Guest of dishonour misses a night at the opera

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The Independent Online

What a party they were having in Vienna last night: a sell-out crowd waltzed while 25,000 gate-crashers chanted outside as police struggled to keep hoi polloi away from the upper crust. The guest of honour might well have been startled by all the noise.

What a party they were having in Vienna last night: a sell-out crowd waltzed while 25,000 gate-crashers chanted outside as police struggled to keep hoi polloi away from the upper crust. The guest of honour might well have been startled by all the noise.

But he was absent. This year's Opera Ball, once a highlight of the European season, will be remembered not for those who attended, but those who stayed away. Foreign dignitaries were not prepared to take the chance of bumping into Europe's most loathed politician, and artists, actresses and even porn stars followed suit, leaving busty Nadel, presenter of an erotic show on a small German television channel, hogging the limelight.

The organisers dedicated the ball to Portugal, holder of the revolving European Union presidency. The President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio, was guest of honour but cancelled when Jörg Haider's Freedom Party entered the government.

Austrian diplomacy could recruit only one international statesmen: President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, who is a lover of fine horses but, alas, cannot waltz. The organisers approached a selection of film stars with lots of time on their hands but Claudia Cardinale and Catherine Deneuve, among others, declared themselves too busy to come to Mr Haider's Austria.

So it was Nadel's night, paid to add a veneer of respectability to a tarnished land. And it was the night when thousands of Viennese besieged the Opera, shouting "Haider out".

The great helmsman was not even inside but there is probably no truth in the rumour that he was paid to stay away because the organiser feared he would lower the tone.

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