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Thomas Klestil
Thomas Klestil 1.jpg
Klestil in 1999
President of Austria
In office
8 July 1992 – 6 July 2004
Chancellor Franz Vranitzky
Viktor Klima
Wolfgang Schüssel
Preceded by Kurt Waldheim
Succeeded by Heinz Fischer
Personal details
Born (1932-11-04)4 November 1932
Vienna, Austria
Died 6 July 2004(2004-07-06) (aged 71)
Vienna, Austria
Cause of death Multiple organ failure
Political party People's Party
Spouse(s)
Edith Klestil
(m. 1957; div. 1998)

Margot Klestil-Löffler
(m. 1998)
Alma mater Vienna University of Economics and Business
Signature

Thomas Klestil (German pronunciation: [ˈtoːmas ˈklɛstɪl]; 4 November 1932 – 6 July 2004) was an Austrian diplomat and politician who served as President of Austria from 1992 to his death in 2004. He was elected in 1992 and re-elected into office in 1998.

Biography until 1992

Born in Vienna to a working class family — his father was a tramway employee — Klestil went to school in Landstraße where he made friends with Joe Zawinul. He studied at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and received his doctorate in 1957. After entering the civil service he worked in Austria as well as abroad, e.g. for OECD. In 1969, he established the Austrian consulate-general in Los Angeles, where he befriended Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fluent in English, Klestil was the Austrian ambassador to the United Nations (1978–1982) and Ambassador to the United States (1982–1987) prior to his election as president.

Presidency

After being nominated by the conservative Austrian People's Party to run for Federal President, he succeeded Kurt Waldheim on 8 July 1992. However, in the course of his two terms of office, Klestil's alienation from his own party became increasingly obvious, so much so that there was open antagonism between Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Klestil when, in 2000, the latter had to swear in the newly formed coalition government with Jörg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party. Klestil, who during his election campaign had vowed to be an "active" president, repeatedly criticized the Austrian government and, in an interview with a Swiss daily given in 2003, stated that, theoretically speaking, it was in his power to dismiss the government any time he found it necessary to do so. As a matter of fact, the Austrian constitution gives far-reaching powers to the federal president, but these had never been exercised by any of Klestil's predecessors.

Support of Kiryat Mattersdorf

Klestil gave his support to the development of Kiryat Mattersdorf, a Haredi Jewish neighborhood in northern Jerusalem founded by the Mattersdorfer Rav, Rabbi Shmuel Ehrenfeld, in 1959 in memory of the Siebengemeinden (Seven Communities) of Burgenland that were destroyed in the Holocaust, Mattersdorf being one of them. Ehrenfeld's son, Rabbi Akiva Ehrenfeld, who served as president of the neighborhood, established close ties with the Austrian government to obtain funding for several institutions, including a kindergarten and the Neveh Simcha nursing home. Following Klestil's official state visit to Israel in 1994, which included a side tour of Kiryat Mattersdorf, Klestil hosted Ehrenfeld at an official reception at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna on 24 January 1995.

Personal life

Klestil met his future wife Edith Wielander (1932–2011) at the age of 17 in 1949. The marriage took place in 1957 and until the election as Austrian president in 1992, the couple had three children together. The couple separated in 1994, when Klestil made public that he had a love affair with diplomat Margot Löffler. The couple divorced in September 1998, and Klestil married Löffler three months later. When Klestil died in 2004, Edith attended the funeral service.

Klestil suffered from health issues related to his lungs, including a serious illness in 1996.

Death and burial

Flaggen halbmast Wien
The Austrian flag flying at half-staff before the Austrian Parliament Building due to the death of Klestil on 7 July 2004
Coat of Arms of Thomas Klestil (Order of the Seraphim)
Arms as knight of the Seraphim

On 5 July 2004, three days before he was to leave office, he suffered a heart attack or heart failure, probably caused by his long-term lung problems, and was left in critical condition. He died on 6 July at 23:33 local time at the AKH (Allgemeines Krankenhaus – General Hospital) in Vienna from multiple organ failure.

On 10 July 2004, the funeral service was held in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, and he was interred in the presidential crypt at Vienna's Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof). Among the notable dignitaries who attended his funeral were Russian president Vladimir Putin, former Austrian president and UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim, and Austrian-born Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. Klestil was the fifth president of Austria to die in office since 1950.

Honours and awards

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