The Success of the Freedom Party, 3rd Level of Analysis: Systemic & International Causes

The third point is the way that the "world abroad" has treated Austria after WWII. I can only briefly outline this point: After WWII, a new Austrian national identity was created basically around the statement of "We didn′t do it". Austria was portrayed as the first victim of Nazi Germany, and those Austrians who committed in war crimes were seen as rare cases that most people did not want to talk about. This changed only in the 1980ies, when Chancellor Franz Vranitzky initiated a public debate on the matter.

At the same time, the Waldheim affair (shortly outlined above) showed that the world was looking at Austria as a "Nazi retreat nation" similar to Argentina or Chile, but Germanic in flavour and thus even worse. Since there had never been any thorough social digestion of the Nazi past in Austria (at least none comparable to the 1968 movement in Germany), it seems quite natural to me that the Austrians started to gather around the idea that nasty foreigners were hitting "us" unfairly. We spent so much effort to building up an image of Waltz, mountain scenery and "The Sound of Music" and now we are blamed for being Nazis? Obviously, this foreign intervention must be misguided and hostile.

People started to gather around Waldheim, the affair (mainly an emotional media-thing rather than anything of judicial relevance) led to a boom in stupid patriotism and created a climate of distrust in everybody doubting that Austria had come to terms with her past. Later, the Freedom Party benefited tremendously from foreign portrayals as the legitimate heirs of the Nazis Austrians who knew of the bad grounds for such comparisons were likely to dismiss foreign criticism altogether.

The way that Haider liked to play with the homoerotic image of young, smart, successful guys, the Freedom Party probably quite enjoyed the attention of international and national media whenever Haider dropped a comment that smelled of Nazism. It certainly helped to foster brand awareness. Few media in Austria evaluated this symbiosis between Haider and their industry rather critically: The media liked to talk about Haider (Nazis always sell well), at the same time Haider liked to make controversial comments because he knew of the attention it would earn for him. If there are thousands of Jewish journalists sitting in London and on the East Coast just waiting for a comment that could be seen as anti-Semitic, why not do them the favour of taking advantage of their PR skills?

The solidarity effect worked for the Freedom Party also on the domestic level, by the way. Within Austria, Carinthia is viewed as back-warded and right-wing; yet the Carinthia-bashing has secured a lot of support for the Freedom Party in a province that had previously been ruled by the Social Democrats for decades.

Freedom Party Special - page: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

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Jörg Haider, the Freedom Party & Austria

Intro - German Nationalism since 1848 & Freedom Party 1949 to 1986 - 1986 to 1999: Haider's Freedom Party - 2006 to 2008: Split & Crisis - Success Analysis: Individuals (Haider) & Society since 1980 - Success Analysis: Systemic Support - Success Analysis: Domestic Causes - Domestic Causes, Part II - Domestic Causes, Part III

Further Reading

Official Website of the Freedom Party of Austria

Wikipedia on the Austrian Freedom Party

Wikipedia on Politics in Austria

The Economist's Obituary for Jörg Haider