The Success of the Freedom Party - First Level of
Analysis: Role of Individuals such as Jörg Haider

On the level of individual people, one needs to look especially at Haider. He was the first truly professional politician in Austria, a country traditionally ruled by incredibly mediocre figures in terms of rhetoric skills, education and scope. Haider created a "brand" for his party and for himself, he was a tough leader and created a degree of unity within the Freedom Party that was previously unknown.

Haider appealed to the young people as a person, changed his outfits, reached out to people and gave them the feeling of him being one of them. Remarkably, most Austrians failed to note the privileged financial background of Haider and viewed him as a self-made man without the privileges that those whom he fought had (meaning, the political establishment of the Social Democrats and People′s Party). Haider polarised, he made politics an emotional issue.

Haider was the first to introduce professional choreographies to election parties, he modelled his campaigns after popular American politicians such as Ross Perot. He liked playing roles, wearing traditional costumes in the morning, a business suite in the afternoon and youthful disco-outfit-fashion in the evening. In this respect, Haider is exemplary for a certain type of Freedom Party official, termed the "Buberl-Partie" (Boy′s Gang) by Austrian media.

Nobel-Laureate Elfriede Jelinek wrote about the Freedom Party of the 1990ies that it played with the cliché of a "homoerotischer Männerbund" (homoerotic man-gang). Be the image of the Freedom Party gay or not, it did appeal. Haider as a figure is certainly a key-reason for the success of the Freedom Party, but his style can be copied, as his successor Strache has proven.

Other people one needs to consider who contributed directly or indirectly to the success of the Freedom Party are people like Franz Vranitzky (Social Democrat and long-term chancellor between 1986 and 1997; categorically excluded Haider from all power participation); Wolfgang Schüssel (Conservative and chancellor between 1999 and 2007; ended the boycott of Haider through the political establishment and assigned "official status" to the Freedom Party); Kurt Waldheim (Conservative, former UN General Secretary, President of Austria between 1986 and 1992; his campaign led to the "Waldheim Affair", in which he was alleged to be former Nazi and potential war criminal; led to the first wave of "national solidarity" against other countries that opposed Waldheim′s election as a president; contributed to the political climate that made the Freedom Party′s views more acceptable in Austria).

Second Level of Analysis:
Transnational Developments & Ideologies of the 1980ies

The second level that I would like to look at will be shorter: Transnationally, the late 1980ies saw a gradual loss of interest in ideologies. If there is any ideology one would typically associate with the 1980ies, it is the rise in environmental awareness. It led to the establishment of the Green Party, but the Greens in Austria have always remained a tiny movement and occupies a niche left of the Social Democrats, as described in the introduction to the article.

More importantly, the 1980ies saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and freedom for Austria′s neighbouring countries which contributed to the erosion in ideological association with the two "blocks" of the conservative right and the social democratic left. For people of my generation, voting behaviour is not a question of ideology anymore. This weakened the two centre parties and at the same time made it acceptable especially for young people to support a party of the "new order" that advocated their interests against the establishment.

Note that the seemingly conservative views that the Freedom Party has on questions of the society is overwhelmed by its policy against the corrupt political class in Austria and acts in the interest of the younger generation. In addition to that, the "look and feel" of the Freedom Party was simply more appealing; if you don′t care much about ideologies, the step to making your voting cross for the Freedom Party is a simple one. This does not mean that the young generation of Austria since the 1990ies votes in favour of a reactionary, maybe even Nazi-like ideological movement, the way it is often portrayed in media abroad.

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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