Meanwhile, in Austria

I’ve said before that Austrian politics has a really sick character you hardly find anywhere else, a sort of utter blankness of principle and whorish debasement in pursuit of preferment that would embarrass Silvio Berlusconi. But, Jörg Haider has managed to excel himself yet again.

Recap. Once upon a time there was the FPÖ, a rather nasty hard-right outfit that got into government by offering the mainstream conservative party, the ÖVP, a helping hand when it lost an election. Cue shock from many (mostly social democratic) European capitals and (practically meaningless) “sanctions” from the EU. A couple of years on, the sanctions are off and there has been a world of scandals. The FPÖ splits after its titular leader Susanne Riess-Passer, a relative of Haider’s who acts as his representative on Earth and Austria’s Vice-Chancellor, becomes dangerously independent and Haider launches a separate party conference to seize back control. Riess-Passer shuffles off to obscurity. Eventually, Haider and the Carinthian provincial party secede and rename themselves the BZÖ, using the colour orange rather than the FPÖ’s traditional blue.

The Chancellor promptly switches the new-old Haider group into his coalition instead of the rump (and never was the term more appropriate) FPÖ. By this manoeuvre, note, the Haider group has neatly ensured they don’t have to deal with the FPÖ’s debts, which are substantial.

Now, with elections due in October, Haider announces his BZÖ will campaign as “BZÖ – Die Freiheitlichen” and mostly in blue, with various old FPÖ stalwarts like Peter Westenthaler (who sat the whole thing out whilst holding a well-paid sinecure with industrialist Frank Stronach’s car-parts empire) and the execrable Helene Partik-Pablé. (She is remembered for explaining to parliament that “black people do not just look different, they are different, and especially aggressive”, and that “babies flee from a black shape placed over their cradle” in the same context.) Not just that, but his campaign material will carry a large stamp reading “The Original!”

Partik-Pablé does not seem to have improved with keeping. Her latest campaign is to examine the Geneva Conventions and the Refugee Convention to see if they are up to date. Gentle reader, the prospect buggers the imagination. Haider’s old followers in the original FPÖ are now appealing to the courts (they sure ain’t appealing to anyone else) to stop him going to the polls with their intellectual property.

Commenter “Munis” on Der Standard’s website sums it up:

ich kann einfach diesen widerwärtigen machtgeilen, arroganten Gnom, diesen neoliberalen Ex-Mascherlträger aus Hietzing einfach nicht mehr sehen und riechen. Sowas von überheblich und herablassend, sowas von charakterlos, untergriffig, diffamierend und wortbrüchig (wenn wir dritter werden dann gibts Opposition etc.). Ich frage Euch ganz ehrlich: Wie kann man so etwas wählen?? Diese ÖVP kotzt mich nur mehr an.

In English: “I can’t bear to see and smell this neo-liberal ex-goatee wearer, this arrogant gnome disgusting with lust for power any longer. There’s something both low and haughty, dishonourable, underhand, libellous, and liable to break his word (“if we come third we’ll go into opposition”) about him. I ask you, honestly – how could anyone elect him? This ÖVP makes me sicker and sicker.”

I remember the Austrian writer Robert Menasse saying, during a demo back in the spring of 2002, that Haider was a good thing for the country because he would force the Social Democrats to raise their game. I disagreed. Menasse told me I knew nothing of dialectics.

10 thoughts on “Meanwhile, in Austria

  1. Austria seems to have a larger dose of the euro disease than any other country I have been in. I knew I was back in the real EU when I stopped for coffee and a bottle of water at a gas station and it was nearly 10 euros. Like France you find yourself admiring the countryside and wishing that it’s current inhabitants were not living there.

  2. Dude I was driving down the highway and there was this guy with his BUTT ALL NAKED!!111!!1 What are they coming to??????? 20 bucks and all I got was this lousy comment!

  3. Filtering the barbarous chatter out and struggling to concentrate on the adult conversation..Charly, the FPÖ loses votes dramatically when in power. Between its arrival in government and the last election, it went from second place with 21 or so per cent to distant third with 6 or so, just a fraction ahead of the Greens.

    Since the FPÖ/BZÖ split, the rump FPÖ has sunk into the realm of the pathetic, and the BZÖ’s main target at the October election will be to beat the clock by getting the 5 per cent necessary to take the couple of seats in parliament it will get in Haider’s local powerbase. The FPÖ will be lucky to get any seats, and if it does will be unlikely to clear the 5 per cent hurdle.

    However, barring a meaningful swing from the ÖVP to the SPÖ (or for that matter the Greens), they will still have a couple of spots needed to push the Schlüssel government over the line and will hence still have influence and ministerial posts. The conservative camp is simply not enough to achieve a single party government, so (ruling out a return to the permanent grand coalition) the depressing little clique of racists and self-seeking cash grabbers that is the “national camp” is vital to the overriding priority of Wolfi’s continuance in office.

  4. Thanks for the information.

    Exapnding on Alex comment I have question: If BZÖ does not get more then 5 % the probable result would be what? A Socialdemocrat-Green coalition?

  5. Very probably, but expect months of incredibly tortuous coalition politicking as the ÖVP wriggles on the hook trying to either inveigle the Greens into a deal with them and any rump FPÖ lying around, or else recreate the grand coalition.

    The chance of a black/green coalition in Austria are even lower than in Germany, though.

  6. Hi -

    You’re leaving out the reason why the FPÖ went from a meaningless bunch of die-hard ultra-right nationalists to being the third largest party in Austria.

    It’s because they caught both the SPÖ and the VPÖ with their hands in the cookie jar and pointed out how terrible corrupt and venal both parties were (and in the case of the SPÖ, largely still is).

    Their success was based on this and an obvious and clear populist candidate who, unlike all other Austrian politicians, was more than willing to speak his mind and to actually offer an alternative.

    That this alternative is itself corrupt and venal, as well as (at least for my politics) politically repugnant – they continue to play a very heavy-handed race card – is indicative of Austrian politics: everyone was in on the game of Proporz and the accompanying corruption, and there isn’t, as far as I am concerned, any alternative to the existing power structures, be they Red or Black, which is quite frankly both damning and disappointing.

    Menasse was completely wrong: the Social Democrats have completely failed to remake themselves into a party worth electing if Austria is going to face its demographic and economic challenges. The VPÖ isn’t all that much better, but they have the advantage, a fundamental one: so far, despite various problems, they haven’t really screwed anything up to the point that voters would consider the SP to be the real alternative (and given the problems with the unions in Austria and the dependence of the SP on the unions to get the votes out), meaning that bar any major economic or political problems, the VP will continue to be the majority party.

    But regardless of whether the kingmaker is FP or BZ, they remain the kingmakers until the voters realize what a crock they’ve been handed. But I don’t think any Austrian politician has ever counted on the intellignce of the average Austrian voter, now, have they?

    John

  7. I would only add that the “Sowas von + ADJ” is better translated as “So arrogant and denigrating” or even “So unbelievably arrogant and denigrating…”.
    Nevertheless, great post :o)

  8. Hi Alex, good to see some of us are still having fun while some others will actually have to vote come October. Minor corrections: the hurdle for the BZÖ is only 4%, which they’ll likely fail, whereas “the rump” might end up close to 10% if you ask me, battling it out with the Greens for third place. Which is why the ÖVP feels forced to take a second look at the SPÖ currently. Riess-Passer is not the Haider-relative, that was his half-sister Haubner, one of her successors. Haubner is still a minister, while Riess-Passer is only allowed to give talismans to your friend Westenthaler and try to scrape through on her salary as director of a large savings-bank.