffer fools who disagreed with him gladly.

I first heard of the bully when he married my friend Carolyn Townsend (Lady Carolyn to you Brits) about 20 years ago, give or take five years. The marriage broke up overnight, in fact I believe it lasted literally only one night. The wife he bullied on that particular day was also British, which alas indicates that Bronfman and I must have at least one thing in common we both like English women.

But the reason I'm going on about this unpleasant man is definitely not his women but his views, which recently appeared in the New York Times — where else concerning Austria, a country which among other achievements has also pro- duced the father of the mother of my children.

Needless to say, Bronfman's opus in the Big Bagel Times dealt with Waldheim, calling him 'a mirror of Austria', thereby tainting the whole nation with guilt. Now, although it has become fashionable in the last couple of years to attack Waldheim, I have not been one of his attackers. The reason for this is that I have always known what a piece of excrement he is, was, and always will be. In fact, my father-in-law, Prince Peter Schoenburg, was at school with him and told me 20 years ago that Kurt was by far the stupidest boy in the class, who got away with the best grades. Peter Schoenburg, incidentally, left Austria after the Anschluss, while his two elder brothers were sent to fight on the Russian front, where Hitler sent most German and Austrian nobles whom he considered unreliable.

Another reason that Bronfman is mak- ing an Orlando Furioso out of me is his sense of morality, which at best is highly selective. He calls the ghastly one a liar and amoral, as well as unrepentant, but I wonder what adjectives he would use to describe those who bury unarmed youths alive? For Bronfman to take the high moral ground is already a joke; for him to rage against Austria — a country that has taken in so many refugees from Eastern Europe — is as farcical as Taki raging against Jeffrey Bernard's life-style. And speaking of booze, Bronfman's old man did a Taki, but not in Pentonville: I believe it was a Canadian or American prison.

After Switzerland, my favourite Euro- pean country is Austria, her people being among the most polite and gentle in the world. Bronfman says that for Cold War reasons the Allies declared Austria the first victim of Nazi aggression. He is not con- fined by fact. There was no Cold War when the foreign ministers of Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States met in Mos- cow on 1 November 1943 and declared Austria the first country to fall victim to Hitler. But not to worry. Because of Bronfman's unfair attack, I plan to go skiing in Kitzbiihel rather than Gstaad next year. Next week, however, I shall be returning to good old Helvetia.