History of the Freedom Party:
Nationalism 1848-Style & Origins of Freedom Party

The Freedom Party was formed after the war to create a new platform for supporters of nationalist parties that had existed in Austria before the Anschluss in 1938. Note that "nationalist" does not equal "Nazi" especially not in Austria. A key-moment for German nationalism in German-speaking Habsburg lands was the revolution of 1848, when liberal ideas of civil rights and personal freedom met the booming need for national self-determination.

The Habsburgs survived this revolution with the aid of their own and the Russian armies, and promoted a new form of patriotism: Dynastic (pro-Habsburg), Catholic (except for areas where this was against dynastic interests, such as Galicia or the Balkan), internationalist. Nationalists became in turn even more anti-Habsburg, secular and anti-Catholic, nationalist and pan-German. Fraternities (in German "Burschenschaften") and all sorts of societies, associations and clubs (secret or not) carried the nationalist ideas and formalised them throughout the 19th century.

Only in the late 19th century, pan-German nationalism gained a distinct racial component. In the 1920ies, after the German defeat in WWI and under the impression of economic problems, German racist nationalism met the masses on the streets with the known result. I reiterate what I have written in my article on the History of Austria to emphasise that German nationalism and right-wing ideologies are older than and not necessarily directly linked with Nazism. In the case of the Freedom Party or rather the "VdU" (Union of Indpendent Voters) as the original party was called in 1949 many supporters were indeed former Nazis.

But more important were members of the Burschenschaften and other associations that followed the spirit of 1848: National self-determination, economic and administrative liberalism, conservative views in questions of the society, with the odd pan-German idea. Many, but clearly not all Burschenschaft members were passionate Nazis. Note that with the re-established Austrian independence in 1955, any new attempt for an Anschluss was prohibited by the Allies and neither VdU nor Freedom Party (the official name since 1956) made this an official issue.

At the second national elections in 1949, the VdU won 11.7 percent of the votes, but lost most of this support again at the next elections. As a result, the party was reformed and got its new name, "Freedom Party" (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs). The first chair of the Freedom Party was a former SS-officer and convicted Nazi called Anton Reinthaller. In the following decades, the Freedom Party usually won more or less 6 percent of the votes in national elections.

1956 until 1986: Freedom Party as Minority Movement

The two centre-parties of the Social Democrats and People′s Party viewed it only as a potential supporter if they needed one to distort a balance. Note for example the year 1970, when the tiny Freedom Party supported a minority government of the Social Democrats and thereby, enabled the huge party to rule and win an absolute majority only one year later. At this time, the current chair of the Freedom Party was yet another former SS officer called Friedrich Peter ironically supporting the first government of Bruno Kreisky, a Social Democrat of Jewish descent.

Throughout these decades after WWII and the 1980ies, the Freedom Party had two "wings": A liberal-nationalist one and a conservative-nationalist one. Both of them co-existed rather peacefully as described above until 1980, when suddenly the liberal-nationalist wing took over most party offices. As a result, the Freedom Party went down to five percent at the national elections in 1983, the worst result in the party′s history.

Nevertheless, party chair Norbert Steger tried to keep the party at the liberal path and formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats under Kreisky. At the same time, Steger tried to support the conservative-nationalist "behind the scenes". This resulted in tensions and the so-called "Haider-Putsch" or Haider Revolt in 1986.

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