Friday 14 November 2008

Is Austria largely Haider?

Unlike Austria, European countries treat the Far Right very harshly. In this respect, Austria is definitely an exception. Otherwise, most of the European media write obsessively about Israel in derogatory terms (anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism). European governments, notwithstanding all the talk about human rights and pacifism, put their own economic interests above any other consideration and do not hesitate to sign juicy agreements with Iran and other undemocratic countries.

Source: article by Benjamin Weinthal in TJP

"Austria's uncritical political reaction to the death of Jörg Haider is further evidence that its relations with Israel have reached a low-point. The last time relations were this bad was when Haider's extremist right-wing Freedom Party joined a coalition government in 2000, sparking an Israel-initiated diplomatic divorce between Austria and the Jewish state.

While Austrian politicians and media commentators adhered to "speak no ill of the dead" and did not disparage Haider posthumously, the absence of an intellectually honest appraisal of Europe's most significant right-wing extremist political figure is deeply unsettling. Haider's enthusiasm for the Nazi era in Austrian politics and society is well known, yet not one politician in Austria's entire political spectrum, including the anti-fascist Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Green Party, has taken him posthumously to task for those views. The political establishment has turned Haider's political legacy into a socially and politically acceptable phenomenon.

According to Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, a Social Democrat, Haider should be accorded "respect and recognition," and he was "a remarkable person" with an "excellent feeling for what needs to be changed" in Austrian politics. In minimizing Haider's political beliefs and affinity for National Socialism, Gusenbauer appeared to be praising attitudes wholly incompatible with core social democratic values.

Shortly before the national election in late September, in response to my query about whether Austria had a "special responsibility" toward Israel due to Austrian complicity with Germany during the Holocaust, Andreas Schieder, the SPÖ state secretary in the Federal Chancellery, issued the following statement: "That is also the basis for the commitment: prevent the beginnings. Never forget - no more fascism.

"However, we are painfully aware of what the chancellor at the time, Franz Vranitzky, noted in a speech before the Knesset in 1991. Austrians were not only victims, but also perpetrators. The SPÖ will continue to fight anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and any form of National Socialist ideology."

Had the SPÖ meant these words seriously, the Social Democrats would have had to sharply criticize Haider's purported political achievements and boycott the funeral services.

The Green Party, which champions the rights of minority groups, mirrored its Social Democratic colleagues, failing completely to confront Haider's vicious political legacy. Ulrike Lunacek, the Green Party's foreign affairs spokeswoman, wrote the following to this writer shortly before the election.

"The fact that the Holocaust was one of the decisive reasons that the State of Israel was founded as a place of refuge for Jews means modern-day Austria has a certain responsibility." She called "for commemorative events and memorials" and argued that the Jewish community in Austria should "not only be treated with tolerance, but also with welcome and acceptance."

Alexander Van der Bellen, the recently retired head of the Green Party, quickly deviated from the words "welcome" and "acceptance" and praised Haider as "an exceptional politician, highly qualified to inspire people and win [them] over."

Haider energetically campaigned with the slogan "Austria for the Austrians. For your sake," and evicted asylum seekers from the southern province of Carinthia where he served as governor. Van der Bellen whitewashed Haider's politics, which aggressively insulted and ostracized ethnic and religious minorities, blacks and Jews.

The attitude of the other mainstream party, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) is not surprising, since it is currently flirting with Haider's new party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), and the Freedom Party about a possible government coalition. Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer (ÖVP), said that Haider "deserves great respect" for not mincing words.

The death of Haider offers a view onto the playing field of terribly strained Austrian-Israeli relations. In April 2007, the Austrian energy giant OMV, whose primary shareholder is the Austrian government (31.5 percent), nailed a tentative 22 billion euro deal with Iran to develop its South Par gas field. The Austrian government has the leverage to terminate the letter of intent with Teheran but - in sharp contrast to European energy giants Royal-Dutch Shell and France's Total, which have discontinued gas and oil production agreements with Iran - is itching to implement the contract. The social democratic CEO Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer of OMV is hoping for a new Iran policy change following the US election.

Haider's pro-Iranian foreign policy was simply an extension of the Social Democratic-led government policies of lame duck Chancellor Gusenbauer, who advocates the OMV-Iran deal and enhanced trade with Iran. Haider traveled to Iran in 2004 to do business with the mullah regime and solidified Austrian-Iranian political cooperation. He met with former Iranian president Muhammad Khatami, who regularly calls Zionism a "continuation of fascism," and received a euphoric welcome during his visit to Vienna in late October. In 2007, Haider dedicated himself to stronger economic relations between Carinthia and Iran by welcoming an Iranian economic delegation.

This happened at a time when the international community sought (and still seeks) to isolate Iran due to its uranium enrichment program.

Haider is largely Austria and Austria is largely Haider. If Austrian society and politics genuinely seek to bid farewell to Haiderism, they would first need to reject coalitions and political cooperation with the racist and anti-Semitic parties BZÖ and FPÖ. Secondly, the Austrian government would have to give top priority to fighting latent anti-Semitism (i.e., anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism). Thirdly, as a new member of the UN Security Council, Austria could call for stronger sanctions against Iran. Finally, the most important litmus test for improved Austrian-Israeli relations is whether the Austrian government will nullify the gas deal with the anti-Semitic Iranian regime, whose nuclear weapons program threatens the safety of Israel and Europe."

- Right of Reply: Don't judge Austria based on Haider, by Michael Rendi, Ambassador of Austria to Israel
- Switzerland not invited to Israel’s 60th anniversary festivities
- Israel concerned over Germany-Iran deal
- Iran, Italy sign oil exploration deal

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hitler, Eichmann, Seys-Inquart, Kaltenbrunner, Haider - all Austrians. Where did the Fuhrer learn his anti-semitism? Vienna. So why be surprised at modern reactions? Old traditions die very slowly.