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Austria: What Happened?

In Austria’s recent elections (15th October 2017), Adolf Hitler and Gustav Schwarzenegger’s ideological successors –called FPÖ– did extremely well shifting yet another country in Europe to the extreme right. The clear winner was the arch-conservative ÖVP (31.5%) followed by the social-democratic SPÖ (27%) and the crypto-Nazi party FPÖ (26%). The Greens failed to jump Austria’s 4% limit to enter parliament while the neo-liberal NEOS (5.3%) just managed it. Finally, the right-wing of the Greens is represented by Peter Pilz (4.4%). There no longer is a true left party in Austria’s parliament.

Overall, a marked move to the right has been detected allowing the conservative poster-boy Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) to present himself as the election winner. Meanwhile, the Greens received a truly disappointing result. They had received 12.4% in 2013. After splitting the party, eco-conservative Peter Pilz remains as a semi-Green. Unlike many Anglo-Saxon “first-past-the-post” election systems, Austria votes on proportional representation which means coalition building after the election. While also contemplating a minority government, the conservative leader Kurz (ÖVP) is most likely to enter a coalition with the xenophobic right FPÖ ending the conservative-SPÖ coalition that had governed Austria.

Meanwhile, the crypto-Nazi party leader Heinz-Christian Strache believes that around 60% of all Austrians agree to the FPÖ’s xenophobic-racist anti-foreigner and anti-EU program. In the case of a black-brown coalition (black is the traditional colour of conservatism in Europe while brown was/is the Nazi colour), Austria’s move to the right might have serious implications for a Europe already battered by Brexit. Potentially, Austria’s new coalition might also mean a move towards the so-called Visegrád States – a group of anti-EU states (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland) with Hungary’s right-wing demagogue Viktor Orbán as their ideological leader. There has been talk of Austria joining the group of authoritarian-nationalistic Eastern European states obsessed with the racial purification of Europe.

When seeking to understanding Austria (a country that gave us Josef Fritzl (a monster), Kurt Walheim (a Nazi and UN-boss), Gustav Schwarzenegger (terminator-father, Nazi volunteer and Wehrmacht policeman) and Adolf Hitler), perhaps it is most beneficial to look at Austria’s own culture. Adolf Hitler was Austrian – not German. Nonetheless, Germany gave Hitler German citizenship so that he could enter German politics and become Germany’s chancellor in a conservative-Nazi coalition in 1933. What explains the continuation of Austria’s racist radical right? Perhaps the movie “Dog Days” (if you can stomach it!) and of course Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek’s seminal masterpiece “The Piano Teacher”. Both works deliver a most insightful description of Austria and the Austrians. Behind Austria’s idyllic pretence lurks an ugly truth. Perhaps “Dog Days” and “The Piano Teacher” can explain the continued prevalence of Austria’s extreme right.

Austria’s extreme right is, in parliamentarian terms, connected to the FPÖ – home of many of Austria’s ex-Nazis. The origins of the FPÖ date back to the immediate post-Nazi years when several splinter organisations –among them plenty of ex-Nazis– sought to set up a “third camp” next to Austria’s traditional two-party split between conservatives and social-democrats. The FPÖ’s actual founding date is 3rd November 1955 with the first convention held in 1956 by SS-Brigadier Anton Reinhaller who was “briefly” interned between 1950 and 1953. Displaying early eagerness and ideological conviction, Reinhaller had joined the Nazi party before Austria was annexed by Nazi-Germany. In his FPÖ convention speech Reinhaller highlighted his nationalistic belief founded in membership of the Germanic race.

Throughout the 1960s, the FPÖ remained a fringe party. In 1970, the FPÖ’s new leader, Waffen-SS Obersturmführer Friedrich Peter temporarily supported Austria’s social-democratic SPÖ. Roughly 10 years later, a more liberally oriented –e.g. not too obvious Nazi– wing gained the upper hand in the party. Still, many inside the FPÖ remained faithful to its Aryan roots. So much so that the FPÖ’s own defence minister welcomed back old Nazi and war criminals returning from overseas exile.

In 1986, the most charismatic 1986 FPÖ leader appeared on the scene: Jörg Haider whose parents where both Nazis with his mother being a high ranking Nazi (BDM-Führer). FPÖ’s Haider’s repeated political tactics was to say what he believes and later apologise for it: “I was misunderstood, let me clarify, etc.” Haider called SS men decent people and believed that Nazi employment policies were good. Of course with no mentioning of slave labour and concentration camps. Untill today, Haider’s sudden death (11th Oct. 2008) via a traffic accident is paved with speculations about homo-erotic “boys” parties (Buberl-Pary).

Barely ten years later, the once fringe party may well be in a governing coalition in Austria with 51 seats of Austria’s 183 seat parliament while the social-democratic party received 52 and the conservatives 62 (NEOS: 10 and Pilz: 8). In a conservative-FPÖ coalition, the FPÖ will continue its crypto-Nazi policies albeit with a petit-bourgeois cover. It means, for example, a staunch rejection of any refugees who could no longer enter Austria as the FPÖ seeks to protect the racial make up of Austria. The FPÖ’s Islamophobic policies are known as believing in a coming Islamisation of Europe. Entering a coalition government, FPÖ party leader Strache was once a member of Germany’s neo-Nazi Viking youth grouping that was declared illegal. He quickly moved on to a radical right student organisation taking part in para-militaristic war games. To camouflage his past and his affiliations with German neo-Nazis, Strache announced that he will not tolerate “Nazi-glorification” and outright “Anti-Semitism” – the wolf in sheep’s skin.

Meanwhile, the FPÖ’s party program speaks of Austria’s nationalistic identity and the protection of its soil while securing its borders. Exiting the EU may also be on the cards albeit not yet too openly paraded. Nonetheless, there is party talk of Öxit following Britain’s Brexit. Two years ago, FPÖ boss Strache threatened the EU president with exactly that. Ideologically, the FPÖ sees itself linked to France’s National Front, Britain’s Ukip, and Holland’s Geert Wilders. In line with that, the FPÖ is against any expansion of the EU. It has announced that if Turkey were to become an EU member, Austria should leave the EU. In sum, the FPÖ will ossify nationalism.

Not surprisingly and much in line with TV-clowns like Trump, the FPÖ too denies global warming. Meanwhile, it views the family unit as the core of its nationalistic daydream of a purified Austria. The party also rejects same sex marriage. Despite all this, the FPÖ is no outright Nazi party. It does hot have uniformed storm troopers beating up Jewish people, does not run concentration camps, does not dream of a Greater Austria through military means, and does hark back to a mythical Aryan race. Despite this, the FPÖ is no good news for Austria, Europe, the world, and least of all, the remaining progressive forces in Austria.

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Thomas Klikauer is the author of Managerialism (Palgrave, 2013).

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