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Austria Drops "Porno" Posters From Sex-ed up EU Campaign

A number of controversial posters, one featuring naked models posing as world leaders engaged in a simulated sex act, have been removed from a campaign celebrating Austria's EU presidency.

Austria welcomes the EU...but not with this poster which was dropped from the campaign

When the Austrian government said it wanted its EU presidency to start with a bang, it probably didn't have one in mind involving US President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and Queen Elizabeth II.

Posters from an art project promoting Austria's EU presidency were removed by organizers Thursday after a storm of protest. The offending material depicted naked models posing as the British monarch and the two statesmen seemingly having sex.

The project's organizers together with artists Carlos Aires from Spain and Tanja Ostojic from Serbia opted to pull the posters after a public furor that embarrassed the Vienna government, according to a report from APA, the Austrian news agency.

Aires and Ostojic were quoted as saying in the report that they felt it was better that their works should be removed as not to divert attention from the others in the series.

The Queen with Presidents Bush and Chirac representing Europe's development

The controversial images of three people writhing naked while wearing masks of Bush, Chirac and the queen had been condemned as pornographic by opposition politicians and Catholic clerics. The poster, along with another piece showing a woman sprawled, legs apart, wearing nothing except panties bearing the European flag, had been removed from the "euroPART" project, organizers said in a statement Thursday evening.

The poster of the woman's crotch was based on Gustave Courbet's 19th century painting "L'Origin du Monde" (The origin of the world), in which the figure is nude.

Racy images supposed to reflect EU's development

The contentious images were among a series of 148 which were being flashed on billboards around Vienna and Salzburg ahead of Austria's turn at the rotating EU presidency, which begins on Jan. 1. According to the "25peaces" group of artists behind the event, the posters were meant to "reflect on the different social, historical and political developments in Europe."

Popular daily Kronen-Zeitung, along with the opposition Social Democrats and the Catholic Church had earlier in the day called for an immediate stop to the part government-funded campaign.

Those in charge of the project, involving 75 artists from around the European Union's 25 members, however, defended their right to artistic freedom.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, a conservative, did not have the authority to ban the posters but had asked the organizers to drop certain themes, his spokeswoman Heidi Glück said. She added that a government grant of one million euros ($1.2 million) to "25peaces" was not specifically marked for the project.

"Sexist" posters a "waste of public funds"

But Joseph Cap from the Social Democrat party claimed that a grant of 500,000 euros had been given to directly finance it, calling this "a reprehensible waste of public funds."

The posters have been described as "bad for the EU"

Gabi Burgstaller, Social Democratic governor of Salzburg province, meanwhile denounced the pictures as "sexist" and "bad for the EU." She asked they not be put up in Salzburg in January during a European summit.

However, one of the organizers of the project, Georg Springer, denied the images amounted to pornography. There was "no intention to provoke," he said, adding that the artworks were supposed to "criticize globalization and be ironic about the EU."

The issue has sparked a wider debate about artistic freedoms in Austria. While far right politicians have expressed outrage, an editorial in the daily Die Presse insisted that public art had a duty to "provoke" and said that "otherwise, society has no chance of survival."

"25peaces" produced a number of artistic projects in Vienna during 2005, when Austria celebrated 60 years following the end of World War II and 50 years since the end of the postwar Allied occupation.

DW.DE