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Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 09:57 GMT
Haider in power: A danger to Europe?
Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, famed for praising Hitler's "orderly employment policy", is in negotiations with the conservative People's Party, to form a coalition government.
His Freedom Party has pledged to end foreign influence in Austria and clamp down on immigration.
European Commission President Romano Prodi said Mr Haider was using EU enlargement plans to stir up xenophobia, and that other situations like this must be prevented from cropping up.
Mr Haider has apologised for his remarks and will not join the government himself. Austrian president Thomas Klestil insists common European values of democracy and pluralism will continue to apply.
What do you think? Is Mr Haider a danger to Europe, and if so what should be done? Or do you think Austria should be left to deal with its own affairs? This is not an Austrian problem alone. I'm shocked about the support he gets from people from other countries, especially the USA (see the other comments). Is the world going crazy, by believing aggression, inhumanity, lying and populism is the right way for politics? I hope that we citizens of this world together can avoid that people like Haider and Le Pen coming into power.
Well said Niel, I couldn't agree with you more. If the EU wish to sanction Austria for electing a far right government, then it is a clear case of unelected bureaucrats telling the electorate of a country who they should and shouldn't vote for. Can you imagine the influence they will hold in a few years time if this is allowed to go ahead. Sorry UK, you cannot vote in a Tory government, they don't like the EU. Sorry Northern Ireland, you can't have a Unionist leader, they used to vote with the Tories in the UK parliament. Sorry folks, I smell communism floating around here.
Austrians only have two choices: to freeze the political status-quo as characterised by the coalition between SPO and OVP (and thus further reinforce the infamous proporz-system where everything from appointing ministers down to state-subsidised housing is preferably allocated to SPO and OVP members according to the outcome of the last election) or to vote for change. Unfortunately the Haider-party is the only political opposition in the country with political clout to bring about the necessary overhaul of the status quo. While I agree that many people voted for Haider because of their immigration fears etc., an equally important number of Austrians voted for Haider as the only realistic alternative to the grand coalition that dominated Austrian politics since World War 2. He has unearthed political and financial scandals and already enforced some change for the better in Austria. But if Haider really pursues extreme right ideas in the new government, Austrians themselves (incl. me) will actively stand up against that.
Bert, Austrian in South Africa
As an Indian married to an Austrian I am most disturbed by the developments in Austria. Having been to Austria many times I have always been very warmly received by the common people. The same cannot be said of the officials at the airport who always look upon me with suspicion (because of my skin colour) and are sometimes "unable" to find the Austrian visa in my passport. That a significant proportion of the Austrian people have voted for the FPO in a democratic election cannot be ignored without threatening democracy in a sovereign state. It has mainly been a protest vote against the establishment that is mired in red-tape. The really distressing fact is that this is happening in prosperous times. Perhaps Austrians will find that the FPO has a hard time fulfilling all his elections promises. Being in power and having to produce results in a functioning government is always a little different than making election promises.
Haider has closest contacts to the circles that were responsible for the "letter bombs" which shocked Austria and Europe a couple of years ago. But the deeper problem clearly is Austrian society with its embedded xenophobia and intolerant tendencies, due very much to a Nazi history that never had been worked on or acknowledged. Conditions in Austrian society - with all its authoritarian tendencies - can be described as being worse than "Byzantine".
Michaela Hertkorn, Germany
Imagine a country where Conservatives and Labour shared power for more than a decade - who would not get tired of the power-sharing? Austrians voted for change, in the form, unfortunately, of a Haider. However claims that Austria is slipping back to Fascism is blatant nonsense, and shows a misunderstanding of Austria's stable democratic system.
Jan T. Sielecki, Austria
Hitler gained power in Germany both legally and democratically. Once he was in power it was then that he destroyed democracy in Germany. We shouldn't make the same mistake of standing back and watching. However, as long as Austria retains democracy I see no reason to be too concerned. Only when the threat of minorities being brutally persecuted becomes a possibility should the Western world take a tough line.
P. Blackwell, UK
There are some countries that managed to proclaim SS veterans as national heroes (Latvia)... And make a holiday the first day they had a battle with Russians... And to charge Resistance fighters with killing Nazi police members as if they were "innocent people" (Kononov's case, again in Latvia, last week). They even may publish articles in the state-owned newspapers stating: "Salaspils concentration camp was much like a summer holiday camp. And Jews and Russians were brought there for their own pleasure". I was told by my friends who worked in Germany that sometimes they have noted graffiti - "The war has not ended yet"... I think it's true. So - why so much noise of this a-bit-too-frank politician?
Haider reminds me of Patrick Buchanan, the presidential candidate in United States who is running on the Reformed Party's platform. How soon people forget the past. Thucydides (471?-400?BC) said: "History repeats itself."
Fermin-Fermon Torres, New Mexico-USA
I cannot help but notice a form of hypocrisy. Those that promote democracy (as in truly democratic elections) seem to complain when democracy is put into action. Democracy is democracy - and that does not always mean people will like what comes out of it. How can eastern Europe learn what democracy is when the west, (which attempts to teach them) seems to put limits on what democracy is?
Alexander Sirbu, Romania
The rise of Fascism in Europe in the 1930s was born out of severe economic recession. What is so unusual about Haider's position is that he has gained such a large share of the vote in such a prosperous economy. My real concern lies with the potential for a Fascist renaissance in the event of a severe economic down-turn in Europe. We must learn from our recent past, or the British men, women and children who died in the last two World Wars will have died in vain. We ignore fascism at our peril.
Rob Dalzell, UK
It is the fashion that Germans and Austrians must continue to pay and repent for what happened 60 years ago, in a way that other countries do not have to pay and repent for their 'sins'. The facts are that the FPOe are not the French National Front or one of the German far-right parties: the label 'far-right' is too easily applied. It is true that the FPOe have had election slogans regarding stopping abuse of the asylum laws or indicating that immigrants from some countries are drug-dealers: such statements may be simplistic, but it is also the official policy of EU countries is to restrict immigration. Many of the sentiments expressed by the FPOe are often heard in other parties - FPOe leaders tend not to beat around the bush so much and say what they're thinking. And it really smacks of hypocrisy for Israel to criticise Austria, when Israel applies the most stringent apartheid still seen on the planet.
Iain Wilson, Austria
Have people forgotten that Austria has a couple of UN agencies HQs based there? Is not that foreign influence? And, if you exclude yourself, exclude yourself fully. When Austrians go to the fruit and vegetable stalls they should ask where those produce came from. Foreign lands of course!
Bill Powers, Tanzania
I just love how you socialists operate. Haider does not fit into your nice little world view and so he must be a bad guy. And what gives any of you the right to interfere with the internal affairs of a sovereign nation? Stick to leading your own nations down the road to ruin and leave Austria alone.
Christopher Burns, USA
Leading politicians in the United States, such as Jesse Helms, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, have also made their xenophobic views public. I say let democracy run its course - if Haider assumes a position of real power in Austria and policies reminiscent of the onerous Third Reich are implemented, a balancing force - either within in Austria or the international community - will emerge.
Scott M. Erlandson, USA
This shows how hate and insecurity can used in politics. His little "slips of speech" show what's underneath his public forum. He's obviously a fascist with a front and agenda of separation and hate. Austria has a black, Nazi past that is still lurking and now coming out. There's NO excuse for people like this to be tolerated and accepted.
K. Glenn, USA
Mr. Haider has every right to say what he feels just as the Austrian people are free to vote for him. But, similarly, the EU is free to state its feelings on his policies and do not have to accept his opinions because the Austrian electorate supports him. After all Hitler was voted into office too.
Ronald Emmanuel, Jamaica
I am a young Austrian from Vienna and I am deeply ashamed of my country. Haider is certainly not a Nazi, but for what he said he definitely deserves to be isolated for the rest of his political life. Remember that there are some Austrians who are looking at the rest of Europe for help. There is no hope to be expected from our own politicians who seem to be insensitive to our country's crimes. God save Austria!
People like Mr. Haider are a breeze of fresh air in a suffocating desert of left wing ideas in Europe.
Tonio Brincat, Malta
It is disturbing that there are people in United Kingdom that are defending Mr Haider and his right wing party. I feel that Germany and some other European countries have a very sensible policy on banning Nazi propaganda and incitement of racial hatred. United States and United Kingdom, because of their history I suppose, do not have such laws.
Laws of that nature, though penalising speech, have sprung from our common history. There is a speech that is criminal, because it instils in a rational person fear and pain. Such speech should be criminalized. If Austria had proper laws, or if it enforced properly existing ones, someone like Mr. Haider would have never been able to come to this position.
Milos Mladenovic, United States
The Freedom Party's foreign opponents are not trying to interfere with the Austrian sovereignty. However, EU members, US and others are warning Austria that the coming of far-right politicians, and hence their policies, to power will reflect negatively on Austria's standing with these countries.
It is a common practice in the world to forewarn countries of consequences to their actions. The anti-nazi forces in the world are right in opposing the far-right tendencies early, not to repeat the mistakes of appeasement 65 years ago.
Ilya Lisansky, USA
Mr. Haider is to be less feared than the EU who is willing to override the democratic system of Austria. Is this the future of the EU? Let everyone see that it is the EU who is opposed to the values of democracy. Take heed!
Christopher Wells, USA
We have to watch him. There are too many sympathetic people around Europe.
Austria, like Germany, has nurtured a strong democratic tradition for over half a century. Right wing crackpots (not limited to Austria) will come and go. I am confident that reason will ultimately prevail in Europe just as it will in the U.S. if only because we must never let down our vigilance.
R. Basner, USA
Although Mr Haiden's rise to power is a cause for concern, I do not suspect the fourth Reich will be rising anytime soon in Austria or elsewhere. I would attribute his victories to a natural backlash against the European Union, growing pains so to speak.
I believe a watchful eye needs to be kept on the far right, but let us remember that a truly democratic system cannot function properly if we try to legislate who gets elected based on their political views.
The immigration stop in Austria is aimed more at Eastern Europe and the Balkans than Asia or Africa. It is therefore not true to say that they want to stop "Black" immigration. Why not let the Austrians determine their own politics? Austria is a small, fairly insignificant country, and if they do break any international laws they will be swiftly punished.
The EU seems to be saying that democracy in Europe is OK as long as people don't vote for right-wing parties. That sort of "democracy" don't appeal to me very much.
Horror of horrors! A party with racist, anti-immigrant policies coming to power in Europe? Sort of the like the party currently in power in Britain, perhaps? The double standard is in complaining about the racism of others while implementing blatantly racist policies like a 10,000 pound bond for foreign visitors from the "wrong" countries.
A D, UK
As a Briton living and working in Austria I suppose I have an optimum view of the chaotic political situation at the moment. Obviously the EU cannot interfere at present, Austria is a democracy and Haider was voted for by a high proportion of the population.
However, in defence of the Austrian people I would like to say that the anti-foreigner posters were only used in Vienna (where, yes, there is a degree of animosity towards foreigners - particularly Turks and Slavs, as well as the black community).
The majority of the country apparently voted for the FPOe due to their "Austria first" ideas, as a protest against the socialist/conservative coalition of the past 30 years and the fact that Haider promised almost 300 pounds a month child benefit if he came to power. I have met very few "racist" Austrians, apart of course from a few petty bureaucrats (having a red "A" for Auslander (foreigner) stamped on your documents does seem a bit extreme in my opinion and seems to be confined to certain areas of the city rather than to every official office).
Clair Firth, Austria
We cannot impose our will on others, let them decide for themselves, we must practise what we preach
Dennis Pavusek, USA
There's a warning here for all countries. If immigration is allowed to continue uncontrolled and undermine the local culture there is bound to be a backlash from the native population.
Austria's historically recent past includes Hitler and Eichman. Apologies and amends to victims of such monsters of the 20th century originating in Austria was never a priority to Austrians or their governments.
Austria continues on the track of fascism, anti-Semitism and historical revisionism with the election of people like Haider. European Union awake and do not allow a member state to ignite the flame of fascism by allowing Haiders's party a foothold in the Cabinet. If Austria decides for Haider or his party to be included in the cabinet, Austria must be made into a pariah state among the democracies of the EU.
Thomas O'Hecht, USA
The Centre-Left EU interferes in everything else....
Mark Cleminson, Canada
Everyone seems to be dismissing the FPO as a nazi party. This is almost laughable. What are these accusations based on? Haider has been criticised by the Jewish community, although he himself has never made racist or anti-semitic remarks. His number 2 is Jewish. The policies of the FPO are not too different from some of those of our mainstream parties, so why are they being classed as extremists? The term 'witch hunt' springs to mind.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
If Haider's party becomes part of Austria's government the Waldheim situation will repeat itself. Austria will become a political outcast, and its important tourism industries will suffer and foreign investment will decrease.
This is surely illustrative of the classic tension in modern democracy. What happens when the people vote for someone who does not subscribe to the rules of the game? There is no easy answer, but it is the right of Austrians to vote for whomsoever they wish to vote for in democratic elections.
Austria should not be punished for this - to do so would be profoundly undemocratic and would run contrary to the founding principles of the European Union. It would also serve to increase that hostility to the European Union within Austria that Herr Haider has benefited from.
Adam Duguid, United Kingdom
Austria due to its past, should eradicate any signs of right extremism. One gets the impression that sentiments of anti-Semitism and hatred of foreigners is still prevalent in that country
Gary Schiff, Canada
The real danger to freedom in Europe and Britain is not someone praises the employment policies of a German dictator who has been dead for more than 50 years but rather the ever-increasing and unaccountable power being wielded by Brussels and the EU.
Peter Kohler, USA
Where is the uproar when a communist party joins a continental governing coalition? Seems to me the complaints against Haider et al are just another example of the left's blatant hypocrisy and double standards. It is up to the Austrian's and them alone to decide whether or not the Freedom party is fit to govern.
I have great sympathy for Mr Haider. For many years now Austria has been ran by the same old corrupt coalition between the People's Party and the Socialists. To call someone 'far-right' or 'nazi' simply because he has policies that are reformist, or because of one or two careless comments that have been deliberately taken out of context by his opponents, is ridiculous. Austrians now have a real choice at elections, and this can only be beneficial to democracy.
This is truly worrying. Although I don't know how much danger Haider himself presents, this is all an indication of an increasing acceptance of far-right politics. I have seen this particularly in France, where Le Pen's "Front National", the FN (or F-Haine as some people call it), is claiming an increasing share of the vote. The problem is how do you stop situations like this without resorting to extreme measures (in a democracy we cannot ban a party simply because we find their views abhorrent). I think the answer is in education. Call me naive, but I believe that if we teach children at a young enough age to be more accepting of people of different ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds, I believe that problems like this can be prevented. It'll just take time.
Tristan O'Dwyer, England
Austrians voted for Mr Haider, so this is clearly democracy in action. But, as for clamping down on foreign influence, perhaps we should remind Mr Haider that his daughter studies at art school in London (oh, do forgive me, he meant Black people immigrating to Austria).
Let's grant Sovereignty to all nations. Let the people of Austria make up their own minds.
Although I find Mr Haider's remarks regarding Hitler odious to sat the least, there absolutely no role the EU can play in interfering with the democratic process in Austria. We cannot and should not seek to nullify election results because we don't agree with the outcome. After all, should we ban communist party influence in European politics because of the policies of Stalin? There is a double standard here.
Mr Thom, UK
Whether or not we agree with his views, he was elected democratically. We have no right to interfere - even if this causes problems for the EU. It will be interesting to see what Herr Haider actually does.
Michael Grazebrook, UK
The FPOe remains an imminent threat to democracy (as well on the international level) that should by NO means be underestimated. I welcome the EU's plans to take steps against this dangerous coalition, hoping that the ill might still be prevented, or, at any rate, reduced.
Luc Dockendorf, Scotland
It's a turn of events which proves once again how dangerous it is to keep pushing Britain further and deeper into Europe. Britain runs the risk of being linked to countries with frighteningly extremist governments.
Andy Medhurst, UK
Whilst I wouldn't agree with many of his views he is not a danger to Europe in any way. He will only be seen as a danger by those looking for a European superstate. We need politicians in this country who will look after our interests before those of a collection of foreigners.
Philip Ross, England
Anyone spreading hate on any level is dangerous.
Scarlet, London, UK
Austria has not addressed its Nazi past in the way Germany has - as Haider's popularity shows. I think the rest of the world should show how disgusted it is, but what would be appropriate? Withdrawal of ambassadors? Suspension from whatever European organisations it has joined? What is certain is that no country should have "normal" relations with Austria while Haider is a part of the government. Far right politicians in any country are worrying; in Austria they are disgusting.
What are the EU saying here? "The democratic free-right to vote is absolute... unless you want to vote for someone we don't like." If the EU interfere in Austrian politics then they will be attempting to by-pass democratic freedoms. You cannot have it both ways. Haider has every right to say what he says. And if people don't like it they won't vote for him. But they did and the EU should accept it.
From our own experiences with the far right in America, it seems that it is often better to co-opt them than to drive them underground. By incorporating whatever useful aspects of their agenda are possible and diluting the rest, far right groups can be dismembered and marginalised more effectively than if banned outright. However, our federal system makes this easier to do than in a parliamentary government. However, I do worry that Europe is backsliding into the mistakes of its past, but one must trust the strength of modern democracies to express the needs of their electorates. We cannot challenge threats to democracy by eliminating those very institutional procedures we say we support if the results are not always to our liking. The far right in Austria is obviously appealing to some unmet needs in that nation's electorate which other parties have ignored. As long as the far right "plays by the rules" no one should interfere; otherwise, we risk becoming the monster that we ourselves so much fear and detest.
Michael Smith, US
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