Yes, in last Sunday’s general elections, the Austrian centre–right ÖVP won a relative majority of seats, and the Austrian far–right FPÖ also managed to increase her political influence. Now, you’ve had your three days of collective mourning. Get over it, for the love of dogs.
No one can possibly be less happy about this development than this writer. To me, conservatism (in the classical sense) is the plague — in politics and otherwise. In a constantly changing world, stubbornly latching onto the past is the epitome of stupidity — it’s like repairing a device that’s beyond any repair at all costs. Yet human beings — be they politicians or mere voters — are under no obligation to make me — or you, precious reader — happy.
The majority decides, that’s how democracy works (and I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way). Those who believe democracy is only protected and working properly if the results happen to appeal to them only, should wake up already. It is — among other things — this blinkered view that eventually led to last weekend’s results.
Derogatory Comments and Unsolicited Advice
International media and institutions who enjoy themselves throwing fits over the alleged political situation in Austria (or any other country, for that matter) are well advised to limit their efforts to observing and reporting (and perhaps reading up on European history, should they find the time between exasperated gasps) rather than hastily making derogatory comments and offering foreign politicians unsolicited advice as to which future government would be considered preferable abroad.
Who granted senior representatives of interconnected religious interest groups the right to offer their opinion on internal political procedures of a democratic country they are no residents of?
And how dare they issue warnings against a coalition with any one democratically elected party in any sovereign political entity other than their own country of citizenship? These are outrageous attempts to illicitly influence the political destiny of a sovereign country and her population.
It is no secret how American Ambassadors to Austria are made, Mr Lauder, and yes, Mr Kantor, it is also obvious how you were able to gain the position you currently hold.
There cannot be two minds about the fact that “money makes the world go round”, as they say, but you might want to consider getting involved in the struggle against economic and political corruption, religious extremism, and racism in the United States, Russia, and Israel rather than offering an internationally respected Austrian politician your two cents worth of political wisdom and historical knowledge.
After all, there is no wall surrounding Leopoldstadt (the 2nd municipal district of Vienna; for details, please consult Mr Lauder), there never was, and I venture the guess there won’t be one anytime soon.
I tend to give you the benefit of the doubt, assuming you were misquoted by an overambitious journalist. Otherwise, I would have to assume you actually did accuse a quarter of the Austrian electorate of anti–Semitism and of being “very ambiguous toward Austria’s Nazi past”.
The problem with your position is, only a marginal percentage of the Austrian electorate (less than one percent of the total population) is old enough to have even the faintest recollection of “our Nazi past”.
This writer’s paternal grandfather, who had no political ambitions or affiliations and not met a single Jew in his life, had to leave his farm and family to fight in the “Cauldron of Stalingrad”. We all know that “his” side was defeated — and he eventually became a prisoner of war in more than one respect. My father was a newborn, when my grandfather was sent to the Eastern Theatre to participate in a war that was none of his business.
My mother was not even born yet, when her father exercised passive resistance, refusing to go to war, because he did have Jewish affiliations, and preferred to do business rather than fight in a useless campaign. Yet this did not stop Russian marauders to raid his house at the end of the war and bludgeon his own father to death with the butt of a rifle. That much for my personal and my family’s “Nazi past”. It might be advisable to unmount your high horse, now and then, and touch the soil of political and historical reality in Europe.
Historical aspects did most certainly inform only the smallest faction of voters in this election. If only those who actually did have “a Nazi past” had cast their vote in favour of FPÖ for the sole reason of reliving their “glorious” youth, this party would not even have made it into the assembly, let alone gained enough support to dream of participating in the next government.
How can one possibly be surprised that some of us are “ambiguous” toward a past they never experienced, when even the likes of you fail to look up relevant information concerning a more recent past? Is the view from the small window of your ivory tower really that limited?
When American police officers gun down unarmed black youths for no obvious reason, or when Israeli soldiers roll over unarmed Palestinian children, it happens out of “political necessity, instrumental to [your] survival”, but when Austrians — by exercising their constitutional right — make a political decision at the ballot box, and by such inadvertently disturb your circles, it has to be the advent of ethnic cleansing? Strange, but for a brief moment I had the notion that democracy is only for those who can afford it morally.
And what’s that nonsense with Austria’s political situation being worse than at the time we elected Kurt Waldheim as federal president? Seriously? Did you take a number of consecutive sabbatical years during the 1980s?
No wait, one of you was American Ambassador to Austria when Mr Waldheim assumed the presidential office, and to this very day he rubs shoulders with Mr Netanyahu who happens to be the chairperson of Likud (a centre–right political party in Israel).
So essentially, one could state that Austria is going to have a government with a similar ideological orientation as Israel has had for at least twelve years now — with the considerable distinction that Austria’s future government is not endorsed by your funny religious interest groups.
(For the benefit of the unsuspecting reader: Kurt Waldheim served for nine years as Secretary–General of the United Nations, from 1972 to 1981. The Austrian government was led by Social Democrats from 1970 through 2000. Until 1983, Bruno Kreisky served as chancellor of a one–party government, for some time with “silent support” of FPÖ. The following three years saw a coalition of SPÖ and FPÖ, with Norbert Stöger as a very apt vice–chancellor. During most of Mr Lauder’s term as Ambassador, Austria was led by a coalition of SPÖ and ÖVP. That much for the political reality in Austria, Mr Lauder quite recently appears to feel compelled to disagree with.)
I don’t care whether you are “probably the most influential Jewish leader in Europe” (Kantor, according to Jerusalem Post) or the world (Lauder), whether you are filthy rich, or have successfully established yourselves as philanthropists and renowned political activists for peace and tolerance. From where I stand, you appear like unrepentant political arsonists who won't be satisfied until the whole world as we know it lies in ruins.
Projected Results and Possible Implications
At the time of writing, all figures published are projected. In other words, they are based on estimations made from interim results, while votes are still counted. A final result is not to be expected before coming Thursday.
Substantial changes are not likely, but there is no serious telling, at this very moment, whether or not FPÖ (a.k.a. the Liberals; not Liberation or Freedom Party — Austria is a sovereign state, not an oppressed tribe or region) will eventually win second place.
Only then (Thursday), it will make sense for the federal president to officially kick off the process of building a government. Yes, the “Apes in the Alps” have political protocols, too — and more often than not, our senior officials comply with them.
While currently traded figures are not final, it is safe to expect the centre–right ÖVP to win the elections. Whether the centre–left SPÖ (a.k.a. Social Democrats) or the far–right FPÖ will eventually come in second is essential for coalition negotiations only; for the political situation in Austria (and indirectly also for European politics) it is relatively irrelevant.
What implications the final result will have on the government–building process is a different matter altogether. Should FPÖ come in second, Mr Kurz (the incumbent Foreign Minister and party leader of ÖVP) would face a dilemma of considerable proportions.
Grand coalitions (agreements between the two biggest parties) are traditionally notorious for causing political stagnation. Political stagnation (is alleged to have) caused the last government to fail and was the reason for this snap general election.
A coalition with SPÖ, on the other hand, might prove even more difficult, as this would appear to the voter like the same result with reversed signs. A sheep remains a sheep, whether it’s sheared or not.
The seemingly most convenient situation for Mr Kurz would be a declaration of intent of SPÖ to lead the opposition. He would have no other choice left but to enter a coalition with FPÖ — and the grand coalition dilemma would instantly cease to be his problem. In this case, it would be the junior partner’s turn to court him. FPÖ could not refuse to agree to conditions he dictates without possibly losing face (and voters by the thousand). After all, he could always blame FPÖ for having caused negotiations to fail.
Yet such a strategy might easily backfire on both parties. FPÖ could feel compelled to persuade SPÖ to leave the opposition benches and join them to form a coalition of Social Democrats and Liberals. This would not sit too well with the voter, but both parties could pretend to have “secured political stability”.
A creative approach to governance were to form a coalition with FPÖ, but offering senior politicians of the opposition positions in his government: to form a unity government of sorts.
It’s difficult to predict who in particular would accept such an offer, but I’m relatively certain that, for example, Austrian voters across the party landscape are going to miss the current Minister of Defence.
Hold the Horses!
Even without knowing the final results yet, it is safe to predict that no coalition other than one between two of the three biggest parties will be mathematically possible.
So yes, there will be a shift to the right to some extent, whether some of us like it or not, but assuming a soapbox to inform us of your moral indignation, rallying in the streets to utter your disillusionment, or physically attacking innocent people whom you hold erroneously responsible for all this will not be helpful.
It is not for the first time that Austria is facing a coalition between ÖVP and FPÖ (the notorious cabinets Schüssel I and II, from 2000 until 2005). The only ones who really suffered from this folly were Austrian voters, regardless of their individual political alignment, partly because of the government’s inaptitude, but also because of the ridiculous sanctions the rest of EU member states felt compelled to issue in order to adequately express their moral disappointment.
These sanctions did not end that coalition, they did not end Austria’s membership in the European Union either, and most certainly did they not end the gradual strengthening of ultraconservative movements in Europe.
The only thing these nearly ended was my life. While travelling through France in July 2000, I escaped two “tragic accidents” by the proverbial hair’s breadth only; one by sheer luck and the laws of physics, and the other because I’m not exactly a stranger to reckless driving and tend to keep my cool even in extreme situations. These two “gentlemen” clearly meant business, they made sure their “political message” hit home. They showed neither mercy nor any intention to find out whether or not I actually was one of those “bloody Nazis”.
This, Mr Lauder and Mr Kantor, is what your obstinate, misguided political activism brings forth: mindless followers who happily execute what unreflective messages some self–styled (and sometimes disturbingly ill–informed, I may add) authorities on extremism and the political situation and mentality of countries other than their own may broadcast by sole virtue of the position they happen to hold. This is the diametrical opposite of your declared goal to further unity, peace, and tolerance in Europe — or elsewhere in this world.
A Matter of Timing and Circumstance
Those who busily stir up the sediments of history to point out a possible coherence between today and yesterday may want to dig a blade width deeper. Otherwise, they might easily end up with cause and effect confused.
What we are facing here is not the advent of a new political order, or even the coming of a new “Führer” — such is what you might find in Germany or Hungary in five years’ time — but rather a (relatively) controlled experiment that will sooner or later prove that one must not confuse ideas with strategies, efforts with tactics, and dreams with concepts. It is the desperate (and perhaps even genuine) attempt of a new generation of politicians to step out of the shadow of their political fathers to prove their own worth.
What I don’t see with any of them is the quality of statesmen. Their sense of timing and circumstance is pitiful. Their slogans may shine in the limited circles of mindless followers, where their well–rehearsed platitudes are taken for gospel truth, but against the backdrop of political reality they appear as lost as a motherless child in a hand–me–down coat tripping over his bootlaces — at least for the time being.
If any of them (of the centre–right and far–right leaders, that is) had had the prudence and patience to await the end of the current legislative term, and meanwhile consolidated their partisan basis to strike at a moment of unbearable economic pressure and public unrest, we truly would have reason to be worried.
Let them have their moment of fame (may it last fifteen minutes or five years, it really doesn’t matter), the enthusiasm in some parts of the electorate will wear off as soon as they will realise that campaign candies are a weak substitute for the daily bread.