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Press ReleaseAnti-Semitism-International
RULE
Joerg Haider: The Rise of an Austrian Extreme Rightist

Labeled by his critics a "yuppie fascist" and the "Austrian David Duke," Joerg Haider is poised to become one of Austria's most powerful political leaders. Haider is the forty-five year old leader of the right-wing Freedom Party. After an extremely strong showing in the October 1994 general elections the telegenic, millionaire Haider predicted that he would be chancellor within "a year or two." He may now have his chance.

In October 1995, a budget crisis led to the dissolution of the ruling coalition, resulting in elections being called three years early. Polls show that while Haider and his Freedom Party will probably not gain the chancellory in the December 18 elections, they may emerge as Austria's second largest party. Such a showing will mark a seismic shift in Austrian politics, displacing the number two position Social Democrats or People's Party who have separately or jointly governed the country since World War II.

The agenda promoted by the avowedly right-wing Freedom Party is xenophobic and ultra-nationalist. For Haider and his party, it is the immigrant community that is responsible for Austria's ills, particularly unemployment and crime. The Austrian people, whether attracted to this agenda or disgruntled with politics as usual, have grown increasingly receptive to this formerly fringe leader.

Throughout his public career, Haider has consistently parried accusations of anti-Semitism His record, however, reveals numerous statements utilizing Holocaust terminology or legitimizing Nazi policy and activities.

Haider's self-perception is reflected in the following comment: "When you analyze the commentaries and see characteristics ascribed to me, sometimes I'm the great idealogue, preparing something horrible, then I'm the ideology-free opportunist, next I'm the yuppie, then I am the old Nazi, then I'm the Ghadafi of Carinthia, then the Austrian (David) Duke. Stereotypes do not suit me. I have to live with the fact that one always tries to compare me to somebody else, but I believe I am an Austrian original."

Early Years and Family Life

A lawyer by profession, Haider lives with his wife and two daughters in an inherited 38,000 acre estate. The estate was once owned by Jews who were forced to sell the land after the 1939 German annexation of Austria.

Joerg Haider was born in 1950 in Upper Austria to parents with direct links to the Nazis. His father joined Hitler Youth in 1929 and the Nazi SA storm troops a year later. The senior Haider reportedly traveled to Munich with Adolf Eichmann and Alois Brunner in 1933 as a member of the Austrian legion. Haider's mother belonged to the Nazi Party's League of German Girls. When asked to comment on his parents wartime activities, Haider remarked: "In retrospect one is always wiser. As a descendant, one should not be so arrogant as to say, 'I would have known better."

Whatever lessons Haider learnt from his parents, the affinity and allegiance to Germany he has promoted throughout his political career, developed at a young age. At age sixteen, he won a speech contest with a talk entitled, "Are We Austrians German?" His speech was later published by the neo-Nazi newspaper Deutsche National Zeitung under the title "How German is Austria." More recently Haider stated that he believes that Austrians are not a naturally distinct people, but rather ethnically Germans. Austria is an "ideological deformation," while efforts to create a distinct Austrian identity have failed.

Political Life

From the age of twenty, Haider held various positions in the right-wing Freedom Party, including as a member of parliament from 1979 through 1983. In 1986 he was elected party leader. Three years later, saying he would use provincial politics as a springboard for the chancellorship, Haider became the governor of Carinthia. In 1991, Haider was forced to resign after publicly praising Nazi labor policy (see below), and became Deputy Governor. Haider reentered the national parliament in March 1992.

Haider's success in the October 1994 national elections astounded political observers. In 1986, the Freedom Party received 5% of the vote. Only eight years late, in the 1994 election, Haider and his party garnered 22.6% of the vote, up from 16.5% from 1990, achieving the dubious distinction of gaining more votes in a parliamentary election than any other European far-right party . In the 183 seat parliament, the Freedom Party jumped from thirteen to forty-two seats. Political analysts credited the Freedom Party's success to a receptiveness to Haider's anti-foreigner message, as well as with a wide-spread disgust for the stodginess and patronage of the Social Democrats and the Austrian People's Party

Haider's rise caused the two mainstay parties of Austrian politics to suffer losses they had not experienced in their forty-nine year reign. The Social Democrats garnered only 35% of the vote, a drop of 8%, receiving only 66 seats. Their coalition partner, the conservative Austrian People's Party dropped 4.4% to 28% of the vote, receiving only 52 seats. The coalition continued, until its breakdown in October 1995, with both party leaders refusing to welcome Haider as a coalition partner.

Political Agenda

Throughout his political career, Haider's policy agenda has been based on xenophobic and racist sentiment. According to Haider, immigration offers no benefits to Austrian society. Rather, immigrants take jobs away from Austrians and bring in crime from Eastern Europe and elsewhere. "We've got the Poles who concentrate on car theft," he claims. "We've got the people from the former Yugoslavia who are burglary experts. We've got the Turks who are superbly organized in the heroin trade. And we've got the Russians who are experts in blackmail and mugging."

In February 1993, Haider and the Freedom Party launched a twelve point petition campaign for ending foreign immigration and keeping the proportion of non-German speaking children in schools under 30%. Haider predicted he would get at least one million signatories. In what was viewed as a major defeat, the petition was signed by only 417,000, or 7.5% of the population.

During the 1994 election campaign, Haider's linkage of immigration and unemployment continued, causing the ruling coalition to accuse Haider of manipulating public fears over joblessness. Haider announced to Austrians "we have to stop immigration until unemployment is reduced to under 5 percent," claiming that the unemployment rate was 5.8%. The official unemployment figure at that time was 4.4%.

Haider denies he is xenophobic or racist, insisting that he is speaking the truth. "We talk about things," Haider says, "that citizens don't have the courage to express openly and honestly." "I believe that the multicultural society is a fiction that cannot work."

Extremism and Insensitivity

Throughout his public political life, Haider has been accused of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and of promoting pro-Nazi and neo-Nazi ideology and policies. He vigorously denies all of these allegations.

Defending Nazi policy and Nazis: Despite public disclaimers and overtures, Haider is undeniably guilty of publicly defending the policies of Nazi Germany and of justifying individual actions during those years. Haider has utilized terminology reminiscent of the Nazis, announcing, for example in October 1990 a "final solution to the farm question." Upon his election to the leadership of the Freedom Party, Haider rejected comparisons with the German Nazi Party, saying "The Freedom Party is not the descendant of the National Socialist Party. If it were, we would have an absolute majority."

Indeed, Haider's first international notice came in March 1986 during the controversy surrounding the return of Walter Reder, an Austrian born former major in the Nazi SS, who was freed by Italy from a life sentence he was serving for his role in the mass killing of Italian civilians in 1944. For Haider, the controversy was ridiculous, as Reder was "a soldier who had done his duty." Dismissing Reder's wartime activities, Haider stated: "If you are going to speak about war crimes, you should admit such crimes were committed by all sides."

Haider's most infamous comment came during a July 1991 debate in the Carinthia provincial parliament, when Haider, then governor, declared: "An orderly employment policy was carried out in the Third Reich, which the government in Vienna cannot manage." In face of a national and international uproar, Haider apologized for his remarks, but said "What I said was a statement of fact: that in the Third Reich a large number of workplaces were created through an intensive employment policy and unemployment was thereby eliminated." Haider, of course, did not mention the particulars of Nazi labor policy, including military buildup, forced labor, and concentration camps. Recently, Haider defended his 1991 statement, claiming he was referring to Nazi policy between 1933 and 1936.

In May 1992, while the government was embroiled in a scandal involving a provincial government's decision to honor a gathering of Wafen SS veterans, Haider defended the decision. Haider instead accused the Interior Minister in Parliament of engaging in "primitive attacks" on "respectable" war veterans, while turning a blind eye to immigrant perpetrated crime.

Most recently, Haider spoke out against the government's plans to compensate 30,000 Austrian victims of Nazi rule, including Jews, Communists and homosexuals, claiming that Austrian victims of the allies, such as civilians who fled Austria's occupation by US, Soviet, French and British troops, should also be compensated. As he told an elderly Austrian audience in April 1995, "It is not fair if all the money from the tax coffers goes to Israel." However, when the Parliament voted in June to set up a $50 million compensation fund, Haider voted in its favor. Still insisting on the need for compensation for victims of the allies, Haider explained, "But we do not intend to be petty. Even though you will not join us to widen the scope of the fund we will not vote against the bill. We too want to draw a line under a chapter we are also responsible for."

In May 1995, the Freedom Party was only the only major Austrian political party absent from ceremonies at Mauthausen death camp marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp. Just before the anniversary, Haider had referred to Mauthausen as "a punishment camp."

Support by Neo-Nazis and Anti-Semites: Haider denies that he has links to neo-Nazi groups, saying reports of contacts with neo-Nazis are "invented to create a mood against me," and claims he has never met with "those types of people." Nevertheless, "those type" of people seem to support Haider.

A November 1992 desecration of a Jewish cemetery in eastern Austria left 80 stones smeared with swastikas and slogans such as "heil Haider." A pamphlet left at the site extended "Aryan greeting to our idol Joerg Haider."

A survey conducted in early 1995 by the American Jewish Committee concluded that "Freedom Party supporters are much more likely than other Austrians to exhibit hostility towards Jews." The study found that one third of Freedom Party supporters "manifests strong anti-Semitic prejudice," and a "significant proportion" were "open to Holocaust denial."

Haider has furthermore shown understanding for the appeal of neo-Nazism to the young blaming modern European society and immigration: "Young people in the former German Democratic Republic are confronted with special problems -- the loss of some sense of community and a high unemployment rate. No country can be indifferent to a wave of asylum-seekers, who pose a threat, whether real or imaginary, to jobs and internal security. Politics has to set up some guidelines for young people to deal with the crisis. Otherwise, society will be responsible if its children are driven into the hands of Nazis or pseudo-Nazis."

Attempts to Improve Image: In recent years, Haider has taken a number of public steps in an attempt to redeem his international image. During a June 1994 visit to the United States, Haider visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C, declaring afterwards: "I think that even those individuals who don't know much about history will realize that we must to everything to enforce tolerance, everything to enforce human rights and everything to strengthen democracy."

In May, 1995, Haider and four companions visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The visit came in the midst of a Freedom Party advertising campaign opposing a plan to make Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal (in whose honor the Center is named but who is unaffiliated with organization) an honorary Austrian citizen. Haider and the Freedom Party claimed the Museum was questioning Austrian democracy by hanging the democratically elected Haider's photo alongside those of Idi Amin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein. In fact, Haider's photo hung alongside politicians described by the Center as "right-wing demagogues," including Jean-Marie Le Pen and David Duke. Haider's request for a meeting with the Center's leaders was rebuffed.

Conclusion

Haider has fended off accusations of anti-Semitism, although many of his followers are demonstrated anti-Semites. Nevertheless, Haider has exhibited an insensitivity to Nazi brutality and a refusal to appreciate the suffering those who lived under Nazi rule endured. His very public visits to museums commemorating the Holocaust and other examples of genocide have apparently failed to influence his attitudes in this regard.

No one can deny Joerg Haider's democratic right to espouse his views, nor can one question the Austrian public's legitimate right to support him. But the rise of Joerg Haider and his xenophobic and racist policies are indeed troubling to those who continue to hope for a more tolerant and inclusive Europe.

Prepared by: 
International Affairs Division, Anti-Defamation League
December 11, 1995
 

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.



 
 
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1995 Anti-Defamation League