Austria far-right surge sparks deep concern


Jewish leaders and activists have spoken of their concern over the victory of a far-right presidential candidate in the first round of Austria's presidential election last Sunday.

If the candidate standing for the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, Norbert Hofer, wins the run-off on May 22, he will be the first far-right leader of Austria since the Second World War.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, described the situation as "deeply troubling… That a country at the heart of Europe can show such support to the far right barely 70 years on from the Holocaust shows that our collective memories are failing." The British Board of Deputies also voiced its "deep concern" over the rise of Austria's xenophobic right.

Mr Hofer is in a strong position, having won 36 per cent of the vote on Sunday against the 20 per cent secured by his closest rival, former Green Party spokesman Alexander van der Bellen.

"It's not a very pleasant situation that [so many] Austrians have voted for a far-right candidate and have given in to racism and antisemitism," said Simone Dinah Hartmann, a Jewish anti-fascist activist based in Austria.

Food Nazis

April 20 was Adolf Hitler's birthday and, according to Vice News, some Austrian restaurants marked the day by serving up what was said to be the Nazi leader's favourite food: Eiernockerl, a dumpling served with scrambled eggs and a salad.
Freedom Party district council member Wolfgang Frolich said: This highly political meal... is one of my favourites. If my memory serves me right, I've eaten Eiernockerl every year on Hitler's birthday.

The success of the far-right party has sent a chill through the political establishment, and reflects a rightward trend among voters in Europe worried about the arrival of more than a million refugees on the Continent in the past year. There are reportedly some 90,000 seeking asylum in Austria.

Ms Hartmann said: "The Austrian constituency is very receptive when it comes to racism, especially when it comes to the refugee crisis. The big parties are dealing with it by being even harsher."

Jewish groups have also voiced concern that Freedom Party chairman Heinz-Christian Strache's visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem two weeks ago represented an attempt by the Austrian far-right to use Israel to further its anti-Muslim agenda.

The Freedom Party continues to sponsor the annual ball of the Vienna Korporationsring, a group of German-nationalist fraternities ("Burschenschaften") that form a gateway between the political far-right and neo-Nazis.

In 2012, the ball took place on January 27, the same day Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army in 1945.

Historically, the Burschenschaften played an important role in the rise of National Socialism. Even today, most of these Burschenschaften are proud of being "Judenrein".

Central figures in the Freedom Party, including Mr Strache, have connections to these fraternities. The same goes for the former president of the Austrian parliament, Martin Graf.

Graf is linked to the "Olympia" fraternity, which had been scheduled to host a lecture by Holocaust denier David Irving before he was arrested.

According to the Austrian Forum Against Antisemitism, reported incidents involving hatred of Jews increased in the country last year by more than 80 per cent, to 465.

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