Last weekend in the mountainous Austrian state of Vorarlberg, 400 gnomes disappeared. Nobody knows where they have gone. But everyone knows it’s down to politics. With regional elections set for Sept. 21, the left-wing Social Democratic Party ordered 20,000 gnomes called “Coolmen” earlier this year. The gnomes, toting sunglasses and campaign signs, were the party’s last-ditch effort to prevent an electoral defeat in Vorarlberg. About 400 of the gnomes were attached to lampposts on Saturday as alternatives to traditional posters, but their mass disappearance by Sunday morning was conspicuous. “I suspect our rival party OeVP [the Austrian People’s Party] to have removed the gnomes,” local Social Democratic Party leader Michael Ritsch told The Washington Post on Tuesday. Ritsch has filed a complaint, and the state’s police forces have launched an investigation.
Speaking to Austrian public broadcaster ORF, the local leadership of the OeVP party denied the allegations. The party’s local general manager told ORF that people who leveled such unfounded accusations were no better than the actual gnome thieves.
But Ritsch persists with his accusations. “All of our gnomes are 40 centimeters tall. The thieves must have needed more than just one truck to steal them,” he said. And he points out another interesting detail: Soon after the gnomes were removed, he said, posters advertising the OeVP party were put up in the same spots.