Austrian Party That Wants to Bring Back Nazi Imagery Wins Big
We're not hearing cries of alarm because the FPO is aligned with the Iranian regime. According to the Jerusalem Post, Strache "vehemently opposes sanctions designed to force a suspension of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program."
Other observers see Strache's gains as a sign of anger about the economy and the Austrian government. According to Wolfgang Bachmayer, manager of a political consulting group, "this election campaign was not about immigration" -- it was "more about social themes and an anti-European Union attitude," Bachmayer said. "The Freedom Party in this campaign made far fewer attacks on foreigners than in the past."
That opinion wasn't shared by a Viennese Muslim cab driver I spoke to in August. After describing his family's suffering during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Serbian attacks, and the relatives who died as a result of those attacks, he pointed to one of Strache's election posters. The former dental assistant was all sparkling blue eyes and shiny white teeth, giving a thumbs-up to the Freedom Party slogan, "Now it is about us Austrians."
"That man is a fascist," the taxi driver said.
Since Strache has been photographed -- in his youth -- wearing a military uniform at an alleged far-right gathering, raising his hand and stretching three fingers in Nazi salute, the taxi driver had a point.
According to Strache, the photograph wasn't a shot of a Nazi salute. He was simply caught trying to order three beers while dressed in appropriate uniform. Some may choose to believe that. Some may choose to believe that this election was about fears of inflation and general anger about government mismanagement. But a recent poll by the GfK market research group showed that after Britain, Austrians were the most concerned about immigration and integration in Europe, with one in five rating it as a top worry. When we're talking about a country that only recently acknowledged that it was a willing part of Hitler's Third Reich, denial can be an issue.
During my visit to Austria, I saw two arguments between young, somewhat drunken youths and working immigrants. Both were provoked by the youths and neither came to blows, probably because the working men demonstrated that they were willing to fight back.
Before this election, in the streets of Vienna and on country lanes in Tirol, FPO posters dominated the political landscape. Some were defaced with Hitler mustaches and red clown noses, but Strache's gleaming blue eyes and slogans shone through. I wondered if his supporters were, like Ron Paul's supporters in the U.S., compulsive about plastering slogans all over the place -- or if Strache and his party's ideals really did have popular support. Recent election results answered that question.