Autumn in Austria

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Tue Nov 2 06:44:30 MST 1999

> 2 November 1999 : Autumn in Austria
> Rising Chill of a New Xenophobia
> AUSTRIA brings to mind images of breathtaking scenic beauty. An orderly
> country of orderly people not given to extreme expressions, a safe,
> haven untainted by internal discord and unaffected by strife near its
> borders.
> But this autumn, there is a new chill in the air --the chill of
> Austria is haunted by fear of the foreigner. Even the majority that is
> of this fear has to contend with the anti-foreigner direction of Austrian
> politics dictated by the rise of the Freedom Party (FPO), which won second
> place in the recent elections. Its leader, Mr Joerg Haider, is rabidly
> immigrants. One in eight persons in the country is an immigrant. Given
> role in the economy, Austria has to ask what it can do for immigrants and
> not what immigrants can do for Austria.
> Rise of neo-Nazism
> However, neither of the other two leading parties, the Socialist Party
> and the conservative People's Party (OVP), are in a position to push back
> the anti-immigrant agenda which has created an unprecedented political
> deadlock. These two parties, which have had a grand coalition in the past,
> are unable to form the government. Even if they are willing to come to
> to keep out the FPO, the negotiations would be tortuous.
> The election outcome is seen as an alarming endorsement of neo-Nazism and
> a leader who not only found virtues in Hitler's Third Reich and wanted
> Austria to be for (German) Austrians but openly advocated closing the
> "over-foreignised" country's borders to new immigrants. This has triggered
> international concern and Israel has declared that it would sever
> with Austria if the FPO finds any place in government.
> The FPO, which pushed the People's Party to the third place by 415 votes,
> strangely enough, began as an association of liberal independents. It
> respectability by entering into a coalition with the social democrats in
> 1983. This whetted its appetite for power and in 1986, Mr Haider's `coup'
> within the party drove out the liberals. With Mr Haider at the helm, the
> party has been increasing its popular support in every election, since
> when it cornered close to 10 per cent of the vote, to eventually overtake
> the People's Party.
> With `over-foreignisation' as his inflammatory spearhead, Mr Haider blazed
> trail of attacks on `establishment values' symbolised by the co-existence
> the other two parties --as coalition partners or otherwise -- and their
> grip on Austrian politics and economy. The socialist-conservative combine
> was an easy target against which the protest vote of both the old, with
> their nostalgia for `German culture', and the yuppies, looking for
> solidarity and discipline, could be mobilised by the charisma and
> high-voltage campaign of Mr Haider.
> To them, he represents a break with the tradition of a liberal welfare
> and a knight against "entrenched corruption". In the Austrian context,
> corruption means the proporz system under which public jobs and houses
> to card-carrying members of the socialist and conservative parties.
> Although Mr Haider wants a ban on immigration, when he refers to criminals
> and those who sponge on Austrian social security, it is clear that his
> targets are immigrants with `visible racial characteristics'. These would
> primarily immigrants from Turkey, Yugoslavia and central/eastern Europe,
> particularly Slavs, "people who cannot be integrated". This, of course,
> excludes Germans, Italians, French, Scandinavians and those from the US.
> does he make the distinction in his campaigns?
> "He doesn't have to. When he speaks of criminals, of those who dirty the
> country and don't learn German, everyone knows who the target is", says
> Professor Volkmar Lauber of the University of Salzburg. He says that Mr
> Haider has been very successful in convincing his supporters that the
> two parties have been corrupted by power and are unconcerned about Austria
> being for Austrians. That is why although the economic conditions are good
> and unemployment is lower than elsewhere in the EU, he has been able to
> the idea that immigrants are a social blot and a drain on the economy.
> Immigrants Issue
> The fact is that Austria needs immigrants, says social researcher Mr Bernd
> Baumgartl, co-editor of New Xenophobia in Europe. "They contribute much
> to the social system than they get out of it. Without them the economy
> collapse. If we didn't have immigrants, Austria would need to import
> he says. There are no doubt `criminals' among immigrants as there are
> Austrians, may be less, but not any more in proportion to their numbers,
> says Mr Baumgartl.
> None of the parties or observers disagree with this. Not even the Freedom
> Party's Mr Karl Schnell, who says that the actual immigrant population is
> much more than the official figure of less than a million out of Austria's
> eight million. "We are not against foreigners", says Mr Schnell. "But most
> foreigners are in low-end jobs and not very educated. They have problems
> integrating, problems with the language and tradition of Austria. So, we
> have a German-speaking Austria and a non-German-speaking Austria. The
> government has not been able to solve the problem. We have to solve this."
> Dr Schnell says a ban on immigrants for a few years will help to
> ``integrate'' those who are already in. ``When we have no jobs and no
> then we have to stop immigration, to stop hate against these people''.
> Salzburg's Vice-Governor Arno Gasteiger, of the People's Party, agrees
> immigrants have become a mainstream political issue and the situation must
> be remedied before "it becomes a problem".
> Full of Diversities
> This agreement of the three parties on immigrants being an `issue' is the
> real triumph of Mr Haider. Recent laws have already made employment and
> residence difficult for immigrants and Austria is no longer safe for
> political refugees.
> The Freedom Party's anti-foreigner referendum in 1994 was thwarted thanks
> the overwhelming opposition built up by the social groups and political
> activists. Similarly, now there is strong motivation and networking
> the FPO among the Green Party, sections of socialists, NGOs, human rights
> groups, the Catholic church and the minorities to staunch the rising tide
> xenophobia, says Mr Baumgartl. "We have to keep Austria in Europe's
> tradition of being shaped by continuous change and interchange, migration
> and acculturation, and contact with the `other'. It is this variety which
> makes Europe such an interesting region full of histories, cultures and
> diversities."
> For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service
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> Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 1999.

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