By Daniella Peled
September 29, 2008
As if to confirm our worst suspicions and prejudices about them Europeans, the far-right in Austria stormed the polls on Sunday.
The two parties which campaigned on an anti-European Union, anti-immigrant platform won nearly a third of the vote, with the mainstream parties pushed into last place. A rather frightening scenario.
I recall, visiting Vienna a couple of years ago, being struck by how Austrian seemed to view themselves as “the first victims” of national socialism. They certainly didn’t mind having former Wehrmacht officer Kurt Waldheim as president in the 1980s, or handing Jörg Haider’s freedom party a hefty slice of their votes in the 1999 elections.
But it would be unfair to cast Austria as country of extreme racists and neo-fascists.
Sunday’s election results can also be attributed to public disillusionment with the failure of mainstream politicians to form a functioning government, the previous coalition having collapsed in June. Austrians have also proved highly suspicious of the influence of the European Union, and supremely paranoid over immigration. Sound familiar?
It’s brutal but true - fear of foreigners, and, to put it bluntly, of Muslims, is prime political fuel in Europe these days. Politeness tends to prevent us Brits from any real excesses of xenophobia – the UK’s 100 BNP local councillors doesn’t quite amount to a fascist takeover - but fear is all too easy to exploit, and the UK, unfortunately, is not immune.