OBITUARY : Karl Gruber

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The death of the Austrian statesman Karl Gruber calls for some commemoration, especially, perhaps, for his performance as his country's Foreign Minister in the years following the Second World War.

Previously a law student and engineer, he had been active in the Austrian Resistance movement (not that he would have exaggerated its significance in the scheme of things), co-operating with the US intelligence services in Switzerland, under Allen Dulles: and it was with the support of the American liberating forces (as well, notably, as that of his accomplished wife, Helga) that he won his way to become Provincial Governor of his native Tyrol. He was appointed Foreign Minister in the first Austrian coalition government, himself belonging to the Christian Democratic Volkspartei.

In that capacity, with the country only just restored to independence, under an unwieldy four-power regime, and with its whole future uncertain (as, indeed, it had been after the First World War), he had the formidable task of strengthening Austria's natural links with the West, while at the same time both standing up to and reassuring the Soviet occupying authorities: a role in which he displayed much courage, even at the cost of disagreement with some of his colleagues.

From the Austrian desk of the Foreign Office, and as a British link-man for the protracted Austrian Treaty negotiations, I got to know and like Gruber well. Not least was I concerned, like him, to challenge the once orthodox view that, for the Russians, Austria was an integral part of the German problem, so that no separate settlement could be looked for there: a view that was to be strikingly disproved by the eventual conclusion of the Treaty in 1955.

Thereafter, he had a distinguished career as ambassador to Washington (twice), West Germany and Spain (which became a second home on his retirement), besides holding various government posts in Vienna.

He also wrote several, including two quite controversial, books about his experience in which marked pro- American proclivities were demonstrated. He was a forceful, individualistic character (with a leonine appearance, and even disposition, that almost might have likened him, across the years, to Michael Heseltine); and he continued to the end to enjoy respect and influence in domestic political life.

Incidentally, among his hard-pressed young assistants in that early period was one who sometimes confided to me his difficulties with his master: Kurt Waldheim, later himself to be Foreign Minister, United Nations Secretary- General and President of the Republic - and a man whose later troubles Gruber might well have had some sympathy with.

It remains to record that a main private interest for Karl Gruber was his dogs, of which he had several generations, and the last of which died subsequently: of a broken heart.

Michael Cullis

Karl J. Gruber, politician, diplomat: born 3 May 1909; State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Austria 1945-46, Minister of Foreign Affairs 1946- 53; Lecturer in Economics, Vienna University 1946-61; Ambassador to the United States 1954-57, 1970-73; Ambassador to Spain 1961-66; Ambassador to Federal Republic of Germany 1966; Secretary of State 1966-69; Ambassador to Switzerland 1973-75; married 1939 Helga Ahlgrimm; died Innsbruck 1 February 1995.