The Success of the Freedom Party:
Domestic Political Environment Part II

Decision making procedures were established in which the "Social Partnership" ("Sozialpartnerschaft"), a council comprising of trade unions, chamber of commerce and other interest groups often associated with one of the two parties would decide on important issues: Pensions, minimum wages, rent regulations, social security issues. For a body that was not determined nor controlled by the public (or the parliament), the Social Partnership enjoyed and still enjoyed an amazing amount of power. In the late 1960ies and 1970ies, the social democrats dominated Austrian politics.

They remembered the devastating effects the Great Depression has had on the Austrian people after 1929 due to a lack of state control and a social system. The social system in Austria was rapidly developed following the model of Scandinavian countries such as Sweden. At the same time and also at a rapid pace, public companies were built up and key-industries were completely nationalised. This created an extraordinary amount of jobs and offices that were at the direct "disposal" of the ruling politicians.

The Proporz system reached its peak and penetrated the most basic level of society: If a conservative teacher got a job, the next post of a secretary at a court would be on hold for a social democrat candidate. A system of "Junktim" was developed, in which unrelated issues were linked in order to be added up to keep things in balance for both parties. On the level of national politics, most governments were coalitions between the two blocks, resulting in a funny constellation: A "red" minister would get a "black" secretary and vice versa. A "black" manager at an energy company would get balanced through a "red" chairmen on the board of directors.

This system was great in many respects: Firstly, it kept social democrats and conservatives from fighting each other with guns on the streets. Secondly, it benefited those who were insiders, people within the system who know how to play it. The disadvantages, however, are obvious: The political class solidified (or petrified, really) and the Austrian voters could choose if they wanted a centre government with a slightly stronger "red" flavour or a centre government with a slightly stronger "black" flavour. If you happened to be apolitical, you were fucked. If you happened to be skilled and gifted, but applied for a job with the wrong party affiliation, you were fucked. If you happened to be dropped by your party for whatever reason, you were fucked.

But how did one determine whether a job applicant was "red", "black" or something else? That was (and still is) relatively easy: Since from kindergarten to leisure clubs, societies, unions and every other aspect of social life was organised in a black and a red "half of the Empire" ("Reichshälfte", a term originally referring to the Austrian versus the Hungarian run part of the Habsburg Empire after the Ausgleich of 1866), the membership in the "Labourer′s Motorist Association" was often enough to identify you as a Social Democrat.

Those who were serious about a career were even members of a party. Until today, Austria has one of the highest numbers of party memberships in any country in the world. Vienna is a city with 1.6 million residents of which a staggering 100,000 are members of the Social Democrats (as of 2009 it used to be even higher!). Compare this figure to the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 2009: Approximately 500,000 in a country with 80 million residents!

No wonder: In Vienna, it is the Social Democrats who decide who will get one of the 220,000 communal apartments, or jobs at an energy company, schools, transportation companies, even the gardening and garbage services. Provinces such as Lower Austria, Tyrol or Vorarlberg, on contrast, are die-hard conservative bastions. Essentially all significant companies in Austria are oriented towards one party or the other banks, telecommunication companies, insurances, transport companies.

This extends the power of the parties far into the private sector, backed up by the Social Partnership and its power on wages and social issues. Every sane person will understand that these conditions feed a system of corruption, nepotism and clienteleism known from Eastern Europe and Italy. The political class in Austria developed features of cancer in the past 50 years. The only significant party that presented itself as a cure to this cancer - was the Freedom Party.

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

back to "culture, society & politics"

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