Coalition deal with far-right Freedom Party is a ‘slap in the face for Austrian Jews’

Political observers believe the state arrangement could be replicated at national level in the general election next year


This picture taken on January 28, 2018 in Sankt Poelten, Austria, shows lead candidate for the Freedom Party (FPOe) Udo Landbauer after his vote on the occasion of the Lower Austrian state election. Udo Landbauer, said on February 1, 2018 he was giving up all political functions including as a local deputy. Landbauer was at the centre of a scandal over song lyrics praising the Holocaust. / AFP PHOTO / APA / ROBERT JAEGER / Austria OUT (Photo credit should read ROBERT JAEGER/AFP via Getty Images)

Austrian Jewish leaders have described the ruling centre-right People’s Party decision to go into coalition with a far-right party in a key state as a “slap in the face”.

The People’s Party (ÖVP) did a deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) that will see the FPÖ’s Udo Landbauer become lieutenant governor of Lower Austria, the country’s largest state.

It followed regional elections in January that saw the ÖVP lose its absolute majority in the state as the FPÖ’s vote share rose by ten points. Then negotiations between the ÖVP and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) broke down.

Political observers believe the deal could be replicated at national level in the general election next year. The People’s Party currently governs Austria with the Greens but poor polling figures mean the coalition is unlikely to last beyond 2024.

The People’s Party and Freedom Party previously formed government coalitions in 2000, 2002 and 2017.

Landbauer was forced to leave frontline politics in 2018 after it emerged that he had been a member of a greater German national student fraternity, the Burschenschaft Germania zu Wiener Neustadt, whose songbook contained antisemitic and racist lyrics as well as those glorifying National Socialism.

Lines from Germania’s songbook reference “the Jew Ben-Gurion”, “creating the seven million” with reference to the Holocaust, and wanting to join the Waffen-SS.

Landbauer gave up his leadership of the FPÖ in Lower Austria and his seat in the state parliament only to return to both posts a few months later.

In 2018, Lower Austria governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner of the People’s Party ruled out working with Landbauer following what became known as the “songbook affair”.

Landbauer is one of many members and former members of greater German nationalist student fraternities among the FPÖ’s upper echelons.

Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG Wien), warned Mikl-Leitner that entering into coalition with the FPÖ — a party he called the “greater German nationalist fraternity’s political arm” — would result in a “massive loss of credibility”.

The ÖVP has been a trustworthy political partner for the Jewish community in recent years, but Deutsch said a deal with the FPÖ would “counteract efforts” to “deal honestly” with Austria’s Nazi past and the “responsibility” that history places on Austria’s politicians.

Mikl-Leitner, who since 2017 has been governor of Lower Austria, the state that surrounds Vienna, said that while she appreciated the IKG Wien’s concerns, she has also had support for her deal from members of the Jewish community. That support, however, has yet to be communicated publicly.

The president of Austrian Union of Jewish Students, Victoria Borochov, said: “The ÖVP’s decision to go into coalition with the FPÖ is a slap in the face for all Jews in Austria.”

She said the decision undermines the ÖVP’s credibility concerning the fight against antisemitism in Austria. Bini Guttmann, who sits on the World Jewish Congress’s executive committee, said the ÖVP’s words on antisemitism now look like “hot air”.

Condemnation also came from the International Auschwitz Committee, an association of Holocaust survivors based in Berlin. It said the coalition was guilty of making far-right extremism “socially acceptable”.

Mikl-Leitner said the agreement with the FPÖ commits the coalition to “maintaining and cleaning Jewish cemeteries” as well as “caring for the graves of fallen soldiers and war victims”.

Writer Doron Rabinovici said the clause “packages the honourable memory of dead Jews together with the Wehrmacht and SS”, making “a mockery of the victims”.

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