No Fourth Reich in Austria — yet!

by European Affairs correspondent

ANTI-FASCISTS throughout Europe breathed a collective sigh of relief on Monday when they heard that the far-right Freedom Party had lost the final round of the Austrian presidential election. But it was a close-run race that was only settled with the count of postal votes. Norbert Hofer, the leader of the Freedom Party (FPO), was pipped at the post by Alexander Van der Bellen, the former leader of the Green Party standing as an independent, who won by just a margin of 0.6 per cent of the vote.

The Freedom Party was easily ahead of the Greens in the first round of polling on 24th April that knocked out the Social Democrat and the People’s Party nominees, whose parties have traditionally dominated Austrian politics since the Second World War, as well as two other independent candidates. But many of them closed ranks around Van der Bellen in the second round to stop Austria becoming the first country in Europe to openly elect a fascistic party since the defeat of the German Nazis in 1945.The Freedom Party is a long-standing far-right Austrian party with Nazi origins that is rabidly anti-immigrant and Islamophobic. Their emblem is the blue cornflower that was used by pan-German nationalists in the 19th century and by Austrian Nazis as a secret symbol from after they were banned by the Patriotic Front regime in 1934 which ruled Austria until the Nazi coup in 1938.

Some Freedom Party leaders have cast doubt on the postal vote results, particularly after it was announced that turn-out in Linz and Waidhofen was 146.9 per cent — though that was later put down to a data entry error. Hofer, who has his eyes set on the parliamentary elections that must be held within the next two years, merely said that there was “something a little bit strange in the way the postal vote is counted”.

Though the Austrian presidency is largely ceremonial a Freedom Party victory would have fired more anti-immigrant sentiment at home and given a tremendous boost to the morale of the other racist and fascist parties of Europe, suck as the French Front National and similar movements in Hungary, Poland, Finland and Ukraine.

Or as the new president-elect, Van der Bellen, put it: “To those far-right parties, my election will certainly, I think, bring some frustration. On the other side, among the capitals of the European Union, I think you could hear a sigh of relief when on Monday evening it was clear that I’m becoming president of Austria”.