Thursday 14 July 2016

Austria: Rerun election shows Freedom Party threat

The police cleared the streets of anti-fascist protesters in Vienna in early June this year

The police cleared the streets of anti-fascist protesters in Vienna in early June this year

by Manfred Ecker editor of Neue Linkswende

From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine July-August 2016, issue 16. Email UAF to ask for printed copies

Anti-fascists were given a breathing space by May’s presidential election when the Green candidate defeated Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPÖ). But now judges have said that due to irregularities the election must be rerun in September.

The narrow victory in May came about thanks to the anti-fascist movement in the streets. But the margin was only 0.6 percentage points. It remains a major breakthrough for the Freedom Party and there is a serious danger that Hofer could win the rerun.

The Freedom Party started hinting about electoral fraud weeks before the elections.  It is exploiting a generalised feeling that a diffuse elite has betrayed the people.

It has managed to lump together the bigwigs in Brussels and the radical left in many people’s minds. The “lying media”,  the Greens, the Social Democrats, feminists, Bilderbergers, Barack Obama, finance institutions and refugees are all placed in the same camp.

This may seem laughable, but it convinces many of the party’s newly won voters, who are being moulded into a movement of righteously furious people.

Hostility to neoliberal cuts pushed by the European Union (EU) is growing—and the Freedom Party has the support of 75% of those who are hostile. It is the only large party that is not pro-EU.

Just three weeks after the election a group of neo-Nazis, called the “Identitarian movement”,  tried to march through an immigrant area of Austria’s capital, Vienna. This gang has close ties to the party—its leaders meet at the same fascist student fraternities.

Anti-fascists blocked the road, but were cleared off the street by riot police so the Nazis could march a few hundred metres to the next train station.

The vote has left the right both self confident and angry—believing that victory was stolen by its various “enemies”.  It is already in coalitions that run two federal states—Upper Austria and Burgenland. But this puts it in a risky position. How does it avoid being seen as just another corrupt political party? Its solution is to join in pushing through neoliberal policies, but to add a racist twist. For example, benefits are under attack, but if you are a refugee who cannot prove exemplary “integration”, they will be cut by more than 50%.

Meanwhile, in nurseries children of immigrants are compelled to recite five German poems and five German songs. The Freedom Party is initiating a new law to make nurseries key places in the  preservation of cultural folklore.

It now seems inevitable that the Freedom Party will win the next general election, but the anti-fascist movement is not throwing in the towel. One in four people who took part in the presidential election voted just to stop Hofer becoming president. And more than a million people—from a population of eight million—have been active in helping refugees over the last ten months. So our task is to mobilise this huge force and make it visible on the streets.

Nazi gangs may be marching and the Freedom Party is trying to mobilise against shelters for asylum seekers, but up to now the anti-fascists remain stronger on the streets.

Every success for us anti-fascists causes tension between camps in the Freedom Party calling for respectability and those who openly support fascist street mobilisations.

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