election, 3rd October as textfile

Ruth Wodak ruth.wodak at UNIVIE.AC.AT
Tue Oct 5 19:49:19 UTC 1999

The Rise of Racism - an Austrian or a European Phenomenon?
Ruth Wodak, University of Vienna and Austrian Academy of Sciences

It is rare that Austria makes its way to the headlines of the international
news and media. This happened three times in  the past 15 years with very
different topics: once with the "Waldheim affair" (1986); the second time,
1995, when four Roma men were killed through a bomb in Oberwart,
Burgenland, by a right wing group which was also responsible for letter
bombs delivered to politicians and journalists.  The third time, when the
present Austrian president Klestil, a faithful Catholic, was left by his
wife because he had an affair, subsequently got divorced and remarried
 1999. But, on October 3rd, 1999 Austria gained hugh international
attention again: the ?Freedom Party"  (FPO, a party similar to Le Pen's
party in France) won 27,2 % , after leading an election campaign with
blatant and explicit racist slogans against foreigners. Upto date, it is
not clear if the FPO is the second largest or third largest party because
some votes still have to be counted. The Social Democratic Party lost upto
6 %, the conservative party, OVP, was able to hold its electorate. The only
progressive party which succeeded in winning votes is the Green Party,
which gained 2% (now about 8%).

During the campaign, the Social Democratic party as well as the Peoples
Party (both forming a coalition government up to October 1999) seemed
paralysed. On the 1st of October,  thousands of people gathered  on St.
Stephan's Square and applauded FPO's leader Jorg Haider as he gave his last
speech before the elections, welcoming ? our Viennese citizens", whom he
promised ?to protect against foreigners and against unemployment". The
slogans ?Stop der Uberfremdung" ("Stop overforeignization"; see below) and
"Stop dem Asylmiszbrauch" ("Stop the misuse of asylum" ) were accompanied
by loud cheers and some whistles of those who dared to disturb. Police was
stationed all around the square, the atmosphere was tense, but most of the
bystanders had wide smiles on their faces. Moreover, the headline of the
Neue Kronenzeitung  (the newspaper most widely read world-wide; i.e. in
relationship to population size)  already celebrated Haiders "March into
the chancellery" four days before the election.

Who is Haider, and what kind of party is the FPO?  Does  this  rise of
populism and racism manifest broader social changes in Europe or is it a
unique Austrian phenomenon? After the Second World War, in 1949, "liberals"
with a strong German National orientation and without any classical liberal
tradition founded the VDU ("Verein der Unabhangigen"), which became an
electoral home of many former Austrian Nazis. The FPO, founded in 1956, was
the successor party to the VDU; it retained an explicit attachment to a
'German cultural community'. The FPO itself has thus never been a liberal
party, though it has had leaders who have tried to steer the party on a
liberal course. In 1986, Haider was elected as leader of the party and
unseated the then liberal leader, Norbert Steger. Since 1986, the FPO's
party policy and politics have become anti-foreigner, anti-immigration,
anti-European Union and widely populist.. 1992 and 1993, the FPO attempted
a petition "Austria First" which called for political discrimination
against foreigners. But the petition was voted down in parliament.
Nevertheless, many proposals suggested in the ppetition were implemented by
the governing parties in the following years. In the fall of 1997, the FPO
presented a new party program, which, in its calculated ambivalence,
emphasises Christian values and succeeded in integrating new voters.
Presently, the FPO is the largest right-wing party in Western Europe
(Mitten 1994; Bailer-Galanda and Neugebauer 1997). It is this party, which,
more than any other Austrian party, persuasively sets the "xenophobic"
anti-foreigner tone in Austria. The electoral success achieved with
populist slogans is even more surprising if one knows that Austria,
nowadays, is one of the richest countries in the world, has one of the
lowest inflation rates in Western Europe and also one of the lowest rates
of unemployment. Comparisons with the Weimarer Republik or with Austria
between the two World Wars - which are often used by the FPO propaganda -
are thus completely wrong.
What then is responsible for the success of Haider and his party (a
classical Fuhrerpartei)? I would like to attempt some explanations which
illustrate that there are Austrian peculiarties on many levels, but also
more global (economic and ideological) phenomena: Since 1945, Austria, a
very small neutral state with a population of 8 million, has difficulties
in establishing it's new identity vis-a-vis Germany and in trying to come
to terms with it's Nazi past ( Wodak et al. 1999). The effort to establish
a strong identity and positive in-group, however, is often connected with
 the construction of negative out-groups. After the fall of the Iron
Curtain 1989, Austria lost its function of being a "bridge" between the
East and the West; and new compensatory functions have not been found yet.
 Joining  the EU 1995 did not solve the problem either; on the contrary,
the tensions between national states and supranational entities have
noticeably increased.

Viewed from a historical perspective, racist and ethnic prejudices are
strongly rooted in the Austrian tradition. Ethnic groups were often used as
scapegoats for economic and social problems. Before World War II, Jews were
discriminated against, and antisemitism was a "normal" feature of Austrian
political culture. Nowadays, racism against foreigners has become quasi
"normality". When the first immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc entered
Austria 1989/90, racist slogans were used by all political parties except
for the Green Party (Wodak and Reisigl 2000), but not as explicit as by the
FPO in slogans of this election campaign: The main  poster of the FPO
during the election campaign said "Stop der Uberfremdung" ("Stop
overforeignization"), a term coined by the Nazis and used by Gobbels in
1933. The opposition to the FPO discourse was small: parts of the Catholic
and Protestant Churches, the Jewish Kultusgemeinde, the Green, Liberal and
Communist Parties, and some intellectuals. The two big parties feared to
lose voters if they would voice counter-slogans, and condemned the racist
propaganda only a week before the election. Moreover, the personality of
Haider (and his suntanned telegenic appearance) are a significant factor
for the popularity of the FPO: Haider is certainly a charismatic politician
who is very persuasive and suggestive rhetorically in the media (Reisigl
and Wodak 1999). He constructs his new image as a statesman in a clever
way, for example by participating in summer courses at Harvard University
for three years in a row.

On a more global, European, level, the fear of the "East Expansion" of the
 EU is politically functionalised by the FPO and used to evoke fears of
unemployment and of being "colonised by the Islamic culture". The
"globalisation rhetoric" of EU policy making with its main focus on
"flexibility and  competitiveness" as means against unemployment causes
many fears (Weiss and Wodak 1999, Muntigl, Weiss and Wodak 2000). People
are afraid of losing  their traditional  securities in the Austrian Welfare
State which have been implemented over the past 25 years of  Socialist and
Big Coalition government.  Change seems inevitable, but the Coalition
parties have not succeeded in proposing adquate measurees; moreover, they
seemed caught in the Austrian model of "Social Partnership" which has made
any significant changes very difficult. The FPO, on the other hand, is
promising to protect the jobs and accuses the Coalition parties of ?giving
in" to ?international pressure". They proclaim the necessity of a ?turn"
(Wende; back as it were) in Austrian politics. The trade unions, therefore,
 participate in the anti-foreigner discourse, and traditional Socialist
voters like workers join the FPO. Note, however, that the percentage of
foreigners of all sorts in Austria is a meagre 10% of the population. Of
course, the populist argumentation provides no constructive programmes, but
responds to the fears and  gives simplistic answers (Eatwell 1998).

The search for a new identity and the (discursive) construction of
scapegoats are not only  Austrian issues,  but European ones. The
competition of European economy with the USA and Japan has resulted in
"competitiveness rhetoric" (neo-liberal concepts) which is taking over the
economic debates (Krugmann 1998). It is the phenomenon of globalisation -
as one of the main factors - which is at the core of the anxiety before the
"future" and which reinforces nationalism and chauvinism as well as
xenophobia. Thus, Austria is unique in many ways, but, on the other hand,
it is  a case study for European problems. We all should take this Austrian
experience very seriously.

BAILER-GALANDA, Brigitte and NEUGEBAUER, Wolfgang (1997): Haider und die
"Freiheitlichen" in Osterreich. Berlin: Elefanten Press.
EATWELL, Roger (1998): The Dynamics of Right-wing Electoral Breakthrough.
Patterns of Prejudice32/3/1998, 3-31.
KRUGMAN, Paul (1998): Pop Internationalism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
MITTEN, Richard (1994): Jorg Haider, the Anti-immigrant Petition and
Immigration Policy in Austria. Patterns of Prejudice  28/2/1994, 27-47.
MUNTIGL, Peter, WEISS, Gilbert and WODAK, Ruth (2000): Snapshots of an
Emerging Organisation. The Discourse Analysis of European Union Employment
Policies. Amsterdam:Benjamins (in print).
REISIGL, Martin and WODAK, Ruth (1999): Austria First". A
Discourse-Historical Analysis of the Austrian "Anti-Foreigner Petition" in
1992 and 1993. In REISIGL, Martin and WODAK, Ruth (eds) (1999): The
Semiotics of Racism. Vienna: Passagenverlag (in print).
WEISS, Gilbert and WODAK, Ruth (1999): Debating Europe. Globalisation
Rhetorics in European Union Committees (in print)
WODAK, Ruth, De Cillia, Rudolf, REISIGL, Martin and LIEBHART, Karin (1999):
The Discursive Construction of National Identity.Edinburgh: EUP.
WODAK, Ruth and REISIGL, Martin (2000): Discourse and Discrimination.
London: Routledge.

More information about the Critics-l mailing list