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This weekend, thieves in Vorarlberg, Austria made off with 400 gnomes, reports The Washington Post. That is a lot of gnomes (and exactly 400 more gnomes than I own.) What would someone want with 400 gnomes, the Austrian locals asked one another? Well, as most things mysterious often do, this disappearance boils down to politics. 

Regional elections will be held this September in Vorarlberg. In preparation for the elections, the leftist Social Democratic Party ordered 20,000 gnomes (they called them "Coolmen," even though gnomes are absolutely not cool.) The stout creatures were placed around town as campaign flyers, and on Saturday, they were attached to lampposts. On Sunday, the lamppost gnomes were gone. 

The gnome, you see, is the official mascot of the Social Democratic Party: 

The gnomes are all about 15 inches tall, so it would take quite the operation to remove and store 400 of them. They are also, technically, paid for by taxpayers. In Austria, taxpayers fund electoral campaign advertising. This would make the 20,000 gnomes, which cost roughly $660,000, a taxpayer expense. The 400 stolen gnomes ran taxpayers $13,200. The Social Democratic Party was planning on gifting them to voters. 

The Washington Post interviewed the leader of the Social Democrat Party, Michael Ritsch, who believes the gnomes were stolen by their political opponent, the Austrian People's Party. The gnomes, again mysteriously, were replaced by People's Party campaign posters. Ritsch has called on police to investigate, rejecting the accusations. 

There is a 1,000 Euro award available to anyone with information that leads to the rescue of the 400 missing gnomes. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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