Thomas Klestil
President of Austria
In office
8 July 1992 – 6 July 2004
ChancellorFranz Vranitzky
Viktor Klima
Wolfgang Schüssel
Preceded byKurt Waldheim
Succeeded byHeinz Fischer
Personal details
Born(1932-11-04)4 November 1932
Vienna, Austria
Died6 July 2004(2004-07-06) (aged 71)
Vienna, Austria
Cause of deathMultiple organ failure
Political partyPeople's Party
(m. 1957; div. 1998)

(m. 1998)
Alma materVienna University of Economics and Business

Thomas Klestil (German pronunciation: [ˈtoːmas ˈklɛstɪl] (audio speaker iconlisten); 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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[2]


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.[1] 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.[citation needed] 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.[3] 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.[4][5]


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.[6] The couple divorced in September 1998, and Klestil married Löffler three months later.[7] 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

The Austrian flag flying at half-staff before the Austrian Parliament Building due to the death of Klestil on 7 July 2004
The Austrian flag flying at half-staff before the Austrian Parliament Building due to the death of Klestil on 7 July 2004
Arms as knight 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.[1]

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.[8] Klestil was the fifth president of Austria to die in office since 1950.

Honours and awards


  1. ^ a b c d "Thomas Klestil, 71, Austrian Who Redeemed the Presidency". The New York Times. 7 July 2004. Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  2. ^ "Diplomatic Representation for Republic of Austria". U.S. Department of State. 5 February 2008. Retrieved 8 January 2009.
  3. ^ "Destroyed Jewish Community: Mattersdorf (Part 1)". Scholem and Friends. 20 February 2011. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  4. ^ Engel, Reinhard (5 February 1995). "Jerusalem rabbi visits Austria 'to create a bridge' to Vienna". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012. (subscription required)
  5. ^ Klestil, Thomas (2005). Thomas Klestil—der Verantwortung verpflichtet: Ansprachen und Vorträge 1992–2004 [Thomas Klestil Undertakes the Responsibility: Speeches and lectures, 1992–2004] (in German). Verlag Österreich. p. 315. ISBN 3-7046-4757-8.
  6. ^ Ottaway, David B. (2 February 1994). "Blues on the Danube: A Modern Austrian Operetta in Three-Part Disharmony". The Washington Post. p. a.13. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  7. ^ Staff writers (4 April 2011). "Ex-First Lady dies of cancer". Austrian Times. Archived from the original on 5 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  8. ^ "Funeral held for Austrian leader". BBC News. 10 July 2004. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  9. ^ BOE-A-1995-16657
  10. ^ Slovak republic website, State honours Archived 13 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine : 1st Class received in 1998 (click on "Holders of the Order of the 1st Class White Double Cross" to see the holders' table)
Diplomatic posts Preceded byPeter Jankowitsch Ambassador of Austria to the United Nations 1978–1982 Succeeded byKarl Fischer Preceded byKarl Herbert Schober Ambassador of Austria to the United States 1982–1987 Succeeded byFriedrich Hoess Political offices Preceded byKurt Waldheim President of Austria 1992–2004 Succeeded byHeinz Fischer