Joerg Haider in historical perspective
Previous message Next message
During the discussion of Haider, Lonnie Johnson offered a lengthy essay on the new government. A revised and updated version of the essay appears now as an "Occaisional Paper" on the HABSBURG site and this revised version of the essay includes a number of links to various sources of interest to readers. This essay: "On the Inside Looking Out: Austria's New ÖVP-FPÖ Government, Jörg Haider, and Europe," Lonnie R. Johnson HABSBURG Occasional Papers, No. 2. February 2000, is provided in its entirety via this link. Readers interested in the evolution of the discussion among HABSBURG members should remember that the postings here are in response to the original version of the essay. -- Ed.
Original Message: Lonnie Johnson has contributed the following essay detailing the genesis of the new government. Although the essay includes analysis of the current political situation, it is distributed as an aid to our ongoing examination of the historical antecedents within Austria and neighboring countries. Due to the unusual length of the essay, Dr. Johnson has divided it into two parts. The second part will be posted shortly.--Ed. Austria's New OeVP-FPOe Government and Joerg Haider by Lonnie Johnson Part 1 The "Haider phenomenon," which has attracted so much media attention in recent weeks, needs to be seen in a broader context, and Anton Pelinka's book _Austria: Out of the Shadow of the Past_ (Westview, 1998) does a excellent job of outlining the larger structural and political issues currently at stake in Austria. Pelinka, a professor of political science from the University of Innsbruck, not only brings his considerable expertise to bear on the peculiarities of the Austrian political system. He places its development in a larger, comparative, European context. This book should be required reading for any one interested in contemporary Austrian politics. The events surrounding the establishment of the OeVP-FPOe (Austrian People's Party-Freedom Party of Austria) coalition government this past week have been dramatic and disturbing. Israel has recalled its ambassador from Austria, and the official Israeli diction for the new Austrian government is "neofascist." Earlier last week the Austrian Green EU parliamentarian Johannes Voggenhuber used the same term for the FPOe and referred to Haider as a "fascist" without the qualification of _neo-_. U.S. Ambassador Kathryn Hall is going to Washington for "consultations." The threatened EU sanctions against Austria have gone into effect (no bilateral visits on the ministerial level, although Austria's participation in all EU bodies, which are ultimately more important, is intact.) At a SPOe (Social Democratic Party of Austria) commemoration of the February 1934 uprising, Michael Haeupel, the mayor of Vienna, has called the new government "exploitive" ("eine Ausbeuterregierung"), a lapse into Austro-Marxist terminology that is truly spectacular. There has been considerable protest on the street: at the party headquarters of the OeVP and FPOe and on Ballhausplatz in front of the Chancellery of the Austrian Federal President in Vienna, in particular. Although the great majority of the protesters have conducted themselves peacefully, a few members of the milieu that refers to itself as "autonomous anarchist" and other fans of recreational violence have managed to add a violent accent to demonstrations by challenging the police lines, throwing projectiles (ranging from eggs to fist-sized plaster stones), and engaging in collateral vandalism. The Viennese police have shown great restraint, although thirty of them have been injured to date. When members of the OeVP-FPOe government were sworn into office at the Presidential Chancellery this past Friday, the protest on Ballhausplatz between the Federal Chancellor's Office and the Presidential Chancellery was so turbulent that the newly sworn-in government, instead of taking its traditional walk back to the Federal Chancellor's office with the ritual waving and smiling and cameras, opted to use a subterranean passage connecting the two facilities to get to the Federal Chancellor's Office. All of this is related to the fact that Austria, in complete correspondence with the rules of parliamentary democracy, has established a coalition government with a clear parliamentary majority of 104 of 183 seats. There is nothing radical or spectacular about the coalition program that the OeVP-FPOe government has produced. (The 125 page document with its 3 page "preamble" may be downloaded from various servers. Consult http://www.austria.gv.at which also provides links to the websites of the individual political parties under the icon parliament.) It is divided into 15 points and fits into the political mainstream of conservative European politics. It contains a clear commitment to the EU, addresses a number of important issues related to social security and institutional reform, outlines policies on immigration and integration, and describes the objectives of the government in all primary fields of political endeavor: ministry by ministry. The old SPOe-OeVP coalition government failed to agree on a budget for the year 2000, and one of the most pressing issues at hand is to get one through Parliament because the government cannot continue to operate on the basis of a provisional arrangements. Austria has a considerable deficit problem (which no one in office talked about before the elections of October 3 last year), and it must meet certain budgetary (or deficit management) criteria related to the "convergence criteria" stipulated by the introduction of the Euro. The government is planning more privatization and is going to have to raise some taxes. Restrictive immigration and asylum policies are nothing new in the European Union. There is an emphasis on "family policy." It is important to distinguish between the FPOe program as articulated in the coalition agreement and the person and persona of Joerg Haider, who is not in the government cabinet and has reaffirmed his promise to serve as the governor of Carinthia for the entire legislative period for which he was elected. However, the FPOe is not a "normal" political party in which the membership ultimately controls the leadership. On the contrary, the rise of the FPOe under Haider is to a great extent his personal political achievement, and he exercises a tremendous amount of authority in the FPOe. The party structure and his leadership style have motivated some of his critics to use the term _Fuehrerpartei_. There is no need to comment on the terminological associations this evokes. One Austrian politician came to power democratically in Germany in 1933 and another has come into power democratically in Austria in the year 2000. Is it legitimate to spin out the parallels? One of the big open questions is to what extent Haider is going to let the FPOe ministers in Vienna do their jobs or whether he will try and call all of the shots from Klagenfurt. On Sunday, he appeared on television in _Die Pressestunde_, the Austrian version of _Meet the Press_, and he maintained that he did not have the intention of intervening in the operations of the federal government because he in not a member thereof. Although there is a plethora of worst case scenarios for the OeVP- FPOe coalition, there are two best case scenarios related to the FPOe participation in the government: (1) Being in the opposition, criticizing, and making wild promises is easy; assuming political responsibility and realizing political promises is much more difficult. Neither Haider nor the FPOe will be able to do what they always said they could do so easily. Assuming political power and working with hard numbers will turn Haider into a "normal" politician and the FPOe into a "normal" political party that cannot deliver to the extent it promised (with a subsequently somewhat disillusioned clientele). (2) The empowerment of his own party members in public office will give them more authority in the party itself and help turn the FPOe into a more democratic forum of opinion- building that has a stake in being in office. The party thus will more effectively control its own leader and perhaps produce other political FPOe figures with a media presence who could serve as a balance or potential "alternative" to Haider. It is worth noting that President Klestil refused to appoint two ministers that the FPOe initially had on their list of candidates for ministerial posts: Thomas Prinzhorn, an industrialist designated to serve as minister of finance, due to his "verbal excesses" ("verbale Entgleisungen") and Hilmar Kabas, the head of the FPOe in Vienna designated as minister of defense who was responsible for posters during the October electoral campaign that explicitly appealed to xenophobic sentiment by warning against "Ueberfremdung" (the excessive influence of foreigners). These posters incidentally were a "local initiative" and only appeared in Vienna. The OeVP-FPOe coalition agreement is not the problem. The previous conduct and reputation of Joerg Haider is. The Austrian journalist Hans-Henning Scharsach described the political genealogy of Haider in a biography that appeared in 1992 (_Haiders Kampf_ (Vienna: Orac Verlag), and although it is eight years old, it is still well worth reading. Haider has been a "revisionist" with regard to Nazi-German history, and he is a law-and-order populist- nationalist, who regularly and effectively appeals to base sentiments such as fear and insecurity as well as feelings of injustice and inferiority (the proverbial "kleiner Mann"). Anton Pelinka describes the ideology of the FPOe in the following manner. It "combines pan-German traditions with Austrian patriotism, mixes opposition rhetoric with an appeal to xenophobic resentments, and plays with Nazi revisionism and Holocaust denial. The FPOe is populist and has a "New Right" agenda, and both aspects are legitimate in liberal democracies. But at the same time, parallels to Nazism have not ceased to exist." (p.201) Haider also is (in purely descriptive terms) a rhetorically brilliant politician and exceptionally effective with the media. Austrian journalists, who have been sparring with Haider in the media ring for the past ten years, have taken considerably more punches than they have landed Haider is a counter-puncher and he has handled the moderators of the German and other TV stations that have been interviewing Haider regularly this past week and their tough questions with great ease. Haider loves the political show and is a master of political effect. The only things sharper than his intelligence and his wit are his temper and his tongue. In an interview held during his 50th birthday party (and during the OeVP-FPOe negotiations), he insulted the president of France ("what has he achieved?") and the entire Belgian government ("corrupt"). In a recent interview in _Die Zeit_, he said that the did not know what all of the excitement was about in the chicken stall [of the EU] because the fox was not inside yet. Haider's provocative tone and style (trademarks and useful instruments of his oppositional polemics) are a potential diplomatic deficit for the Republic of Austria of gigantic dimensions. President Klestil, a seasoned diplomat himself and man of great public restraint, has admonished Dr. Haider that statements that do not correspond to "diplomatic conventions" (_diplomatische Gepflogenheiten_) are simply unacceptable. Haider is a master of insinuation, implication, and ambiguity. Pelinka provides an overview of Haider's most infamous statements related to "playing down the special character of the Nazi rule and to relativize the Holocaust" (pp. 198-199), the great majority of which date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s and are being re- cited today. Since then, Haider has attempted to qualify his statements as "misinterpreted," apologized, and condemned the Third Reich and the Holocaust a number of times. His critics accuse him of half-heartedness and insincerity, but when he is confronted with his previous statements, he refers to the fact that he has clearly gone on record to the contrary. Haider's morally reprehensible and historically untenable revisionist statements, which are the primary source of his current bad reputation, have ceased to be part of his politically operative vocabulary. They may have served a purpose at one time, but they do not any longer. However, he still suffers from a lack of credibility. Can Haider be trusted? Is he credible? Can or should a politician, who has made such statements, be given a chance or has he disqualified himself from participating in the political process? Pelinka also points out to what extent Haider has shifted ideologically away from a combination of traditional Pan- Germanism and apologetic revisionism to patriotic populism. (Aging ex-Nazis, as important as they once may have been in the FPOe, have become a demographically negligible variable in Austria.) Haider has been a ruthless critic of the established Austrian institutions of governance, based on elite decision- making, neocorporatism, and political patronage, and argues for an anti-establishment empowerment of the citizenry. In 1993, Haider initiated an FPOe campaign based on the slogan "Austria First" which openly appealed to xenophobic sentiment. This campaign galvanized anti-Haider sentiment in Austria and led to the establishment of an umbrella organization called _SOS- Mitmensch_. This organization organized a gigantic anti- xenophobic protest on Heldenplatz in 1993, rehabilitating it to a certain extent as a "place of memory" exclusively associated with Hitler's March 15, 1938 Anschluss speech. Recently, SOS- Mitmensch organized 50,000 people in a similar rally in Vienna in December, and within two days this past week it brought 15,000- 20,000 protesters to the central offices of the OeVP for a march from there to the central government offices on Ballhausplatz. (Invitations to most recent demonstration were not in print but went out over the web in the form of e-mail chain letters.) Haider fits well into the Austrian tradition of "verbal radicalism." In his standard work on Austrian Social Democracy (_Zwischen Reformismus und Bolschewismus_ (Vienna: Boehlau, 1985), Norbert Leser discusses interwar Austrian social democracy in terms of the disparity between the "radicalism of the word" and the "radicalism of the deed." In other words, Austro-marxists were good at talking revolution and bad at doing it. The propensity for rhetorical exaggeration, combined with inaction, has been part of Austria's consensual political culture: rhetorical confrontation in public and political collaboration among elites in private. Haider is an exception insofar as his tactics have been based on confrontation and polarization. Be that as it may, it is worth noting that the Austrian Second Republic actually has a comparatively good record of political non-violence (or an absence of radical deeds). With reference to racially or politically motivated violence against foreigners, a comparison of the incidents and statistics from Austria with those of Germany, for example, result in a favorable balance for Austria. The only victims of racially inspired political violence in Austria to date have been four Roma, who were killed by a booby-trap bomb in Burgenland five years ago. The perpetrator, allegedly lone wolf who maintained to be representing an underground organization called the "Bauvarian Liberation Army," also was responsible for a series of letter bombings, one of which deformed the hand of the then presiding mayor of Vienna, Helmut Zilk. The bomber since has been apprehended, put on trial, and is now in prison. However, unlike Germany, there have not been fire-bombings of asylums or apartment buildings inhabited by foreigners or skin-head excesses on the streets in Austria. It is also worth mentioning in this context that Austria also has done an admirable job of assimilating over 60,000 Bosnian refugees. More importantly, Pelinka points out how the clientele of the FPOe has shifted under Haider's leadership. According to Pelinka, the initial rise of the FPOe was based less on the variable of age than on its ability to attract working class and male voters, the "proletarization and masculinization" of the FPOe (p. 197), the former at the expense of Austrian social democracy, in particular. More recently the FPOe has made considerable gains among younger voters and women. Here one could speak of a "rejuvenation" and "feminization" of the FPOe, even if the latter is based on a traditional role model for women (as mothers) and related issues, such as maternity leave and the level of direct government child support payments for families ("Familienpolitik"). Over the past ten years, one also notes a shift in Haider's political rhetoric that corresponds to the shift in the FPOe's political clientele. As a populist (or as many of his critics would maintain, as an opportunist), Haider has sought out a new constituency and correspondingly adopted a new political terminology that is less "revisionist" and more "populist." Haider has shifted his positions on so many major issues so many times in the past decade that it is difficult for observers to ascertain what his political agenda really is, but populists are motivated by popularity more than ideological rigor. The fact that the Freedom Party has increased its constituency from 5 to 27% between 1986 and 1999 under Haider can be interpreted in terms of two trends: Has the Freedom Party moved from the right toward the center in order to attract a larger pool of voters or has a larger pool of voters in Austria has moved from the center to the right? Pelinka places the rise of the FPOe under Haider in the larger context of the erosion of traditional ideologies and camps (_Lager_) in Austria and traditional Austrian institutions, such as "social partnership." In discussing the "end of subsocieties," he describes the demise of (political) Catholicism and socialism (pp. 97-128) and in "a farewell to corporatism" (pp. 139-156) he discusses how the dovetailing of political parties and organized economic interests (chambers of industry, commerce, labor, agriculture) is beginning to fade. The period of what Pelinka calls consociational democracy (characterized by the ability of political elites to arrive at a high degree of consensus based on power-sharing agreements) is coming to an end. The fragmentation of the Austrian political spectrum is the inevitable result of the modernization of Austria: something Pelinka calls the "Westernization of a Central European democracy." (p. 205) Copyright Lonnie Johnson and HABSBURG, 2000. All rights reserved. [Part 2]