AUSTRIA: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Haider: a warning rather than a threat
, February 26, 2000
In the following articles, Max Teichmann examines two issues facing Europe. The first - the inclusion of Jorg Haider's right-wing Freedom Party in the Austrian Government - has been subject of close media attention. The second, the eradication of historic Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo, has received almost no attention at all.
The furore created by the entry of Jorg Haider's Freedom Party into a Coalition Government with the Austrian Conservatives appears to have subsided somewhat, but of course we have not heard the end of it.
If the Coalition try to carry out their policies - viz, start unscrambling the nationwide patronage system set up to benefit the members of the 50 year old Coalition of Social Democrats and Conservatives, (a source of considerable corruption and social stagnation) - and move to cap the flow of immigrants and refugees, then the European Union (EU) will submit Austria to all the harassment and undermining which a small rebellious country encounters - especially post-communism - if it strikes out on its own.
On the other hand, if Haider's party agreed to do nothing, then it and he will fail, and disappear. Still, if the 'international community' has its way, a world-wide boycott would - if necessary- be organised against this errant European government.
A prospect which would dismay nations far larger and richer than Austria.
There are, nevertheless, risks on the part of Austria's protagonists, and Australia has sensibly refused to be one of their number. Like many small countries, jealous of their now precarious independence, they, like the Serbs, the Cubans, the Vietnamese, even the Iraqis, are liable to dig in their heels saying 'Nyet!' even when doing so goes manifestly against their interests. (Such public sentiments are on the rise in Russia.)
An early warning of this type of backlash came during the negotiations which finally produced Austria's new government.
The decision to start restrictions and exclusions by the EU Žlites (no consultation here), even before a government was formed, with the obvious intention of determining Austria's choice of who should govern them plus the mounting campaign of vituperation against Austrians in general - approaching a race libel - 'all Austrians, in the end, are fascists, racists, anti-Semites, etc' - produced the following move in voter sentiment.
When polled as to how they would vote in a new snap election - Haider's vote had risen from 27 per cent to 37-44 per cent.
So probably it will be back to sapping and mining, supplying cash-for-comment, and soliciting disloyal members of the Coalition. And scuttlebut ... e.g., 'Haider's Dog Kills Sheep' or 'His Cat is an Hermaphrodite'.
But there is a potential crisis within the EU itself, as it moves to intervene in the internal affairs of one of its members. This was a major fear of many potential EU members - that such an event might transpire and that they could be on the receiving end.
They were told ... 'No way'. Now it has occurred, and Austria could just be the first cab off the rank.
The EU could go the way of NATO - conceived for one purpose and then used for another: an instrument of political, ideological and economic warfare, covertly led by a couple of outside countries. Of course, the US is a member of NATO, which it greatly prefers to the UN, for among other things, it has enabled her to stay on in Europe formally; and progressively take over the running of her great economic and cultural rival - the EU. But I would fear for the stability - even the longevity - of the EU if it is to go along this path. Would the Anglo-Americans be sad?
Why are Austria and Haider so important to the ruling Žlites - de jure and de facto - of the West? Because they appear to want to tackle major social problems which their neighbours are also encountering and wish to solve but are blocked from even attempting to remedy. There were over five million illegal immigrants in Europe - now there are far more - and a magnitude of drug problems and a criminal sub-culture which many countries had not encountered before. Drugs, prostitution, arms, money laundering and people smuggling networks recognise no boundaries. On top of all this, countries like Austria have been more or less forced to accept refugees from the breakdowns in Eastern Europe and, more recently, Yugoslavia. And in very large numbers.
Then there are the guest workers - mainly Turks - relics of earlier times when labour was scarce. But Europe has had a low economic growth rate - often two per cent p.a. or less - for over a decade, while at the same time, economic rationalism is forcing its way through societies and destroying jobs. The struggle for work and bread at the lower levels of society is now fierce.
Austria has had a further major concern: being the staging post for illegals despatched from Albania to Italy, thence to Austria. Hopefully they go into long-suffering Germany and northern Europe. The illegals are Kurds, Middle Easterners, Asians. But many remain in Austria as they do in Italy. Simultaneously, from the east, masses of Gypsies and economic refugees slip in and settle principally in Vienna. Neither the people living off tourism in Vienna or Salzburg, nor the workers residing in the high-rise suburbs of the big cities where migrant enclaves are springing up, are pleased.
Haider's rise is due to the failure of other parties to even face their difficulties - and of course, there is the usual cash-for-comment media to make sure they don't.
Then there is the welfare system designed for a stable population and steady high growth. It is groaning under the new burdens, while costing the earth. Haider is pushing for the slimming down of welfare, reforming the official kleptocracy, and stopping the unregulated immigrant flow - even returning some.
His answers may be demagogic but the problems are real and mounting. As if on cue, Switzerland has thrown up a big party with very similar policies. It is really the fear that Haider's superficial solutions may actually work - though I doubt it - and show the way to other countries, that inflames his enemies.
Of course, if Haider keeps opining about World War II to appease older voters - he can expect flak and creative misreporting.
Australia is wisely keeping out. As a country professing multiculturalism, we already have an impressive list of racial scapegoats; Iraqis, Arabs, Serbs, once more (with feeling) the Latvians. Do we really need to add the Austrians and Swiss? Despite our pressure group proddings, most Australians don't feel indignation at these Austrian goings-on - but they would like information, such as Geoffrey Barker supplied in a recent Financial Review article. Also, our local fear-mongers, have perhaps cried wolf far too often. Their luck may be running out - perhaps speeded by evidence of covert racism.