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2000-02-09

Joerg Haider and Austria’s Freedom Party

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The European Union has frozen diplomatic relations with Austria. Britain’s Prince Charles has canceled a trip to Austria. And Pat Buchanan has jumped into the fray. [includes rush transcript]

The controversy centers around the rise of Austria’s far-right freedom party and its leader Joerg Heider The party has entered into a coalition with Austria’s government. Haider has praised former members of the Waffen SS, an elite German military unit that helped carry out Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews and others. He has lauded the Nazis’ "orderly employment policy." Haider also opposes immigration and European integration.

Seeking to assure critics that Austria remains "a stable democracy," the new chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, today promised his government will face up to its past and seek justice for those forced into slavery by the Nazi regime.

More than 1,500 anti-riot police are guarding the Austrian parliament building today following days of protests against the entry of Haider’s party into the government. Yesterday, Schuessel survived a vote of no confidence brought by the opposition Green Party, but the government faces increased isolation by countries in the European Union, as well as other governments. World disapproval was further underscored by the announcement that Britain’s Prince of Wales has canceled a trip to Austria.

In an unprecedented move to isolate Vienna for its move to the right, the European Union froze diplomatic relations with Austria. The political change in Austria has also alarmed Israel, which recalled its ambassador. The rise of Haider’s Freedom Party has also alarmed many Austrians, who fear an increase in intolerance and curbs on freedom of expression.

Meanwhile in the US, Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said last night that neither the US nor the European Union has reason to fear Haider and accused Europe of hypocrisy for freezing diplomatic relations Austria. "He is an opponent of their whole global new world order," Buchanan said of Haider. "It is an indication, I think, that any candidate of the right can expect universal hostilities," he added.

Buchanan caused a national stir last fall with his latest book "A Republic, Not an Empire," in which he argued that Hitler’s Third Reich was no threat to the United States after 1940.

Guests:

  • Ambassador Peter Moser, Austrian Ambassador to the United States.
  • Martin Lee, author of the book ??The Beast Reawakens, which examines the resurgence of fascism worldwide.
  • Karl Pfeifer, journalist who for 13 years was editor of the official paper of the Jewish community in Vienna. He is now the Vienna correspondent for Israel State Radio.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The European Union has frozen diplomatic relations with Austria. Britain’s Prince Charles has cancelled a trip to Austria. And Pat Buchanan has jumped into the fray.

The controversy centers around the rise of Austria’s far right Freedom Party — and its leader, Joerg Haider — which has entered into a coalition with Austria’s government. Haider has praised former members of the Waffen SS, an elite German military unit that helped carry out Adolph Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews. He’s lauded the Nazis’ "orderly employment policy." He also opposes immigration and European integration.

While seeking to ensure critics that Austria remains a stable democracy, the new chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, today promised his government will face up to its past and seek justice for those forced into slavery by the Nazi regime.

More than 1,500 anti-riot police are guarding the Austrian parliament building today, following days of protest against the entry of Haider’s party into the government. Yesterday Schuessel survived a vote of no confidence brought by the opposition Green Party, but the government faces increasing isolation by countries in the European Union, as well as other governments. World disapproval was further underscored with the Prince of Wales of Britain canceling his trip to Austria.

And in an unprecedented move to isolate Vienna, the European Union froze its diplomatic relations. The political change in Austria has also alarmed Israel, which recalled its ambassador. And the rise of Haider’s Freedom Party has also alarmed Austria’s own arts community, which fears an increase in intolerance and curbs on freedom of expression.

Meanwhile in the U.S., Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said last night that neither the U.S. nor the European Union has reason to fear Haider and accused Europe of hypocrisy for freezing diplomatic relations with Austria. Buchanan said of Haider, "He’s an opponent of their whole global new world order." He went on to say, " It’s an indication, I think, that any candidate of the right can expect universal hostilities." Buchanan caused a national stir last fall with his latest book, A Republic, Not an Empire, in which he argued that Hitler’s Third Reich was no threat to the United States after 1940.

Well, joining us to talk about the situation right now in Austria and the response to it is Ambassador Peter Moser. He is the Austrian ambassador to the United States. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ambassador.

AMB. PETER MOSER: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone by Martin Lee, who is author of the book The Beast Reawakens, which examines the resurgence of fascism worldwide. Ambassador Peter Moser, can you tell us what your government is consisting of right now in Austria, how this alliance with the Freedom Party came into being with Joerg Haider?

AMB. PETER MOSER: Yeah. We had elections last year, October 3rd, and we formed the government only now, exactly almost four months after the election. It’s a long process of negotiation. And, of course, the leading Socialist Party wanted to continue the coalition government with the traditional partner, the People’s Party of Mr. Schuessel. And they had this coalition government since 1986. Before ’86, the Social Democrats had a coalition government with Freedom Party, but not of Mr. Haider. This party, at that time, had been headed by a different politician who was more along the line of the German Freedom Party.

And then Haider took power. The Social Democrats at that time said they cannot continue the coalition with the Freedom Party. We had new elections, and the result had been since from 1986 to ’99 the coalition of the Socialists and the Conservative Party. In this thirteen, fourteen years, they did not do all these reforms necessary in the wake of globalization, joining the European Union in ’95, then the opening of the Iron Curtain, which increased certain stress and problems to Austria, because we are the southeastern country of the European Union. And we had then these wars in the Balkans. So that contributed altogether to great tensions, domestic tensions and problems.

And these two coalition partners — from the left, the Socialists, and from the right, the People’s Party — it’s not the true burning issues so I think this coalition was burning out. And the result of October 3rd really brought a new situation in the political landscape. The support of the Socialists, still the number one party, and the Conservative Party came down from ’86; more than 80% of the combined vote now to a mere 60%, and leaving three more or less equal parties.

And since, the Socialists still continued to shut out any possibility of coalition with the Freedom Party under Haider. Their only problem for them to negotiate had been the People’s Party. So they tried hard, both parties, and we have to — we have to really believe that they tried to work out a working program. They knew that these overview reforms could not be postponed, but the differences based on different ideological platforms could not be surmounted. So since the Socialist Party couldn’t have any alliance with the Freedom Party, the only way out, the solution has been that Mr. Schuessel from the People’s Party formed now a government with the newcomers with — under Haider with the Freedom Party, and that is instead of a center-left, now a center-right government.

And what is so alarming the rest of the world, particularly the closer fourteen members of the European Union with whom we have intimate relations through — you can say almost daily work in the institutions of Brussels — is that this Freedom Party under Haider has collected not only all dissatisfied elements, defectors from the traditional parties, but that also expressed certain views, alarming views towards expansions of the European Union towards the east, what is called xenophobic statements and so on.

And that has to be distinguished clearly from what you, in the introduction, have said, have said that Haider is a person sometimes in — when he has been provoked and then he had these rebel fistfights in press conferences and so on, uses language which can be ascribed to Nazi diction, and that, I think, the whole of Austria, the Freedom Party now is taken hostage by these statements and we get now the result of awakening fears, anger and even sanctions from people who rightly have to be afraid if they hear statements like this from this corner of the world, from the background of Austrian and German history, the dark years of Nazism.

But you can be sure that all the voters for Haider, at 27%, are not Nazis, are not Neo-Nazis, and they are not appealed by the Freedom Party because of these statements, but because of the problems which are at their very feet. And this is the reason why he has —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ambassador — Ambassador Moser, I’d like to — if I can interrupt for one second — bring in Martin Lee, who’s been following for years the resurgence of fascism worldwide. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Martin Lee. I’d like to ask you why should people be concerned? After all, Austria is a democracy. There were elections. This is a normal parliamentary development of alliances. Why should people be concerned about the rise of this coalition?

AMB. PETER MOSER: I think, from a [inaudible] point of view, you will have had to accept that the Freedom Party —

AMY GOODMAN: We want to put that question to Martin Lee, author of The Beast Reawakens.

AMB. PETER MOSER: Yes, Mr. Lee.

AMY GOODMAN: Martin, are you there?

AMB. PETER MOSER: Hello, I’m still here.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we were just putting this point to Martin Lee, but why don’t you respond to it, Ambassador. Then we’ll get Martin’s response.

AMB. PETER MOSER: Well, my response is this Freedom Party has come to the strength of 27% now, because of certain problems, but in an absolute democratic way. The party sticks to democratic principles. You must know that Neo-Nazism in Austria is forbidden. And, I mean, whatever you do which is associated with Neo-Nazi or Nazi ideology, like smearing, for instance, Swastikas on papers or publicly denying the Holocaust or trying to minimize, and so on, and, of course, founding a party along Nazi principles is a crime. And we are punishing these people, and that is, I mean, not possible that any Neo-Nazi party can arise and can get strength.

Why the people are afraid is because certain statements of Mr. Haider are looked upon with a background of Austria’s past. And I respect the personal feelings of Holocaust survivors, who automatically react to it with fear or anger. It depends on the person.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador, in a minute, we are going to go to Vienna to Karl Pfeifer, who is a Jewish anti-fascist there, but we do have Martin Lee on the line with us.

Martin Lee, your response to Ambassador Peter Moser’s comment that most of the people who voted for Haider are not Neo-Nazis.

MARTIN LEE: I think that’s true. I think they look the other way or ignore the very compelling evidence that the Freedom Party is chock full of neo-fascists, anti-Semites and Neo-Nazis in the actual party leadership and influences of power. There are significant numbers of people whose actions and statements raise very significant questions. For example, Andreas Moelzer is Joerg Haider’s advisor for cultural affairs in the — Haider is now governor of the state of Carinthia, Austria, and Moelzer has been until recently — excuse me — the publisher of a Vienna weekly called Zur Zeit, which has run articles about the quote/unquote "dogma" of the six million Jews killed, run articles that have re-evoked the Jewish blood libel myth — excuse me — that raise the idea of Jews drinking the blood of Gentile children. There’s one article that’s praising Hitler as a great social revolutionary. So you have to wonder why has Joerg Haider —why has he chosen as his adviser for cultural affairs a person like this? There’s a dozen other examples like this that really raise serious questions about what’s going on with the Freedom Party.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But Martin, what about this issue of when you believe in a democracy and people vote for particular candidates? The same situation happened in Algeria with the fundamentalists that the French government then — that the Algerian government then revoked the elections. What about the process when there is a democratic election, and these are the choices of the people, why should the people in other countries then try to affect the internal affairs of that particular country?

AMY GOODMAN: Martin Lee, we’re going to let you think about that question, because we have to break for stations to identify themselves. And then, when we come back, we’ll go back to the ambassador and also on the ground in Vienna and speak with a European editor of The Searchlight, which is an international anti-fascist magazine. You are listening to Pacific Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

JUAN GONZALEZ: You’re listening to Democracy Now! I’m Juan Gonzalez, and we are discussing the situation in Austria with the ambassador — the Austrian ambassador to the United States, Peter Moser, with Martin Lee, the author of the book The Beast Reawakens, which examines the resurgence of fascism worldwide. Martin, before our break, I asked you about this issue of democracy and of the choice of the Austrian people. How do you respond to that?

MARTIN LEE: I think it’s one of the very disturbing aspects of the situation in Austria, that the Freedom Party has been able to claim the high ground, been able to claim that it is the mantle of — or holding the mantle of democracy, because it is true. 27% or slightly more voted for the Freedom Party, and the Freedom Party has now gained power on a national level through the democratic processes. The reaction of the European Union has underscored that its modus operandi is not entirely democratic in this instance.

But I think what disturbs me about the reaction of the European Union is not so much the criticisms of Austria, but the fact that it pursues a double standard on these issues, because there’s also a Neo-Nazi party, part of the government of Turkey today, a junior partner. That’s another issue, but when that election in Turkey took place about a year ago there was no vociferous outrage expressed by other member states of the European Union or from the United States or from Israel, for that matter. They seemed to accept that development. So I think the problem is not so much the reaction on the part of the EU with respect to the Freedom Party, but the double standard that’s in place here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re also joined from Vienna by Karl Pfeifer, who’s a journalist, who for thirteen years was editor of the official paper of the Jewish community in Vienna, and he is now a Vienna correspondent for Israel State Radio. Mr. Pfeifer, how do you — welcome to Democracy Now!, first of all.

KARL PFEIFER: Hello.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us how you regard the reaction of the European Community to the situation with the new alliance with Mr. Haider, and also — with Mr. Haider’s Freedom Party, and also this issue of democracy and the choice of the people of Austria, their right to choose their political representatives, free from outside interference?

KARL PFEIFER: Well, let’s start with the second question. Of course, Austrian people are entitled to elect whom they want. But European countries are entitled to have bilateral relations in the fashion that they want. And, of course, the European Community countries do not like to have extreme rightwing party in government, because that is very bad for Europe.

Now, as far as the first question, and I’d like to say something to what the Austrian ambassador has said, it’s very interesting that he says that one has to have special understanding for Holocaust survivors. That’s very nice of him, but the question is not one of Holocaust survivors. The question is, are the statement and is the policy of the Freedom Party, is that a policy acceptable for a civilized nation, or isn’t it acceptable? In my opinion, and in the opinion of most civilized states, including the United States, this policy is not acceptable.

Let me give you just one short example. Mr. Haider has signed with Mr. Schuessel a declaration against racism, etc., etc., xenophobia, etc., etc. And this was published in New York Herald Tribune, I believe, yesterday, at the high cost of the Austrian taxpayer. Now, a few hours later he presented the president of the republic with the name of the minister who was the chief of Freedom Party — who is the chief of the Freedom Party in Vienna and who has had a racist campaign, election campaign here with racist posters, and the president of Austria, a conservative man, rejected this man. So, a few hours after Mr. Haider and Mr. Schuessel are signing something against racism, a racist is proposed as a candidate to be a minister in the Austrian government. And nobody else says this but the President of Austria. So this is really a curious situation we have here in Austria.

Let’s see, can I continue?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, go ahead.

KARL PFEIFER: Mr. Schuessel says he was surprised by the reaction of the European governments and by the reactions of the government. And before he says so, a few hours before he says so in Austrian parliament yesterday, the president of the republic issues a statement where he point-by-point exactly demonstrates when Austria was warned about participation of the party of Mr. Haider.

So this is the situation. It’s not a question of Holocaust survivors. It’s a question of Austrian democracy, in what way Austrian democracy will go. And may I add a personal —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Can I ask — before you go on, can I ask Ambassador Peter Moser to respond to the remarks of Karl Pfeifer?

KARL PFEIFER: Please.

AMB. PETER MOSER: I start from the last remarks of Mr. Pfeifer, I mean, the warning. Of course, we all knew, even without warning, how the reaction would be of the European Union, I mean, with which direction, not the extent and the measures, because what has changed since we had this Waldheim experience in 1986 is that we have become members of the European Union. So it’s not just an internal affair of Austria alone. Whatever a member of the European Union is doing in a democratic way or not democratic way immediately attracts the interest of the partners, and the prospect to have a partner in Brussels who is denying the agreed-upon policy of the European Union, for instance, towards expansion towards the east, the twelve candidates automatically must await the interest and the criticism of these countries. So, of course, we received the warnings as Mr. Klestil, the President, enumerated in this paper, which I’ve not seen so far, but I know what he means.

What surprised us really is this harsh and swift action by the fourteen — all fourteen members last Monday, because using the presidency they published a paper. And we learned the exact measures, the sanctions, the automatic sanctions, which took place when the government was sworn in, only through the news agencies. Now you can see this is a formality, but apparently it is not something which we would expect from close friends.

Maybe this has been triggered because Mr. Haider, again, I mean, violated, in spite of the warning and admonition by the head of state, repeatedly — he really had — found very bad words for Mr. Chirac and for the whole Belgium nation, so that maybe might have accelerated the whole thing. But it has never been discussed since we have Schuessel and the coalition partners of today. They have never had the chance to deliberate in public and in private — no, in private, I mean, what these fourteen member states really had in stock.

They published it, and then I think that was a dead end road. You could never go back. And all these protests will not help the immediate problems of the domestic situation in Austria. We need a budget law within weeks, otherwise we will have a government shutdown. And these budgets will be very, very difficult, because we have to do drastic reforms to keep in line with the criteria for the combined currency. There are Euro money —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ambassador, if I can interrupt you for one second. I’d like to go back to Martin Lee, who’s also on the phone with us. Martin Lee, you mentioned the hypocrisy of the European Union in regards the rise of a Neo-Nazi party in Turkey. But is the Austria situation for Europe unusual or unique, or will this possibly give rise to the development, the strengthening of extreme rightwing parties in other countries?

MARTIN LEE: Well, I think that’s certainly the fear, that there are these movements in other European countries, several of them already claiming double-digit voting figures for the national elections. And there is certainly a fear that Haider’s success, the success of the Freedom Party in Austria, will legitimize those movements. But even more to the point, it will end up making racist scapegoating and xenophobia more acceptable. You know, it’s always said that — or it’s often said about the situation in Austria, well, let’s give it a chance, let’s see what the government does, let’s not judge too quickly, we’ll keep an eye on the situation, as if we’re all gazing into a crystal ball and just sort of watching.

But, in fact, there’s a track record that’s already in place with respect to the Freedom Party that raises serious questions. The Freedom Party, even though it’s only recently gotten a share of national governing power, it has already had a very significant impact in Austria over the last fifteen years or so since Haider has been the leader of that party. It has had a profound impact on the policies of the Austrian government. It has pressured the Austrian government to severely restrict immigration, which it has.

In essence, the mainstream parties in Austria, the conservatives and social democrats, have adopted much of what the Freedom Party has been calling for with respect to law and order issues and immigration, in an effort to thwart the advance of the Freedom Party, and it hasn’t worked. It’s only conferred a legitimacy on it, and now we have the situation that we’re in. So part of the problem has been the reaction of the mainstream parties in Austria to the rise of the Freedom Party.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And I’d like to ask Karl Pfeifer for a final comment. Is the Austria situation unique? And what about this rise of such a large vote for the Freedom Party in Austria? What does that say about the political consciousness of the Austrian people?

KARL PFEIFER: Well, it’s really unique that an extreme rightist party is sitting in government. And the political culture of Austria is in a very bad shape if we need lectures from abroad, and this is what it looks like. Now, of course, part of the Austrian people are not in agreement at all with Mr. Schuessel and with Mr. Haider.

And I like to tell you a Jewish anecdote. You know, two men meet. One has dirt on his hands, the other one has gloves on his hands. When they shake hands, will you say that the dirty became glovey or the glovey became dirty? And this is a position of Mr. Schuessel.

Mr. Schuessel said at an international press conference, where asked Mr. Haider about Holocaust deniers in his party, about pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic ravings, which were widely applauded by people of his political affiliation and from which his general secretary did not distance himself. Mr. Schuessel sat beside. He did not say a word. All he says is he has understanding for the victims of Holocaust. That’s not enough to have understanding. One has to take action, and action is not taken because he’s together with Mr. Haider.

Now, if Mr. Schuessel and if the ambassador complains about Mr. Haider, this is the man they signed a coalition agreement. You cannot really — this is not decent. Mr. Schuessel is really now taking orders, so it looks, from Mr. Haider, because Mr. Haider can say whatever he likes, and Mr. Schuessel, the chancellor of Austria, is the humble man who accepted, you know? It is really a funny situation here. We have —- Mr. Schuessel is the chief of the third party in Austria. The second party is Mr. Haider’s party, so -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re going to have to — we’re out of time now, and we’ll have to come back to this again in the future. We’ll be monitoring it here on Democracy Now!, as the situation develops in Austria. I want to thank Ambassador Peter Moser, the Austrian ambassador to the United States; Martin Lee, author of the book, The Beast Reawakens; and Karl Pfeifer, journalist from Vienna. Thank you very much for being with us.

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