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The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"At last both sides have agreed to rebuild it using EU funds"
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Monday, 27 December, 1999, 09:56 GMT
Old memories and new fears in Europe
joerg Haider
Joerg Haider: The populist former far-right leader
By Caroline Wyatt in central Europe

Having made Berlin my home for some years now, I often forget that most cities are not a permanent building site.

Not every European capital still bears the bullet holes and the scars of World War II.

Even after its renovation, the Reichstag, Germany's parliament building, shows the shadows of the impact of hundreds of shells.

Young Russian soldiers fought to capture the Nazi capital in the spring of 1945.

Germany's Reichstag bears scars of Nazi past

Like the physical scars of the war, the scars left on the German psyche may be fading but they are still evident wherever you look.

German nationalism frowned upon

Any hint of a rise in nationalism - whether by neo-nazi violence or the beliefs of deeply conservative intellectuals - is accompanied by a loud chorus of dismay both at home and abroad.

So keen are most Germans - even young Germans - to escape the taint of this nation's past that they have become the most ardent of Europeans.

They believe that a united and federal Europe can help its member nations avoid the murderous path of the first half of this violent and bloody century.

Perhaps Germany has also been lucky that, in the post-war years, no charismatic nationalist leader has emerged to unite the far Right - unlike in Austria.

Austria's Freedom Party

Travelling to Vienna, I was immediately struck by how untouched it seems by World War II.

Veinna gv
Vienna; once the heart of the Hapsburg empire
It is still a grand imperial capital so marked by its Habsburg history of empire that it is easy to forget Austria has only been a nation for a little over 80 years.

Above all, it's a comfortable place. The peaceful rhythm of its coffee houses remain undisturbed by the turmoil of the past century.

Austria's very prosperity makes the recent rise of Joerg Haider, the former populist leader of the far-right Freedom Party, all the more baffling.

It's the language of the party that worries me

Emmanuel Adeyemi, Nigerian immigrant
Why should almost a third of this nation have gone to the polls in October to vote for a man who in the past has claimed to admire Adolf Hitler's employment policies?

This in a nation where unemployment is not, at least by European standards, a major problem.


The Freedom Party's election posters in Vienna warned voters of 'Ueberfremdung', a xenophobic term coined by the Nazis, which translates as 'foreign infiltration'.

It apparently appealed to all those in Austria who feel that having immigrants form nine per cent of the population constitutes a threat to their way of life.

Mr Haider is a slick and charismatic politician whose boyish good looks come across well in a television age.

Emmanuel Adeyemi
Emmanual Adeyemi: feels threatened by Austria's Freedom Party
He appealed to a new form of Austrian nationalism and took an astonishing second place in the polls.

Emmanual Adeyemi is an accountant originally from Nigeria. he met and married his wife while they were working in London.

They chose to return to Austria with their three young children. He has taken Austrian citizenship and completed his military service.

While both try to stay optimistic about their life together in Austria, it is clear that casual racism is a part of their everyday lives.

It has been made more publicly acceptable by the 'no immigration' platform of Mr Haider's party.

"It's the language of the party that worries me," he says.

Perhaps that is only possible in a country which has never truly confronted its wartime past.

Austrians are quite happy to forget that Adolf Hitler came from this country, not from Germany.

They also choose to forget that they voted by a majority in a referendum in 1938 for the Anschluss with Germany.

As one Austrian academic told me, perhaps it is also a sign of normality that Austria is getting a new kind of nationalist impulse: one that does not want unity within a greater Germany.

Perhaps it is seeking an identity of its own, a uniquely Austrian identity which would be something totally new.

Many fears led to the rise of Mr Haider: fear of change, fear of the future, and fear of what globalisation and immigration mean to one's job or nation's culture.

I could much better understand these concerns coming from neighbouring Slovakia.

The 'female Haider'

Its capital, Bratislava, is just one hour's drive from Vienna.

The Slovaks have just got rid of their nationalist leader, Mr Meciar.

Anna Malikova: the "female Haider".
A younger pretender to his throne, the new female leader of the Slovak Nationalist Party, Anna Malikova, is doing well.

Dubbed 'the female Haider' by some, her party has gained up to 14% in the opinion polls.

Yet I have the feeling she won't go far.

Most Slovaks are eager to repair the damage done by the last decade lost to nationalism.

They split from the Czech Republic and fall behind in the race to join the European Union.

Peter, our young translator, was clearly one of many there looking to the west rather than to the east for his nation's future in the new millennium.

Bratislava gv
Bratislava: a mix of Hungarians, Slovakians and Czechs
He scoffed at the nationalist slogans offered by the party, and declared his ambition was to travel and learn more about other western cultures.

Leaving Bratislava, I was struck by what a curious mix the city was of the architecture of both Vienna and Berlin.

Grand Habsburg palaces, in their unmistakable canary yellow, rose grandly above long roads lined by monumental and monstrous, crumbling Communist tower blocks.

This part of the world has been both the perpetrator and the victim of the most violent forces of this century's history.

One can only hope that in the new millennium, it can build its new structure on solid ground - without seeking to forget or disguise the wounds and shadows of the past turbulent century.

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See also:

21 Sep 98 |  German elections
The rise of the extreme right
09 Oct 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Haider: Nazi admirer or moderate?
12 Nov 99 |  Europe
Haider apologises to Jews
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider
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