The rise of the right wing in Europe: the Austrian case
The rise of the right wing in Europe: the Austrian case.
The inclusion of the Freedom Party (FPO) in Austria's new coalition government has raised up a polemic that has made Austria appear recently in newspaper headlines all over the world. We have all heard or read something about it, and the idea most people got is that Freedom's Party leader Joerg Haider is a racist, neo-nazi man, that is however very popular and has the support of the most extreme European far right.
Before starting my research what I knew about Austria and his present situation fit in one word: nothing. Thus my purpose in this report is sharing what I discovered with the hope that it would answer the questions that I think might be in everybody's mind on a very basic level.
Who is Joerg Haider? Why is the People's party (OVP), sharing the power with the Freedom Party, instead of with the Social Democratic Party (SPO)? Why was the EU's reaction so tough that far?
To understand the current situation we have to learn or maybe review the country's background. Belonging to the Austria-Hungary Empire, Austria became an independent country in 1918 as a result of World War I. As they were together with the rest of the Empire since 1867 the majority of the 8 millions Austrians did not identify themselves with the new-born country and they had several difficulties in ruling themselves. At least that is what Hitler may have thought because in March 1938 Austria was annexed to Germany by what has been called the Anschluss. From 1937 up to 1945 the country was part of the Third Reich. Occupied by the Nazis the main part of the population finished collaborating as an active part in the Nazi administration. The Victory of the Allies put the country under another occupation: British, French, American and Soviet's troops stayed in the country for ten years. In 1955 it finally became a republic, with its own laws and government, absolutely independent.
However, despite all the difficulties they had undergone Austria is today considered one of the most successful countries of post-war Europe. Consociationalism a term used in political science to define small European political economies such as Scandinavian countries or Switzerland. When talking about Austria this term defines more specifically the close relationship between the two main political parties: the Social Democratic Party; called the reds; and the more Catholic-oriented People's party who are the blacks. When in 1945 SPO decided to put aside the differences began the long process of conversion that led the country to democracy. They finally agreed to make a power-sharing coalition that allowed them to get rid of the occupation. The troops left but the Grand coalition remained another eleven years.
The Freedom Party
This party, founded in 1956 is the remaining of a League that promoted pan-German nationalism for Austria. Instead of following the same path, the Freedom Party chose a more Europe oriented politic in order to find a substitute for identification with Germany. Even if it has some new ideas, it is the only party to openly believe in free-market, the ADL denounces (cf. bibliography) they can not forget their roots: the first two leaders of the party were respectively a former member of a Nazi post-Anschluss cabinet of 1938 and ex-SS officer. Before Haider's leadership the Freedom Party had no place in Austrian's public life, now the national support has raised an unbelievable rate. Political analysts such as Martin Rauchbauer believes that the relatively recent success of the party is due to Haider's anti-foreigners message but there are some other powerful reasons.
According to this man immigrants take jobs away from Austrians he has no repair in declaring that somebody should “Stop foreign infiltration” because “ the Africans who come here are drug dealers and they seduce our youth; […] we've got people from former Yugoslavia who are burglary experts. We've got Turks who are superbly organized in the heroin trade and we've got Russians who are experts in blackmail and mugging.”
Haider has manipulated public fears over joblessness, and has put on people's minds that they will not be safe until every single foreigner is back in his country and Austria shines under an Austrian-only sun. In another words he wishes to do an ethnic cleansing. “We take the right to stand at the right time to save Austria against the dangers coming from outside.” He says, and we may wonder if this right is right.
Even though Haider's defense of Nazis and Nazi Policy is another point we could talk about for hours we would just say that despite the public disclaimers and retractions if he has once said so, it may mean that he thinks it.
Austria's political system
The survey that the UN did in Austria to try to find the ground that took people to support the Blues reflects that the most attractive promise was to eliminate corruption. The Red-Black coalition has lasted for fourteen years and as the two parties together won in average 86% of the total votes; that allowed politicians to be corrupted without fearing anything. Scandals continuously blistered Austrian society. From 1966 up to 1983 Red and Blacks were alternatively in power, in 1983 The Socialist government fell two seats out so they sat up a little coalition with the Freedom Party. However, when in 1986 the Freedom Party elected Joerg Haider _who was considered to be an erratic nationalist_ the socialists broke with them.
Those who look for explanation for the rise of Haider's Party should better be thinking about the people's will to end up with corruption rather than thinking every Austrian has a copy of Mein Kampf on his night table.
Some might be wondering why does the Freedom Party are in power. The Austrian government shares the cabinets: that's what the coalition is about. In order to stay in power, the strongest party offers a certain number of cabinets to the party he wants to make a coalition with and if the other accepts then it's done. This system is called in Austrian PROPORT. Wolfgang Schussel has become the chancellor. He is the first People's Party leader to do so in 45 years and even if most people in his party feel uneasy sharing the power with the freedomers it was the only way to keep the power. The international condemnation of Haider's principles have only made the Blues even more popular: Austrians do not like to be told what to do. Schussel didn't want to go for a second round because he feared he would not be able to keep the chancellorship; after 108 days of negotiation, Blues and Blacks entered the office together. Politicians, sometimes, just as shopkeepers want to get the best out of their affairs at the lowest price. In order to be able to keep chancellorship VPO had to give away 5 cabinet members: including the finance and social security ones. This means that now FPO has critical posts “for a strategy of cutting public expenditure and taxation and privatizing industries and reducing subsidies that had previously benefited its political opponents” in words of Schussel itself.
So FPO has indeed enough power to mess things up in many ways, and the fears that EU have, are grounded. Anyway the EU reaction was; in my opinion exaggerated.
Haider attacks on immigration and the European Union first alerted the European Union to Haider's nazi background and gave them the perfect excuse to ostracize their 15th member just because they dislike the outcome of the elections. The population is said to have the power to elect who they want to be ruled by; if voters had decided to brake the black/red coalition, isn't it their right to do so? People just answer that Hitler was elected and look what he did. Anyway even though Haider's ideas may seem not that far from Hitler's it would be nonsense to compare them. Europeans, as well as Austrians are aware of what happened, and no one will allow such a tragedy again.
EU has pushed sanctions over Austria that some people think they deserve. Personally I do not think so. To single out Austria for racism and Xenophobia goes further than hypocrisy if we look at Europe's present situation: most Italian politicians in power have communist or fascist backgrounds, and they're not prosecuted for being anti- democratic, which is another of the accusations Haider bears. How can he be antidemocratic, while he's in power because he's been elected?
All this is truly unfair and the Austrian people are demonstrating to show their refusal of the sanctions. Revolted by the way EU shows its fair play and love for democracy and then just fights against because the outcome of the elections are not suitable for her, many Austrians are joining Haider's files and seeds of division are pulling society apart.
Even though international reports draw everything in black and white, Austria's situation admits a lot of colors. There should be better solutions to end with corruption than Haider but until Austrian's find one it is nobody's matter to fight against their decision.
AnonymousJoerg Haider The rise of an Austrian Extreme RightistAntidefamation League Backgrounderhttp://www.adl.org/backgrounders/joerg_haider.html February 2000
AnonymousAustrian economy feels ripple effects of negative attitudes toward new coalition World Trade April 2000
Karon, Tony Anger over Austrian rightists likely to fadeTime Daily February 3rd 2000
Karon, Tony The Haider effectTime EuropeVOL.156 NO.3 July 17th 2000
Rauchbauer, Martin Becoming normal the Austrian waySAIS review JHU Press February 19th 2000 (pages 267-271)
Rose, Richard The end of consensus in Austria and Switzerland Journals of democracy February 11th 2000 (pages 26-40)
Pelinka, Anton Austria : Out of the shadow of the past (Nations of the modern world)Westview press ; 1998
Pryce-Jones, David Heil, Haider?New York March 6th 2000