Schwarzenegger’s Spat With Hometown Shows Net’s Political Pull

With a spate of headlines that demonstrate the importance of the Internet as a lever for political and social issues, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian birthplace of Graz is making a name for itself in a new way: political critic.

It started when Schwarzenegger asked that his name be removed from a soccer stadium. The California governor wrote to his hometown earlier this month, requesting that Graz officials stop using his name for promotional purposes after political opponents there denounced him for refusing to staythe Dec. 13 execution of Stanley Tookie Williams.

Terminator Terminated

Graz officials complied with Schwarzenegger’s request and removed his namefrom the 15,300-seat arena. The stadium had donned Schwarzenegger’s namesince 1997, when the bodybuilder-turned-actor was still playing starring roleson the Silver Screen.

But Graz officials did more than remove Schwarzenegger’s name from the soccerstadium, which is now called “Stadium Graz-Liebenau.”

The town also removed references to the Hollywood star from its main Website and from a sister site devoted to the area’s sports scene. “It’s allsettled,” Thomas Rajakovics, a spokesperson for Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl, toldAustrian media.

Web Punishment

Schwarzenegger has taken plenty of flak for his decision in the Williamscase. That’s because capital punishment is illegal in his native Austria. In fact, many of his brethren believe capital punishment is barbaric.

With their official slogan of “City of Human Rights,” many Grazites found Schwarzenegger’s decision to allow the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams unbearable. The governor, in turn, seems to have taken offense at their criticism, and has vowed to return an ornate ring of honor town officials gave him in 1999.

Still, Graz Mayor Nagl reportedly wrote Schwarzenegger last week asking himnot to cut ties with his birthplace and inviting him to keep the ring. MostGraz citizens, he said, still admire the politician despite his pro-deathpenalty stance.

Schwarzenegger will soon have another chance to win back approval from Graz; California’s next execution is scheduled for Jan. 17.

Power of the Net

Just a few years ago, the idea that a small town in Austria could be heardin a global discussion on the morality of the death penalty would have beenunlikely — if not unthinkable. Such is the power of the Internet, according toBoyd Peterson, an analyst at the Yankee Group.

“The fact that there is this spat between Arnold Schwarzenegger and hishometown is news. The ability for both sides to have their views exposedthrough various Internet means is far greater than it ever has been,”Peterson told TechNewsWorld.

Peterson pointed to another example: the Kryptonite Evolution 2000 U Lock.Someone posted a Quicktime movie to a bike bulletin board demonstrating howhe could pick the lock with a Bic pen. The story quickly spread to other bloggers and Web sites.

Kryptonite eventually was forced to recall the lock, demonstrating the power of one voice on the Web.

What’s News?

Internet news has the capacity to move beyond traditional national borders, Peterson said.

“Something that was previously only of concern to to the people ofCalifornia or Austria could actually be considered a meaningful story inboth places because of the dialogue,” he pointed out.

“Previously, you had to go to major media outlets to get an opinion. Now you can go to blogs. This is globalism at its most obvious,” he said.

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