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September 22, 1999
A while ago, our editor assigned me to write a feature on 'that fascist in Austria'. At the time being, the only person he could be referring to was Jörg Haider, the chancellor of Kärnten, a small Austrian state, and president of the FPÖ, the "Freiheitliche Partei Österreich" (liberty party of Austria).

During the past few months, the successes of Haider and his party in state and national elections in Austria have drawn great attention, not only from the Austrian people but also from European nations, the United States and the world in general. Some may wonder why. Is there a new Hitler emerging in the Austrian Alps? Is fascism attempting to take over the world yet another time? Is Haider a fascist at all? Or is it just all media exaggeration? I've done some research, talked to a couple of people and wrapped up some facts, figures, and a few personal opinions in the process.




First, let's take a look at fascism. We all use the word, but do we actually know what we mean by it? A dictionary of contemporary English tells us that fascism means "a political system in which all industrial activity is controlled by the state, no political opposition is allowed, military strength is approved of, support of one's own nation and race is strongly encouraged, and socialism is violently opposed".

Wait a second. Socialism opposed? Didn't the Nazis oppose some forms of capitalism just as sincerely? This catchy definition seems to be a bit fluffy, after all. A better definition can has been provided by where M. Lyons, an independent scholar and freelance writer who studies reactionary and supremacist movements. Lyons tries to, if not define, at least explain fascism as a phenomenon. I quote here from his page:

"Fascism is a form of extreme right-wing ideology that celebrates the nation or the race as an organic community transcending all other loyalties. It emphasizes a myth of national or racial rebirth after a period of decline or destruction... fascism tends to celebrate masculinity, youth, mystical unity, and the regenerative power of violence. Often, but not always, it promotes racial superiority doctrines, ethnic persecution, imperialist expansion, and genocide."



So far, so bad. But does that mean that Haider is a fascist? Of course his policies are right-wing, but does that make him a fascist or are we running the risk of playing down the real meaning of fascism by calling Haider a fascist? At this point, a closer look at different political systems and orientations seems appropriate:



The graphic above details that the borders between different political orientations are gradual and not clear-cut. Also keep in mind that this is the way I personally would position the different political orientations on a left-right scale. Your understanding of any of the above mentioned systems might, of course, differ. The next step in understanding differing political systems will be to compare the party system of different countries - the United States, Austria, and Switzerland. To do so, I'll try to position the parties from these three countries on the left-right scale above.



Most are familiar with the political views of the Americans' democratic and republican parties, which will help you to position the Austrian parties FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreich), ÖVP (Österreicher Volks-Partei) and SPÖ (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreich). As you can see, the political spectrum is even more fractured in Switzerland, where the far right wing is covered by the SD (Schweizer Demokraten) and the FP (Freiheits-Partei), the right wing by the SVP (Schweizer Volks-Partei), the CVP (Christliche Volks-Partei), and the FDP (Freisinnig-Demokratische Partei). The left wing is covered by the SP (Sozialdemokratische Partei), the Grüne (Green Party), and the PdA (Partei der Arbeit, former Communists).

What is the purpose of this comparison? It shows which party covers which political area, and how far right a party is positioned on the left-right spectrum which allows us perspective on whether the Austrian FPÖ or its representative Haider can be called fascist. I would say no. Haider's not a fascist. He's a populist, famous for inflammatory speeches, provoking without actually providing solutions - but not an actual fascist.

But what happened in Austria recently that made so many nations take an interest in Austrian politics the European Union going so far as to put Austria in a type of political quarantine?

To keep the Austrian (or virtually any government in Europe) political system working, a political party, which has not a majority in the parliament, needs to form a coalition with another party in order to get that majority. For years now, the ÖVP and the SPÖ formed such a social-democratic/conservative coalition. However, after this year's election, during which the FPÖ had gained substantial political weight, the ÖVP decided to form a new right-wing/conservative coalition with the FPÖ. This, however, triggered worldwide protests, especially from Europe's mostly social-democratic run governments against this coalition.

One of the questions many people in Austria and neighboring countries had to ask themselves after the elections - why did Haider and his FPÖ garner so many votes? For one thing, left-wing social-democratic politicians have been part of the Austrian government for years now, they've lost their drive, and, after all, led the country into rather serious financial trouble.

The Austrian people, fed up with the encrusted government, didn't really vote in favor of Haider and his FPÖ, but rather against another term with the old government. Another fact which must be acknowledged is that Haider, as much of a right-wing populist that he is, has got a certain style - he's young, active, sporty, and not too fond of old traditions; e.g. he was the only politician sporting neither suit nor tie at the elections, dawning casual clothes instead. Quite a difference to the kind of politicians you would normally see in a national election.

But back to the question asked at the very beginning - how far right is the FPÖ as a party? It definitely stands for right-wing conservatism, opposed to most - but bewilderingly not all - social democratic ideas. However, the FPÖ is well embedded in the democratic system of Austria, it accepts and promotes the constitutional state. It practices verbal right-wing populism, but does not fall for true extremism. Austria, for example, is one of the few European countries where almost no physical violence against foreigners is reported - while Germany reports numerous cases of arson to quarters of people seeking political or economical asylum, no such cases are known in Austria.

The populist views promoted by the FPÖ is rhetoric propaganda, well-calculated political provocation needed to set the party off against other conservative and even social-democratic parties from which they would otherwise not be so easily distinguishable, because it belongs to the political mainstream already. Political marketing, PR, self-promotion.

Why do they draw so much attention then, considering that Haider is not even part of the government, but only the most colorful representative of the party? Another rather subtle question not easily answered. Right now, most European governments are dominated - if not run at all - by social democratic parties, some of them beginning their second decades. The price that the political left had to pay for that: adaptation to a more liberal, even more conservative policy, throwing overboard the longer the more of their social-democratic principles and values. In publicly condemning and attacking right-wing conservatism, they see a chance now to define their political position again, to gain some profile. Furthermore, one can also not help seeing some correlation between the fact that the SPÖ - the social-democratic party of Austria - got thrown out of the government when the ÖVP entered a coalition with the FPÖ, and the public outcry of other social-democratic parties against that exclusion of their political fellows.

On the flip side lie the sanctions the European union set up against the Austrian government. They're totally precipitous, out-of-place, and even illegal according to European law. And, most important of all, they will more than likely prove to be counter-productive. Haider already has the image of the underdog, fighting his way against the efforts of the powerful establishment, and these sanctions give his followers even more reason to vote for him.

When re-reading my text I can't help noticing that it sounds as if I am almost defending Haider and his party. I must emphasize with all intensity that I am not trying to defend him, or his views and policies, but rather trying to avoid playing down right-wing extremism and fascism by calling Haider and his cronies fascists. By doing so, tossing words with incredible weight around like schoolyard taunts, we will lose the true meaning of anti-democratic, ethnical and racial oriented fascism. And that is dangerous, much more dangerous than a right-wing populist using provocative topics to get some attention. Because that's what Haider is. No more, no less.

SEE ALSO: www.joerg1.at
SEE ALSO: www.stop-the-hate.org

--
Samuel Klaus
Samuel Klaus, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, is a legal expert and a contributor-at-large for LAS magazine.

See other articles by Samuel Klaus.

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