Haider in Cuckooland
Wednesday, February 16 2000, 2:15 AM
Joerg Haider lives in a political Schlaraffenland, the cuckooland paradise of German fairy tales.
Haider's fantasy begins with a belief that real Austrians can be specified and that the past is a restorative. As in so many fantasy lands, the security of his peaceable kingdom is at risk from dark strangers pouring over its borders, strangers who have no place in this bright and sunny land. The task of the race-hero is to ensure that a true order is re-established and to save the kingdom. And Joerg will be that hero.
This story is well-known. It is a particularly savage tale, one that justifies inhumanity, cruelty, and greed as noble virtues. The barbarity of the story's treatment of the 'stranger' — remembering that no fellow human is truly a stranger — has deep historical resonances.
Haider and his Freedom Party supporters live deep in their Schlaraffenland: they believe not only their own sad political fable, but also that the rest of the world has not seen and understood its consequences.
Many Austrians understand the story too. For the past two weeks, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in Vienna and in other Austrian cities every night to protest the ascendency of racism and neo-fascism. Demonstrations have continued throughout Europe ever since the Schuessel-Haider government installed itself.
Launching itself, the OVP/FPO government would like to be a government like all other European governments. Daily demonstrations interfere with the acceptance and normalization that the new government deems its right by popular mandate. Haider appears to be waiting for the uproar to settle down and for acceptance of the FPO before he claims a senior role in the federal government.
A palpable sense of official Austrian frustration over resistance to and non-acceptance of the OVP/FPO government has begun to emerge. The European Union protests and political boycott of new Austrian ministers have brought FPO counter-threats to shut down EU business through veto power, even as the OVP emphasizes that they wish to be good Euro-citizens. Haider threatened to initiate a treason investigation against Austria's president, Thomas Klestil, on charges that Klestil collaborated in an international conspiracy with the Austrian opposition and the European Union to prevent the new government's formation. The wild temper over political opposition, so characteristic of fascist demogogues, has emerged early.
This new Austrian government, entirely the product of liberal democratic groundrules, challenges the political borders of the European Union. The fourteen other EU nations, anything but an assembly of radicals, have stated clearly that the inclusion of far-right or neo-fascist parties in EU governments violates those borders.
Political memories are at work here. The incremental advances by the Nazis during the four 1932-33 German elections, beginning from a 30 percent vote share very close to the 27 percent attained by Haider's FPO, illustrated the fragile limits of liberal parliamentarism. Fears are being expressed throughout Europe that Haider's success will provide legitimization that European far-right parties have lacked for over a half-century.
Hannah Arendt observed that two opposed ideologies drove twentieth-century politics, the ideology of class and labor and the ideology of 'race'. In the issue of immigration, Haider has seized on a paradigm that unites the two. Immigrants, the labor force searching for better lives, have been demonized as a threat to the racial constitution of nations. Haider, like Le Pen in France, relies on an appeal to non-existent purisms as protection against contamination of a putative national soul.
Racism has been an historic point at which liberal democracies collapse, at which tyranny emerges in the form of brutal majority impositions. If xenophobia finds new expression in Austrian public policy, and particularly if the FPO succeeds in imposing a zero immigration regime, the contradictions between nominal democracy and racialism will become manifest.
Further, if Austria's xenophobia prevents expansion of the European Union into eastern Europe, then the EU will become captive to the most retrogressive politics on the continent. The FPO's message to eastern Europe is 'we want captive markets and cheap labor for our investment capital, but not your alien workers in our cities'. Haider's rhetoric of racist subordination extends to eastern Europeans. In the most profound sense, the OVP/FPO government represents a challenge to the concept of European unification.
In the streets in Vienna and across Europe, there is a new and angry resistance to the normalization of neo-fascists in government. The greatest political gift Haider can receive is public acceptance and complacency. On February 19, opposition groups will be rallying in Vienna and European cities using the call of the Democratic Offensive:
- No to racism.
- No to the extreme right.
- For an open, pluralistic, and social Austria.
- For a Europe without racism.
In the United States, there will be a protest in front of the Austrian consulate in New York City at 31 East 69th St. on Feb. 19 at 11am.
We all find our own ways to demonstrate, like Lou Reed, who cancelled his Vienna appearance in protest. There's a sighting: Lou Reed, anti-fascist. And anything but premature.
Joe Lockard is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.