Austria, Jörg Haider & the Freedom Party:
Evaluating the Success of Austria′s Right Wing
Over the past years, I have noticed an increasing interest in articles dealing with Austrian culture and social issues here on TourMyCountry.com. With respect to the political system, my readers did not find what they were looking for – most articles have an encyclopaedic approach to politics, with sober facts and figures on history and politics.
The only exception is – or was until now – the article on anti-Semitism in Austria. In this article here, I would like to evaluate something that Austrians abroad get asked about over and over again, something that most foreigners find confusing and difficult to understand: The lasting success of the Freedom Party or FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreich).
Let me begin with stating that I myself have never voted for the Freedom myself, but the older I grow, the more understanding I become for those who do. This article (and it is a rather long one), is structured into an introduction, an overview on the history of the Freedom Party since 1949, and finally four "levels of analysis" that I use to evaluate the reasons and conditions for the Freedom Party′s success.
Characteristics of Political Parties in Austria
In terms of party politics, Austria is an odd case within Europe. The Green Party is the only significant political movement left of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ), which in effect makes the Green Party mainly two things: Even more left-wing than Green parties in other countries and tiny (Austrians don′t like the far left).
The other strange thing about Austria′s politics is the absence of a liberal party – in fact, no liberal party has been represented in the parliament for years now and liberal ideas can only be found in traces in other parties, mostly within the Green Party (minority issues), but also the conservative People′s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (with the latter two, this concerns mostly economic policy).
The third peculiar feature about Austria is the relative significance of a right-wing populist party, the very Freedom Party that is the subject of this article. Nowhere else in Europe will you find a right-wing movement similarly successful as the Freedom Party in Austria. Why is that? Are the Austrians still evil mountain-Nazis, as British tabloids like to speculate?
Characteristics of the Freedom Party
Let′s see what the Freedom Party actually stands for. Is it a cover for Nazis, Fascists or other forms of totalitarian people? The answer is a clear and simple "no", as it would be prohibited in Austria otherwise (if not rejected by the vote of the people). Nazis and Fascists are anti-Democratic and usually rather severe racists, anti-Semites and people who would accept violence as a political mean. From all I know of the Freedom Party, its officials and its sympathisers, a "threshold of totalitarianism" is generally not exceeded.
You do find strong tendencies towards xenophobic, homophobic or anti-pluralist views, but in general, the official Freedom Party does play according to the rules of democracy. At least to the same extent as other parties in Austria do. The Freedom Party is clearly not an extremist party, it does not promote violence as a mean to pursue political success, and officially, its positions might be nationalist, but I could not call it openly racist or in other means illegal. Its positions are clearly right-wing, but this is no secret.
But if the Freedom Party promotes xenophobic, anti-EU, anti-Muslim, anti-whatever views – why is it that it has been so successful? As Aristotle has said in "Politics" thousands of years ago: "In this subject and in others, the best method of investigation is to study things in the process of development from the beginning." Therefore, let′s have a closer look at the development of the support for the Freedom Party since the foundation of its predecessor VdU in 1949.
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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