Far right falls into step in Austria

IF Germany is wrestling with uncertainties about its national identity, its small southern neighbour is struggling with political and cultural questions so alike as to be identical.

But while an extreme right-wing party has been kept out of power in Berlin, one outcome of Austria’s general election tomorrow might be that Vienna will have a coalition government in which the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) — founded in the 1950s by a former SS officer — will have a pivotal role. The centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) is currently ahead in the opinion polls, but only just, and thanks only to the way in which it has echoed the rhetoric of the FPÖ.

As in Germany — and indeed across Europe — the far-right in Austria exploits understandable anxieties about Islamic immigration, perceived threats to national identity and
culture, and mounting resentment of the cosy, centrist
coalitions and well-pensioned elites that meet in Davos and Brussels to keep the world in order, while, down at ground level, neighbourhoods and even countries fall apart.

It operates on fertile soil in Austria, which has form; so much so that it has laws making Holocaust denial and activities eulogising Hitler — its most infamous son — criminal offences. But the re-emergence of the far-right casts a shadow across our continent, and the “more Europe” remedies prescribed by Mr Juncker, in Brussels, and Mr Macron, in Paris, will darken, not dispel, it.


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