Austrian party rues disappearance of 400 garden gnomes

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Vienna

image copyrightAustrian Social Democrat Party (SPOE)
image captionIn using gnomes for its election campaign, the Social Democrats are breaking with long established custom in Austria

Four hundred garden gnomes have gone missing in Vorarlberg in west Austria.

The gnomes, known as "Coolmen", are the property of the left wing Social Democrat Party.

They were being used as political campaign advertisements in the run up to provincial elections in Vorarlberg on 21 September.

Reinhold Einwallner from the Social Democrats told the BBC there were suspicions that the gnomes may have been removed by rival party the OeVP.

Gnome facts

  • The idea of including small stone figures in the garden is an ancient one - Priapus, the ancient phallic god of fertility inhabited many a Roman garden
  • During the Renaissance period, gardens of wealthy villas sported groups of stone "grotesques" including Punch-style figures typically a metre tall and garishly painted
  • In Germany the history of these garden figures has become inextricably confused with the tradition of "little folk" or dwarves who were believed to help in the mines and around the farm
  • As the first proud Germanic dwarves arrived in England they were promptly re-named as the more humble "gnome"
  • The manufacturing heartland of the early gnome or dwarf centred on the town of Graefenroda in Germany
  • With the outbreak of World War I the reputation of the Germanic gnome plummeted. It was left to Disney to revive the fashion with their hit animation film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Source: Garden historian Twigs Way

Mr Einwallner said the 400 gnomes in question had been attached to lamp-posts in around the towns of Rankweil and Bregenz. But on Saturday night, they disappeared.

image copyrightAustrian Social Democrat Party (SPOE)
image captionThe Social Democrats are now investigating what they fear is a mass "gnome napping"

"An interesting detail is that now OeVP [the conservative People's Party] campaign posters are now hanging at the same height on many of these lampposts," he said.

Mr Einwallner said the Social Democrats were happy if individual members of the public wanted to take a Coolman gnome for their gardens but he said the party could not just stand by when campaign materials worth 3,000 euros ($3,958; £2,391) simply disappeared.

It would be "a major scandal" if the gnomes had been stolen by another political party, he said in a statement.

The Social Democrats have filed an official complaint with the police.

A reward of 1,000 euros has been offered to anyone with information about the gnomes' whereabouts.

In using gnomes for its election campaign, the Social Democrats are breaking with long established custom in Austria. Traditionally posters are used.

The Social Democrats have ordered 20,000 gnomes, which they plan to roll out over the next few weeks of campaigning.

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