Far Right

HC Strache - obviously a neo-nazi as he is hiding his mouth and carrying a gunBrand me a neo-nazi if you like, but I’m a bit fed up with all the British media labeling the two right-wing parties who did so well in Austria yesterday as "far right". Cultural populists they might be, anti-EU integration they certainly are, but are they far right?

Take for example this photo in today’s Daily Mail. This is Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party, all dressed up looking for a place to go. But was this photo taken last week? Nope – this is HC (as he’s known) in his late teenage years. One would hope he had slightly more maturity these days, but ultimately this is a photo taken two decades ago. Is the Daily Mail seriously suggesting that HC the teen has to be the same man today? That’s like arguing that since Tony Blair supported Margaret Thatcher - obviously a neo-nazi as she is hiding her mouth and carrying a gunnuclear disarmament in his 1983 election leaflet, anybody voting for him in 1997 was voting to scrap Trident.

And frankly, that’s a tiny gun. This one to the right (and the woman driving it) is much more impressive. Politicians and guns eh?

Here’s the Guardian‘s take on it:

Austria was shaken by a political earthquake yesterday when the neo-fascist right emerged from a general election as a contender to be the strongest political force in the country for the first time.

The combined forces of the extreme right took 29% of the vote, with Jörg Haider almost tripling the share of his breakaway Movement for Austria’s Future to 11%, while his successor as Freedom party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, saw his party soar to 18%.


Here’s how Wikipedia describes fascism:

Fascism is a totalitarian nationalist political ideology and mass movement that is concerned with notions of cultural decline or decadence, and which seeks to achieve a millenarian national rebirth by exalting the nation, as well as promoting cults of unity, strength and purity.

Now let’s break that down and examine the FPÖ and the BZÖ:

  • Totalitarian – the two right wing parties cannot in any sense be called totalitarian. Both Strache and Haider are committed democrats and neither of them have any intention or desire to undermine Austria’s Parliamentary system.
  • Nationalist – Yes, the two parties are nationalist, but you would need to define what that meant. If it means nationalistic in the sense that the NSDAP was in Germany, glorifying the nation and believing in the racial superiority of the German people, then the answer is "no". If however you mean that a nationalism that takes pride in national culture and history and identity, and seeks to preserve it against an Americanisation of western culture then the answer is "yes".
    It needs to be recognised that there is much greater sense of national cultural identity in Austria then there is in the Home Counties. It’s only when you start going north of the border and beyond Glasgow and Edinburgh that you would experience anything comparable to the sense of "Heimat" that the ordinary people of Austria have. In my Gran’s home town every second person walks around in national dress. They’re not uber-nationalists looking to expand the nation’s borders to cover the old Habsburg domains. They’re simply men and women who have a strong sense of being Austrian and being part of their local community.

So what do the right wing parties believe. Well according to today’s Daily Mail:

[Strache] has also demanded a halt to immigration and wants to create a ministry for repatriating foreigners.

That makes him sound as though he wants to expel all non-Austrians from the country. In fact, the FPÖ manifesto has a commitment to providing asylum for political, racial and religious refugees. What they are opposed to is economic migration into Austria. They are also opposed to giving anyone Austrian citizenship (and the vote) when they cannot speak German. There are no plans for a specific ministry of repatriation, simply a commitment to spend more resources on finding and deporting illegal immigrants.

When talking about immigration and Austria I always tell the story of my Gran’s handyman, a gentleman from Sarajevo who had fled to Austria when the civil war broke out in Bosnia. He had settled in my Gran’s home town, his son had learnt German (with one of the thickest Styrian accents you’ve ever heard – he was a toddler when they came as refugees) and the family had worked hard to grow the father’s business. When the civil war was over, the government moved to have him and his family deported back to Bosnia, but he argued that since his son had only really known Austria as a home and only spoke German they should be allowed to stay.

Who were the local politicians who supported him? Not the Social Democrats or the People’s Party who in Government at the time, but rather the local FPÖ who argued that since he had his own business, was paying tax and contributing to society, and since he and his family had learnt German and were encouraging their son to aim for a place at the senior high school, they should be welcomed and permitted to stay. Far from being racist in their approach to immigration, the "neo-fascists" were the ones who (succesfully) supported his appeal to stay.

So where does this leave us? The obvious conclusion is that the use of terms like "neo-nazi" and "extreme right wing" are more to do with the employment of emotive perjorative rather than accurate use of language. The reality is that the right wing parties in Austria are anti-EU cultural populists, nothing less but equally nothing more. They are certainly not in any sense fascist, nor are they really racist in any politically dangerous sense.

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of reasons not to vote for Strache or Haider. At the final FPÖ rally before the vote Strache referred to muslim women wearing the veil as "female ninjas". Strache’s economic policies are badly costed and his response to the current credit crisis makes one wonder whether he has ever read a basic book on economics. But conversely, even my aunt, a staunch anti-right winger grudgingly conceeded to me last week that Haider as Governor of Carinithia had done amazing things in the region.

Would I vote for Haider or Strache? Probably not, though I can understand how many right of centre Austrian voters have turned to them, disillusioned by the performance of the mainstream Peoples’ Party and their perception of how EU regulations are damaging traditional Austrian life. More importantly, are they neo-nazis? Not in the slightest, unless you consider the 2001 UK Conservative Party manifesto to be neo-nazi, because the similarity between that and the FPÖ platform at this weekend’s election is remarkable.

Over to you.

29 Comments on “Far Right

  1. Given that expressing Nazi ideology is against the law in Austria, looking for such in the FPO’s manifesto is a bit silly . It would make more sense to see whether the manifesto attempts to approach such a position without crossing over either the legal or socially-acceptable line.

    Overt neo-Nazi’s in Austria have recommended the Freedom Party as the one to vote for. It appears that most of the party officers have anti-semitic sentiments.
    And the FPO did organise an international meeting (Vienna, 2005) of ‘genuine’ fascist and extreme-right political groups.

    The anecdote of your grandmother’s handyman is touching. It’d be lovely if this was indeed the true nature of such nationalist parties, but a single anecdote is not enough (and assuming of course that the FPO didn’t respond as they did in this case because they saw a chance for some good PR).

  2. ou,

    A few thoughts. Firstly, I agree entirely that since Nazism is de facto banned in Austria you’re not going to find any Nazi policies in the FPÖ manifesto, but that doesn’t mean you can assume they are trying to bring them in by the back door. As for whether genuine neo-nazis have advocated voting FPÖ, well, that may be, but unless Strache has courted such support I really can’t see how that means that the FPÖ are themselves neo-fascist.

    I’m intrigued by the meeting in Vienna in 2005. Perhaps you’d like to give us a link to see more about it, as I’ve done a bit of googling and failed so far.

    Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t vote for Strache as his economics are naive and he is far too keen to jump onto any populist bandwagon he thinks will help him get more votes. But I do want to give him a fair shake of the stick, and that’s one thing I don’t think the western media are currently doing.

  3. Let me add to the above.

    There is a particular problem when exploring right wing politics that the mistake is made in assuming that national protectionist positions are inherently racist or neo-nazi. There are plenty of genuine neo-nazi parties in Europe, groups like the DVU and NPD in Germany. These parties draw their political philosophy very clearly from Hitlerite and Strasserite ideologies and can quite fairly be treated as political inheritors of the NSDAP. But beyond these groups there are other organisations that are simply right wing cultural nationalists, political expressions of the less centrist conservative traditions. These parties tend to be identified by economic policies that promote the free-trade benefits of European integration but reject the political components, and by immigration policies that are fiscally driven rather than racially driven.

    When Jewish graves are daubed with swastikas, repatriation is demanded on the basis of skin colour or country of origin, or political leaders engage in holocaust denial, such actions are clearly racist. But the position of some right wing parties on immigration does not come from such a starting point. Rather it stems from a concern for the economic situation of the country, for prioritising citizens and for defending cultural identity. Such a position on immigration can be held alongside a valid concern for persecuted migrants who claim asylum for religious or political reasons, and indeed often is. For example, the new quota system for UK immigration might be perceived by some to be racist since the kind of incoming jobs it supports might favour particular skill sets found in the Western World. But equally you might perceive it to be an unbiased attempt to get the kind of skills that the British economy currently needs, regardless of the origin of the migrant worker.

    I think my objection to the British Press reports is to do with the use of the language of “far right” as a perjorative. As soon as they use such language people automatically assume that groups like the FPÖ are little more than Nazis, in the mould of Hitler and Himmler. Such an understanding is incorrect and I’d like to see a proper exploration of the complexity of right-wing politics in our papers, not just a quick headline.

  4. Peter, obviously it’s your blog, and you can write what you want, but I’m not sure what you gain from exploring Austrian politics. Given that you have (I think you would say unfairly) been called a fundamentalist/extremist then I worry about these posts being used as grist for the ad hominem mill (Peter O is so extreme that he not only likes Sarah Palin, he defends those mad right-wing Austrians!). Am quite curious (marginally tangential) if you share “real” tory ( I did like Simon Heffer’s Enoch Powell biography) objections to Cameron.

    Read your testimony on Gadgetvicar’s blog (old post, but I missed it at the time)

  5. You may not have picked it up, but a huge part of my genetic make up is concerned with politics “at home”.

    I care little for ad hominems. They are redundant forms of argument.

  6.  Didn’t you post an ad hominem show tunes parody of +Gene Robinson when he visited the UK? He didn’t lisp when he spoke at St.Mary’s Glasgow. Sorry that you’ve had to switch on moderation on your blog – I agree completely that aiming h-word ad hominems at conservatives like you is childish and destructive.

    As regards the UK: I hope you realise that (when it comes to Cameron) seeming charismatic and competant in comparison to Gordon Brown is like being fabulous by evangelical standards ;-).
    BoJo’s speech was hilarious.

  7. What was its purpose then?  You yourself have posted Anglican Mainstream articles and the like which shows how much of the conservative team is still engaged in silly insults and sinister dog-whistling.

  8. It’s called satire. Gene Robinson was claiming that he didn’t want to be “the gay Bishop” but absolutely every part of his tour of the UK was to do with just that. When you claim one thing publicly and do another, you open yourself up for criticism. Satire (which is not ad hominem) is one form of criticism.

     Perhaps he objects to a culture that regards him as the gay bishop but still feels obliged to discuss the LGBT issue? Certainly I don’t think most who attended the St.Mary’s eucharist in Glasgow would have regarded +Gene as the controversial gay bishop. Would you prefer liberals to campaign for the return of the don’t ask, don’t tell Anglican days, or for +Gene to pretend to unaware or uncaring over the (to conservatives) controversial and destructive nature of his appointment?

  10. There are many of us who find the whole right wing/conservative/fundamentalist strand within Anglicanism deeply unscriptural, offensive, and sub Christian, but we don’t ask those who hold such views to resign.  Some of them eventually realise, or are exposed for, their hypocrisy, and do the decent thing.  Others prefer to live in a bubble. The same is true of politics.
    These last two weeks have, perhaps, shown that the capitalist ’empire’ is at last collapsing…as all empires do.  Some will want to go on living as if it still existed of course…

  11. Sound,

    There are some of us who find the whole left-wing/liberal/heretical/neo-pagan strand within Anglicanism deeply unscriptural, offensive, and sub Christian, but unlike you, we seem to believe that ministers of the Gospel should actually believe the Gospel and not deny it.

    And no, I don’t hear many calls to resign, because the apostate leadership simply ejects those who don’t fit its model, combined with shocking attempts at centralisation of power in TEC and the abuse of its own canons.

  12. Please back up your case with facts from the C of E, rather than TEC. At present you seem to be focussing on one thing only, which is not general.
    And you seem to be making an ad hominen above..I certainly believe ministers of the Gospel should believe it and not deny it… maybe you would like to re-phrase?

  13. Ah well, I guess I’ll let you start first on supporting the ad hominem perjorative of “right wing/conservative/fundamentalist” and then I’ll respond.

  14. Enough said….It’s ok Peter…we see quite clearly that you can’t support either of your ‘claims’ so there is no point in furthering the ‘discussion’.

  15. So it’s fine for you to accuse me of not believing the Gospel without a hint of evidence is it?
    It IS fine for you to use the term liberal, and for me to use the term conservative..there is no hint of ad homimen in either term…and fundamentalist likewise is a known term..no ad hominem..ditto right wing… nothing ad hominem there… but then you make a personal claim about my belief in the Gospel and expect me to think all is fine? 
    No worry..you show yourself up…no one else.  

  16. Sound,

    You began this discussion by using pejorative (the comment beginning “There are many of us who find the whole right wing/conservative/fundamentalist strand“) and I simply explicitly and deliberately replied to each of those with an alternative pejorative. You then took offence to the pejorative I had used without recognising that I was simply mirroring your use of pejorative.

    I therefore stand by what I said when I wrote “Ah well, I guess I’ll let you start first on supporting the ad hominem perjorative of “right wing/conservative/fundamentalist” and then I’ll respond.” You were the one who started throwing around pejoratives and ad hominems. I have simply mirrored them back to you to make the point that what you have written is simply that. The fact that you have taken me to task for them only demonstrates that you yourself used them in the first place, a fact that you seem to refuse to accept.

    I’m sorry that I appear to be so petty, but this is an excellent example of how both sides seek to impose different standards on their manner of debate.

  17.  Peter, given the amount of tory party and John McCain (no Ann Coulter admittedly) links then I don’t think it’s wrong to call you right wing.  You yourself would have to say what the purpose of describing your site as an exercise in the fundamentals of orthodoxy is, but someone looking at it and calling you a fundamentalist is not merely engaged in ad hominem. Queer can be used by some straight people as an insult, but if someone self-described as queer then it would be very silly for them to subsequently claim that anyone using a term that term in reference to them is necessarily engaged in ad hominem. Wouldn’t you call yourself a conservative, thus justifying sound’s use of the term?  Contrast this with describing liberals as “neo-pagan” and “heretical”.

  18. Peter..you are conveniently ignoring my point, as you have done several times before in these pages.
    Yes..we both used terms that might be described as perjorative, but in fact I don’t think they are. I’ve demonstrated that right wing, fundamentalist and conservative are all acceptable terms which some people actually use to describe themselves and sai that the same is true of the terms you use (although I’d have to say that ‘neo pagan’ is a new one on me…and borders on the ridiculous).
    The difference in our postings is that YOU go on to make a personal accusation about my belief in the Gospel – a fact about which you have not one shred of evidence.
    You don’t appear petty…just hypocritical and silly.

  19. I’m quite happy to be labelled a fundamentalist, but that is entirely different from the use of the word as a pejorative. Remember, Sound’s use of the word was not as a direct application to myself but as a broad derogatory sweep at the whole biblically orthodox camp. And this is exactly the point of the original post. It is quite fair to describe the Austrian political parties who have done so well last weekend as “right wing”, but the usage of terms such as “far-right” or “neo-fascist” is simply factually incorrect and an attempt to associate disdain by pejorative.

    “Far-right” as a technical term refers to political organisations that take a particular philosophy drawn from the fascist ethnographies of the 20s and 30s. Within that spectrum there are particular branches of ideology (sometimes in competition with each other) connected with the thoughts of Strasser, Himmler, Roehm, Hess and others. That’s just the Germans, but the parliamentary right wing parties in Austria have little relation to such political philosophies, as Roger Griffin, Professor of Politics at Oxford Brookes and an expert on the far right, is quoted as acknowledging in this weekend’s Church of England Newspaper.

    Ultimately it is the role of intelligent debate to engage with the specific arguments and opinions of those one opposes, not to simply charicature and denigrate on the basis of the charicature. Unfortunately in this thread Sound began with a series of pejoratives designed to do just that, so I simply returned the compliment to make my point.

  20. Sound. Go back and read my comments very carefully. Unless you consider yourself to be part of the leadership of TEC, then I can’t see anywhere I have made a personal attack upon you.

  21. Oh Peter it’s dead easy …and you are still conveneiently ignoring… read what you put will you? Let me remind you….
     “unlike you, we seem to believe that ministers of the Gospel should actually believe the Gospel and not deny it.”

    WHERE oh WHERE do I say minsters of the Gospel don’t actually need to believe it? The words ‘unlike you’ are the key ones here…you is a personal term… you are making an ad hominem comment.

    And your defensive and arrogant tone rather proves my point I think… :)

  22. The phrase “unlike you, we seem to believe that ministers of the Gospel should actually believe the Gospel and not deny it” is simply my mirroring of your pejorative above it. But if you’re happy to affirm penal substitutionary atonement in reply to this comment then I will willingly apologise for giving the impression that I believed that you personally did not believe that Jesus died to become the curse and condemnation that is upon you because of your personal sin, a thing which the Bible so very clearly teaches is good news.

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