Far-right Austrian lawmakers walked out of the country’s lower house of parliament on Thursday during a virtual address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, protesting that it was an “infringement” of Austria’s neutrality status.
Members of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) left their seats as Zelensky started his video address, leaving small place cards on their desks featuring the party logo and a message that read “space for peace,” according to the Austrian public broadcaster ORF.
In a video message on its Twitter account Thursday, the party said, “Yes to neutrality, no to warmongering.”
The FPO had warned days before that it would stage some form of protest against the Ukrainian president’s virtual address to Austria’s parliament.
“It is sad that the FPO is the only party in parliament that takes our ever-lasting neutrality seriously, thereby also standing up for peace,” FPO leader Herbert Kickl said in a statement on Tuesday. He also blamed the Austrian government and other opposition parties of showing “unilateral support for a war party.”
In his address, Zelensky thanked Austria for its humanitarian aid and help with projects, such as clearing land mines, adding that it is “important not to be morally neutral towards evil.”
Austria is not part of NATO and does not supply weapons to Ukraine. It has, however, provided Ukraine with humanitarian aid and helmets and protection vests for civilian use. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer last week took to Twitter to emphasize his country’s neutrality status and said that while his country is militarily neutral, “we understand we have to help where injustice and war crimes take place.”
The FPO has in the past maintained close ties to Russia. In 2016, it signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia, a conservative party holding a majority in the Russian parliament. In 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin was spotted in Austria as a guest at the wedding of Karin Kneissl, a member of the FPO and an Austrian foreign minister at the time.