This is a guest post by Karl Pfeifer
Austria does usually not make political headlines. 1986 when Kurt Waldheim was elected president and 1999 when the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) then led by Jörg Haider received 27 percent of the vote in the election to Parliament and now the result of the election on September 28, 2008 were notable exceptions.
How come – asked foreign journalists – that in the fourth richest country of the European Union (EU), where unemployment is one of the lowest in Europe, in a country which was called a few decades ago by the pope “a happy island” the two right extreme parties received together 29 percent of the votes?
Is this result only due only to the legacy of the Nazi period as some believe? Or does the fact, that 40% of the voters younger than 30 years voted for the extreme right have nothing to do with the past, as most Austrian politicians like to see?
Here only a few remarks and impressions about the present situation:
The two extreme right wing parties FPÖ led by H.C. Strache and BZÖ led by Jörg Haider received last Sunday together 29 percent of the vote and gave a lie to those who claimed, that the extreme right is going to be marginal in Austria. They made great inroads especially in the so called workers districts of Vienna and more blue collar workers voted for them than for the social-democratic party (SPÖ).
FPÖ and BZÖ mobilized voters with the promise to protect them against foreigners and against unemployment, with xenophobic incitement “Austria to the Austrians”, “Stop overforeignisation” and “Stop the abuse of asylum”.
Of course the fact, that during the last decades a lot of foreigners came to Austria is not entirely unproblematic. The left has denied that a problem exists and thus could the extreme right propose its very simple and popular answers to a complex situation.
There was not enough voiced opposition to racist and xenophobic incitement.
When FPÖ split in 2002 and BZÖ was founded by Jörg Haider, journalists and politicians came to the opinion, that Haider will never again be as popular as in 1999. But the ORF (Austrian state Radio and TV) gave him every opportunity to political self-presentation and his BZÖ became the fourth party.
Many Austrians like to see themselves as victims. For more than 50 years Austria presented itself as the first victim of Nazism, forgetting the role of so many Austrian perpetrators and forgetting the fact, that most Austrians were bystanders. Especially the FPÖ presented Austria as victim of EU and in an important publication of its front organisation “Aula” one can find explicit often antisemitic propaganda.
In a country of more than 8 million inhabitants, where most people never see a Jew and where only 7000 Jews are members of Jewish communities one can speak almost about an antisemitic consensus. This is also the reason for no opposition to the recent deal between the ÖMV (which to a part belongs to the state) and Iran.
The role of the SPÖ must be also mentioned. Bruno Kreisky (chancellor from 1970 until 1983) had five former Nazis in his first government. His campaign against Simon Wiesenthal was also antisemitic and he defended during the seventies Friedrich Peter, then head of the FPÖ, even after it had been disclosed by Wiesenthal that he served in a company of the Waffen-SS involved in liquidating civilians in Eastern Europe.
Outside interest was minimal, probably because the SPÖ so allergic against anti-Semitism, when it came or come from the right is blind to antisemitism in its own ranks.
Their attitude to the extreme right is ambivalent. Public declarations of not wanting to have a coalition with them and common voting in parliament just a few days before the
election day was not the only cause for some former adherents of SPÖ to vote this time for the FPÖ. Werner Faymann the new SPÖ leader wrote a letter to the part owner of the yellow Vienna daily Neue Kronenzeitung (NKZ) and promised a plebiscite before any crucial decision of EU. This was demanded before by the FPÖ. SPÖ strategists thought to take away the wind from the extreme right. As a matter of fact, this blew the wind in the direction of FPÖ. Not to forget the fact, that the NKZ is publishing time and time again xenophobic and racist texts.
Another example of the fickleness of Austrian social-democrats: The three presidents of the Austrian parliament are usually nominated by the three biggest parties. By SPÖ, the conservative ÖVP and this time by FPÖ which nominated Martin Graf the former member of the most extreme student fraternity Olympia to the position. The Holocaust denier David Irving was to give a lecture to this fraternity but was arrested.
The SPÖ politicians hastened to declare that they will vote for Graf. Only the fifth and smallest party in Austrian parliament, the GREENS declared to vote against him.
In Austria playing with racist, antisemitic, xenophobic resentments is tolerated by society and political elite and politicians who do play were accepted into the main stream. Not enough effort was invested against advocacy of ethnic ethnic exclusion coupled with racist demagoguery. The result became obvious at the end of last month.