Jörg Haider birthday’s: He would be 60 today

How the history will judge the Austrian politician.

Questions:

1. In 2000, Haider’s Freedom Party and the People’s Party formed a coalition government. The EU members decided to cease cooperation with the Austrian government but it didn’t last long. What do you think about this approach? Would you say it was a victory for Haider and loss for EU?

2. How would you describe his legacy in Austrian and European politics?

Aswers:

Peter Filzmaier, Professor, Leiter des Departments Politische Kommunikation, Donau-Universität Krems

1. The big winner was neither the EU nor Haider himself but the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government in Austria at this time. A majority in Austria (and especially voters of the ÖVP criticized that they broke with a long tradition and build o government although only second and third in the elections. Before it was usual that the chancellor should be from the strongest party. In 2000 Mr. Schüssel from the ÖVP got chancellor from third place and not only Social Democrats who were in first place criticized that. But after the EU members decided to cease cooperation there was a wave of solidarity for the new government in Austria. Most people feel that Austrian should decide on their government but not the EU members.

2. Referring to national and EU-ropean politics Mr. Haider was never in a position where he can really decide things. He was no member of the national government and he lost control about his party in government from 2000 to 2006. So the only real legacy he did was in Carinthia which is a region of about 500.000 people. There he became very popular but the price for that was his role as a big spender – and an enormous budget deficit.

Robert Knight, Senior Lecturer in International History, Dept. of Politics, International Relations and European Studies, Loughborough University

1. Austria looked to many commentators, across the political spectrum, like a carefully selected target, too small to threaten reprisals but large enough to allow EU officials to pontificate about European norms. Some people asked with justification if the same measures would ever be adopted in a similar situation against Italy or France. In Austria itself the EU action allowed Haider to play the “patriot card” against his many domestic opponents, exploiting the unpopularity of Brussels, and promoting an Austrian mixture of resentment and provincialism.

In all of this what was sometimes lost sight of was what actually triggered the boycott in the first place: the ugly relationship between the Freedom Party with Austria’s undigested Nazi past, Haider’s own record of virtual endorsement of aspects of National Socialism (e.g. its “decent employment policies”), and the mobilisation of resentments against foreigners of all sorts. It took the investigation of the “three wise men” to get the EU off the hook they had climbed onto.

2. Haider showed that a clever, unscrupulous demagogue can threaten established conservative and social democratic parties even in a very prosperous society. He achieved more success than any other comparable figure in post-war Europe (leaving aside Berlusconi). The encouragement of this success may be his most important long-term legacy for Europe.

In Austria itself recent revelations (for example the “Hypo Alpe Adria Bank” scandal in Carinthia) show how morally dubious the Haider effect was, and how many shady characters attached themselves to his bandwagon. When the Haider party (BZÖ) is reunited with the FPÖ it could once more become a formidable threat to Austria’s democratic culture and its international reputation.

Cas Mudde, Associate Professor in Political Science, University of Antwerp

1. I believe that it was a victory for Haider, and the radical right more general, but only in the short term. Because of the pressure on the FPO and the Austrian government by the EU-14, the internal tensions within the FPO were increased and, in the end, led to the fall of the government and the split of the party.

2. Haider is the personification of the “Armani fascist”, i.e. the radical right politician that dresses well and looks respectable. That is his legacy. Politically and ideologically, Haider has not been very influential outside of Europe. This is because he (1) didn’t want to collaborate with other radical right parties (only late in his career and even then with too many limitations) and (2) was ideologically soft and opportunistic, e.g. changing from German-nationalist (ethnic nationalism) to Austrian patriotism (state nationalism).

Mark Allinson, Senior Lecturer, School of Modern Languages, Department of German, University of Bristol

I think that the EU’s approach in 2000 was structurally very difficult. It had either to conclude that Austria’s government was so objectionable and undemocratic that Austria could no longer continue as a member of the EU, or to continue working with Austria as a normal member. It’s hard to see any sustainable alternative in the medium to long term. The EU is almost bound to be pragmatic since it has so many member states and at any given time some of them are almost bound to have governments with minority coalition partners which hold objectionable views. Many Europeans, for example, have found views expressed by certain members of the Polish ruling classes in recent years to be objectionable. Since Haider’s party went on to lose power, I think the EU’s actions in 2000 had little long term effect  on Austrian domestic politics, though they did serve to raise anti-EU feeling in Austria.

2. I think Haider’s legacy has been to make the radical right more prominent and significant in Austrian politics. The two parties which have emerged from the movement in the past decade between them represent a significant part of Austrian popular opinion which has felt empowered because of the reputation of Haider. It is hard to be sure that there has been much influence in wider European politics because our political parties are almost all of them based nationally, or regionally. There is no meaningful political party based on a ‘European’ constituency. This is, of course,  very much in line with Haider’s view of how things should be, and certainly he has not left any legacy of promoting further European integration.

Anthony Bushell, Professor, German Section, School of Modern Languages, Bangor University

The phenomenon of Jörg Haider illustrates the problem when internal politics are misread as international politics. Haider was the product of Austrian domestic politics, in particular, of a dissatisfaction with an ossified grand coalition government. Haider instrumentalised many issues – including foreign policy issues – in order to promote his domestic standing.

The international community failed to understand this process and interpreted him at face value.

The boycotting of Austria immediately after the year 2000 showed political immaturity on the part of the EU. Haider had, after all, used the democratic process, and the Austrian population had made their choice in free elections.

Since then many small European countries have produced their own variations of the Haider phenomenon, and the EU would probably not react in the same way as it did a decade ago.

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