The Far Right Is Now in Power in Austria

Source: The Nation

The new governing coalition includes the Freedom Party, which has deep roots in the country’s Nazi past.

Europe’s newest right-wing government took office on December 18, this time in Austria. The two parties that form the government are the Freedom Party and the People’s Party. During the fall campaign, they vilified refugees, attacked Vienna (the country’s liberal big-city capital), and—less loudly—promised major tax cuts for the rich. This won them a combined 57.5 percent of the vote. Austria thus appears to be the newest member in the Central European club of “illiberal democracy,” as Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán proudly calls it. But the Austrian situation is—for those of us who prefer our democracy liberal—both scarier and less scary than that of its neighbors.

First, the bad news: The leader of the Freedom Party and the new vice chancellor of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, has been photographed more than once participating in paramilitary exercises with banned Nazi groups. Newspapers in Munich and Vienna published these photos along with Strache’s case-by-case denials, which usually amounted to vague explanations about “paintball games” that he had not realized were “political.” Also, Strache was once arrested by police in Germany for marching with neo-Nazis there, and he participated in the shouting-down of a performance of Thomas Bernhard’s famous 1988 play Heroes’ Square, which criticized Austria for its failure to deal with its Nazi past.

The Freedom Party has long been at the center of this failure. Some media in the United States, including The New York Times, have said that the party was founded by “neo-Nazis.” This is inaccurate. The party was founded by the original Nazis in the 1950s and led by Nazis until the 1980s. Technically, they were ex-Nazis, but the “ex” applies only because Hitler’s Germany, of which Austria was a province, had been defeated.

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