Austrian far-right leader isolated over Israel stance

May 20, 2009

Senior figures from across Austria’s political spectrum have condemned the head of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, over his party’s European election campaign directed against Israel and Turkey.

In an advertisement in the newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Freedom opposes the accession of Turkey and Israel to the European Union. Although Turkey is in EU accession talks, Israel is not.

Heinz-Christian Strache prepares for a TV discussion in Vienna, Sept. 17, 2008. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)

“What is the most distasteful and despicable is the style,” says Ernst Strasser, the conservatives’ candidate in next month’s elections for the European Parliament, referring to Strache’s campaign. “This style is abusive. He vilifies other religions and ethnicities.”

According to Chancellor Werner Faymann, Strache is “a hate monger, a disgrace”.

“It makes absolutely no sense for Israel to be mentioned. Israel is not a candidate for accession. There isn’t even an accession process. The only reason to mention Israel is to serve anti-Semitic prejudices. It is disgraceful.”

Strache, who denies he is preaching hatred, accuses Faymann of being a “rabble-rouser” and abusing his position as chancellor.

The dispute indicates more than just political opportunism in the run-up to the poll, although that is obviously playing a part.

Freedom, which polled 18 percent in September’s national election, has become a hard-right party since former dental technician Strache took the helm in 2005. It has also focused on religion. A recent rally where Strache waved a crucifix drew condemnation from politicians and religious leaders. Another campaign slogan, “The West in Christian hands”, was not well received, either.

The hard-right rhetoric, an eye-catching campaign aimed at the youth vote and dissatisfaction with the centre parties, appears to have given Freedom a boost. However, Strache’s line has at times been a bonus for the more moderate Alliance for Austria’s Future, the party of late far-right leader Joerg Haider, who used to lead Freedom.

A controversial European Union election campaign poster of Austrian far right Freedom party in Vienna May 11, 2009. Posterreads ” The West in Christian hands – Judgement day”. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler

The parties are often lumped together as “Austria’s far right”, such as when they polled almost a third of the vote last year. Together they could make a serious political force — they outpolled the conservatives and were just behind the Social Democrats in September. the Alliance has tried to use the dispute to portray itself as the more mature. “(Freedom) is using the only way to mobilise votes it has,” Alliance’s EU candidate Ewald Stadler says.

Freedom’s popularity has nevertheless affected mainstream policy, with centre parties loath to open up a flank to the far right. The conservatives and Social Democrats have spoken out against the EU asylum directive and oppose lifting labour market restrictions to the eight ex-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004.

4 comments

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It is a shame for Austria population to have a far right candidate that try to manipulate and not respect the population of Austria as a country, also to use antisemitism and discrimination as a tool to gain popularity.He is puting down the inner values of Austria’s population, worse and more affected after the WWII role.More puting a shadow in the EU elctions. With these kind of opportunism the population of the other countries belonging to EU are for sure not trusting the leadership an EU role and less the future election . Must be a clean of the house and policy inside EU and not let use kind of proselitism and not let any candidate the use of the democratic way of opinion like the right to vote as a tool to manipulate and non respect the Austria population in this case and in consequence the rest of European population.In name of FREEDOM right radicalism in Austria can start dividing and confusing the youth and manipulating old fears still in the air of the past WWII and cold war.The only good thing of these is that now in the global era this kind of attitudes can be inmediately pointed out and resolved , there is no excuse now , technology and dialogue allows to fix dialogue and eliminate shadows and manipulation….the only condition maybe be to be direct to the point in dialogue.No middle words.

Posted by Maria | Report as abusive

Austria given its Nazi past has a special responsibility to assure all its residents that it not going going down that road again. Sadly, however, no politicians, media, clergy etc are reassuring the foreigners of non-European origin that such a situation not not arise once again.Strache is vocal because the others are silent.He is proactive and other are reactive.Many foreign staff attached to UN and other international organizations in Vienna are worried about the rise of the far right but one one is listening to them. Given the economic situation foreigners are seen as the scapegoats and the police are the most racist.

Posted by James Boyle | Report as abusive

I do not quite get it. Mr. Fayman may object to Strahe’s style (although words are more important),but certainly, Strache is not the first or the only one who is objecting to “Israel and other ethnicities”. Not that that is the most important, to begin with.If Austria in general is not enamoured by far right, and only “senior figures from accross Austria’s political spectrum” are condemning Strahe’s rude words against Israel and Turkey, how come, then, that Mr.Heider who exuded much more directly expressed hate of almost anything “not Austrian”, got such a wide following, not to mention the most elaborate state funeral that I have ever seen; the politicians, the Church, the young and the old in their full splendor, flowers and candles and all the paraphernalia of the pomp. Why such a big deal about Strache, then.

Posted by Baltazar | Report as abusive

I lived in Austria for two years (I am an American) and I even volunteered for the Austrian Peoples Party. I was very active in Austrian politics. Although I don’t agree with the message of the FPOe or (to a lesser extent) the BZOe, they did receive the support of around 30% of the population in the last general election. They’re presence must be noticed. In order for them to be marginalized the OeVP (Austrian Peoples Party) must move away from the extreme center and become the center-right party it claims to be. Only when there is a more moderate place holder for the right in Austria will the far-right be put down.

Posted by Judah | Report as abusive