Before he was elected President of Austria, Thomas Klestil avoided attacking
Jörg Haider's FPÖ. On the contrary, he affirmed that all major
Austrian parties were fit for opposition or for government. Only in recent
months has his aversion towards the FPÖ and its chairman become manifest.
It is only today that Klestil fears for Austria's international image if
the FPÖ is part of a coalition governement. But SPÖ and ÖVP
could not find common ground for a new coalition. Moreover, ÖVP and
FPÖ were not willing to tolerate an SPÖ minority government.
So all of Klestil strategies to isolate the FPÖ failed. The only possible
solution seems to be a coalition between the Conservatives and Haider's
The FPÖ is neither a neo-nazi nor an extreme right-wing party,
but a "liberal" one with a nationalistic wing and a populist leader. Jörg
Haider and other representatives of the FPÖ have gained notoriety
for their remarks on immigrants, Nazi Germany, the SS and Hitler's legacy.
At the same time, one cannot say that Haider is anti-semitic. His father
was in the SA until its dissolution and, after a troubled period, he became
a minor Nazi official. As far as we know, he was not involved in war crimes.
His family background explains Haider's need to defend the Nazi-generation.
During his politial education, former Nazis were among his mentors. In
1999 Haider and the FPÖ ran a xenophobic electoral campaign, verbally
attacking foreigners and persons seeking political asylum.
Is it shocking that Haider's FPÖ should now get politically rewarded
for its dirty campaigns? Yes. Is this the beginning of another nazi-era
in Austria? No. Firstly, Austria is part of the European Union and a democratic
and liberal state. Secondly, the FPÖ is partly xenophobic but at the
same time economically more liberal than the ruling parties. Thirdly, the
main reason for Haiders success does not lie in his remarks on foreigners
but in the dissatisfaction of important sections of the Austrian voters
with the established coalition of Social Democrats and Conservatives. Austria
is a party state. The two big parties dominate the political, economic,
social and cultural systems of the country. SPÖ and ÖVP not only
largely decide who is at the top of important (state and former state)
enterprises, but for instance also who the key figures at public colleges
are. In some cases party politics even intervenes in the employment of
cleaners in public schools! The SPÖ has been in power for 30 years.
Power corrupts - and thirty years in power corrupt greatly. Austria urgently
needs a political change.
Is the FPÖ a credible alternative? Jörg Haider is a populist
and charismatic leader. He is the key figure for change. If SPÖ and
ÖVP went on governing, they would just play into the hands of Haider.
The FPÖ would gain even more support from voters. It seems best to
integrate him now; there is no alternative. But Haider is dangerous in
the sense that he is capable of changing his opinion on most important
political subjects from one day to another. Furthermore, the FPÖ's
success is largely tied to the person of Jörg Haider. The party has
grown too rapidly in recent years. Therefore, a lot of party members had
the chance to make rapid careers that would normally not have been possible.
In other words, behind the big back of Haider many politicians of doubtful
competency could rise to important positions. And who will succed Haider
if he steps down one day?
The FPÖ's electoral posters against persons seeking poltical asylum
and against immigrants living in Austria attracted a lot of right-wing
political footsoldiers to the party. But there are of course no paramilitary
organizations in Austria today as there were in Germany in the late 1920s
and early 1930s when the SA terrorised the population and reigned in the
streets long before the Nazis came to power (by the way, also the communists
had their share in street terror in those years). Today's situation cannot
be compared to the years after the 1929 economic crash since Austrians
now benefit from substantial unemployment benefits, the unemployment rate
is relatively low and GDP per capita is higher than ever. Although the
information revolution and globalization create sentiments of insecurity
among voters, there is no economic crisis in Austria today - only a political
The leader of the Conservative party, Wolfgang Schüssel, made it
clear that there will only be a coalition with the FPÖ if this party
accepts that Austria is a part of the European Union and if Austria continues
to respect human rights and to accept people in need of political asylum.
On the ÖVP's agenda are also - as on the FPÖs - important economic
reforms. All this sounds reasonable. If Haider's party should break away
from this path, the ÖVP could immediately leave the coalition. The
FPÖ's period in power would instantly be over.
But the future does not look to bright for several reasons: Schüssel
clearly said before and after the elections of October 3 that the ÖVP
would go into opposition if it became the third party in Austria behind
the FPÖ. And that is what happened - even if only by a few votes.
If Schüssel forms a coalition government with the FPÖ now, his
credibility will suffer. Should this new center-right -coalition pass important
reforms and become a success, voters could see in Haider the father of
that success and punish Schüssel for breaking his promise. Whatever
happens in the future, the FPÖ and its populist leader will apparently
remain on the winning side.
Regarding Jörg Haider's life, see Christa Zöchling's biography
(no masterpiece of analysis but containing a lot of valuable information), in
Have a look at our Links-page
for links to the main Austrian political parties and newspapers.
The hysterical reactions of foreign leaders to the FPÖ's possible
rise to power are exagerated. There is no neo-nazi scene in Austria today
and no real danger for democracy. Where were these European leaders when
Mitterand took the Communists into his government in the early 1980s, long
before the downfall of communism? A lot of Western countries don't have
an irreproachable record regarding the treatment of foreigners. French
minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement is known for his nationalistic
opinions. Conservative Roland Koch in the German region of Hesse won his
regional elections with a dirty electoral campaign directed against immigrants.
Maybe some leaders think Austria's situation is comparable to their country's.
France has important parties on the extreme right. Haider is no pleasant
political figure, but he is no Hitler and no danger to Europe. His remarks
on the "corrupt Belgian government" and on the French President Chirac
as a man who made almost all mistakes possible in recent years are not
statesmanlike. To put it bluntly: Haider is the expression of our times
were populists like Clinton or Schröder dominate the political scene.
The different thing about Haider is that he comes from the political right
and not from the left. Who remembers what positions German Chancellor Gerhard
Schröder and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had only ten
Still: Haider and his party must accept Schüssel's list of conditions
for the formation of a coalition government. On this basis, Europe can
live with the FPÖ in power (by the way: Haider won't be part of the
government, but can of course influence its fate over his men). Austria
is without a government since October 3, 1999. The parliament has still
to decide on this year's budget and the government should attack serious
reforms since, in comparison with Europe, it is among the countries with
the highest budget deficit and has the youngest pensioners. It will soon
become clear whether the new center-right government is capable of resolving
the country's main problems or not.