In 1951 the Swiss made film Four in a Jeep put another view of postwar Vienna onto the world’s movie screens, after the bleak insights of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. Four sergeants, each in their distinctive national uniforms, are patrolling the shattered city as representatives of their occupying armies. The mood is upbeat, four national stereotypes colliding, crammed into their iconic American Jeep. Seventy-five years after the end of hostilities, Kanzler Sebastian Kurz invited the four victorious powers to send a video greeting to Austria. As the daily Die Presse reported, all four replied – in their own distinctively national style.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (many years a KGB agent in Dresden) replied in German: “Liebe Freunde, Grüß Gott.” He went on to extoll the sacrifices of the Soviet people and to congratulate “the re-birth of an independent, dynamic and democratic Austria.” The old Russian strategic ploy of treating Austria as a not quite fully-paid-up member of the anti-Soviet capitalist front is still in play.
Donald Trump, uncharacteristically brief, sent in a thirty-second clip, somewhat ambiguously proclaiming his relationship to Austria and Europe “stronger than ever.” And of course, “The Chancellor is doing a fantastic job,” he added, using a favorite adjective normally reserved for his loyalists, and of course, himself.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab contributed for Britain. As the son of Czech Jewish parents, who had lost many relatives in the Holocaust, his message had an especially personal significance: “Nie wieder!” (never again!) he signed off in German.
As befits a founding member of what is now the European Union, France took the opportunity to stress the importance of multinational solidarity in difficult times with French Ambassador Francois Saint-Clair striking a very timely note: The Coronavirus must not be allowed to again divide the Continent. “Es lebe Österreich!” (Long live Austria!) he closed, also in German, echoing the ringing finale of Austria’s declaration of full independence in 1955.
Perhaps we are ready for a re-make of Four Men in a Jeep, harking back to more optimistic, if not simpler, times. Today, though, it would be the cramped confines of a baby SUV – too much comfort in too little space – as the analogy for our continued inter-dependence. Could strike just the right note.