Right-wing extremists reach 29% of the votes in Austrian general elections

The Austrian general elections on September 28, 2008, resulted in a strong shift towards the right. The Social Democrats SPÖ (29,7%) and the Conservatives ÖVP (25,6%) reached their worst results ever, also the Green Party lost (9,8%) voters. The big winners are the Freedom Party FPÖ (18,0%, +7,0%) of Heinz Christian Strache and the BZÖ (11,0%, +6,9%). These two right-wing parties together now hold 29% of the votes. In 1999, the Conservatives formed a government with the Freedom Party (FPÖ). Mass streets protests that lasted for one year, but could not force the government to resign, were the result because many considered the FPÖ as right-wing extremist or neo-fascist. Some years later, the FPÖ split into two parties due to internal controversies and Haider’s BZÖ emerged. The Conservatives continued the coalition government together with the BZÖ. Their policies were extremly neo-liberal, downsizing affected especially the educational sector, whereas the budget for military defense rose constantly. In 2006, the Social Democrats SPÖ emerged as largest party from the new elections. Many people were fed up by the neoliberal policies of the right-wing government and expected changes. SPÖ leader Alfred Gusenbauer entered a coalition government with the Conservatives. This coalition lasted only for 18 months. The problem was that the Conservatives never accepted their loss at the elections and wanted to simply continue neoliberal policies. The SPÖ in an opportunistic manner gave up almost all of their election goals (especially educational reform of universities and schools and savings in military affairs) so that Gusenbauer could become chancellor. Social-democratic opportunism and Conservative boycott resulted in a deadlock. When Gusenbauer and the SPÖ reached a low in the polls, the Conservatives called for new elections. Gusenbauer had to quit and was succeeded by Werner Faymann as front-runner. The result of the elections was that the SPÖ lost 6% and the ÖVP 8% of the votes in comparison to the prior elections and reached all-time lows.
Many have the simple explanation for this election result that many people expressed their displeasure about the permanent quarrels and the deadlock by voting for the extreme right-wing and that this is therefore an issue of political rhetoric, communication, and discourse. In my opinion this explanation is far too one-dimensional. Most Austrians as well as the Austrian government saw and presented Austria as the first victim of Hitler and the Nazis after 1945, although 99,99% voted to positively to become a part of the German Reich in 1938 and many of the leading war criminals were Austrians and Austrians were engaged in kllling civilians, vaporizing Jews in the extermination chambers, etc. Other then Germany, Austria saw itself only as victim, not as aggressor. In 1986, the former Nazi Kurt Waldheim became Austria’s President. He was added to the Watch List by the USA and the decision to elect a former Nazi resulted in a negative international reputation of Austria. When the FPÖ entered government in 2000, the EU sanctioned Austria and there was again international furor about the turn towards the right. Both in 1986 and 2000, many Austrians saw themselves again as victims – victims of the USA and the EU, although they again, just like in 1938-1945, were offenders – offenders in a shift towards the extreme right-wing. The myth of victimization as at the heart of right-wing identity in Austria, it creates a dangerous inner nationalistic solidarity that the right again and again instrumentalizes. This myth is also one of the reasons why National Socialism has never really ended in Austria, it exists in the minds of many people, there is a latent fascist potential in Austria that has never been wiped out. This potential expresses itself in xenophobia and anti-semitism.

Given this latent right-wing extremist and fascist potential in the mind of many Austrians, they tend to elect for the extreme right-wing in situations of political crisis (like the SPÖ-ÖVP quarels) and economic crisis (like the current strong price increases and the new oil and financial crises that are indicative of a new economic crisis of capitalism). There are hardly counter-forces to such periodical shifts towards the right because traditionally there is a weak political left in Austria. It seems to be a historical law that in Austrial political and/or economic crisis take the form of in the realization of fascist potentials. The voters did not simply vote for the political right because they are disappointed, but because there is a dangerous potentialof at least 30% fascist-minded Austrians that is activated in crisis situations.

Austria not only lacks an institutionalized left, it also lacks a culture of protest, social movements, and has only a weak civil society. This is on the one hand due to the system of the social partnership that brings together capital and labour interests in negotiations and has historically forestalled strikes (there were NO major strikes in Austria in the past decades). On the other hand most Austrians have an attitude of servitude, and an authoritarian belief in leadership that migh be deep-rooted in the history of the former Austrian monarchy and the later rise of National Socialism. Anyway it is counter-productive to protests and promotional for the rise of institutionalized right-wing extremism. The protests against the inclusion of the FPÖ into government in 2000 were the first mass protests in Austria after 1945.

The danger now is that the Conservative ÖVP will try to form a coalition-government together with BZÖ and FPÖ, just like they did in 2000 (when BZÖ and FPÖ were still one party). Such a development could very well result in a development towards a new fascism in Austria. Austria and Austrians have not learned from history. The full negativity of history could very well repeat itself.

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One Response to “Right-wing extremists reach 29% of the votes in Austrian general elections”

  • Comment from stefon

    Hi, thx for the article which is a lot of my opintion two.

    just one thing: it would be much easier to read if you would use more paragraphs..