Thursday | December 14, 2017
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Immigration anxiety fuels a rightward turn in Austria

Results of elections held in Austria on Sunday show a strengthening of the right-wing parties in that country, including a first-place finish by the People’s Party and a larger vote for the Freedom Party.

The next question will be whether People’s Party leader Sebastian Kurz, 31, will choose as his necessary coalition partner the Social Democrats, ousted from power, or the Freedom Party. Betting is — based on the fact that immigration appears to have been the key issue for voters — that he will choose the Freedom Party, but that isn’t clear yet.

There will inevitably be a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth on the political left and in the center in Europe and in the rest of the world at the ascendancy of the right, at least in Austria, that the successes of the People’s Party and the Freedom Party represent. They come on top of the improved position of the right-wing Alternative for Germany in that country’s elections in September, the nationalist British referendum vote last year to leave the European Union, and whatever interpretation is put on America’s election of Donald Trump as president last November.

It is, however, important to recall that it is this time a question of a vote in Austria. Freedom Party right-wing extremists surfaced prominently before in Austrian politics. Kurt Waldheim, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, served as president from 1986-92 even after his complicity with Nazi war crimes was revealed. Another extremist, Jorg Haider, had his moment in the sun in the mid-2000s before dying in a car accident. A pre-World War II prime minister, Engelbert Dollfuss, was considered an Austrian Nazi before he was assassinated by real fascists in 1934.

What many Austrians considered to be excessive hospitality to immigrants was and is a real issue in that nation of 8.5 million in these elections. Austria is intensely Catholic and strong-willed about preserving its culture, in spite of its European Union membership and outward sophistication.

In practice, its new government will probably turn out not to be as buttoned-up and conservative as it looks at this moment.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

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