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The BBC's Bethany Bell
"Joerg Haider could be about to stage a comeback to national politics."
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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 22:28 GMT
One year on: Austria's Freedom Party
Protesters against the election of Joerg Haider' s Freedom Party
The Freedom Party's success sparked mass protests
By Janet Barrie in Vienna

On Wednesday night in western Vienna, social workers bring young Austrians and foreigners together over a game of pool. The idea is to promote a bit of tolerance.

The children of immigrants here say that tolerance is badly needed. The first year in power of the far-right Freedom Party has been an uncomfortable experience.

Joerg Haider
Haider was leader of the Freedom Party when it swept into power
"I grew up here and I love this country but it doesn't get any easier being a foreigner," said one.

"You're confronted with it. People with the old racist way of thinking have more confidence to speak out now. They're more open about it - that's the danger."

Election victory

Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party joined Austria's coalition government a year ago, when the party won more than one in four votes in a national election.

Some wanted a chance to shake up the cozy Austrian political scene - but many others loved his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

A year on, the party has a new leader in Susanne Riess-Passer, who denies that the Freedom Party has made Austria a less tolerant place.

Susanne Riess-Passer
Susanne Riess-Passer has taken over from Haider
"This is really the worst and most stupid allegation," she insists.

"If you compare Austria to other countries in Europe, you see that in no other country in Europe do foreigners and others live together so peacefully. We have no asylum homes burning."

A year ago, it seemed that most of Vienna was crowded into the central square to demonstrate its anger at the Freedom Party.

But the protests did nothing to force the party from power - nor did the international sanctions.

Uncertain future

But now, the party's future in government is not looking good.

Thoma Geringer is a Freedom Party defector who now works for the Social Democrats. And he's not alone - in the last year the Freedom Party has struggled in the polls and put in a poor performance in regional elections.

Michael Schmid
Michael Schmid was the third Freedom Party minister to resign
Mr Geringer says the party just can't keep its promises.

"I joined the Freedom Party because it stood for the interests of the ordinary man," he said. "But now they're in government, they've forgotten that completely. They help big business and industry, and they've broken all the promises they made."

A quarter of a million people stood in Vienna's central square last year to say no to the Freedom Party. Some wonder now if they were right to be so concerned.

The party has lost a third of its national support, and some are saying it may soon consign itself to the political wasteland.

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See also:

01 May 00 | Europe
Austria's Haider bows out
07 Nov 00 | Europe
Austria's Freedom Party in crisis
02 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Austria
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