Country in focus: Austria
From Martin Jordan for UNITED in Vienna | June 2012
The myth that Austria was the first victim of the Nazis forms the dominant narrative in the country. It describes the repression and mitigation of Austria’s complicity in the atrocities of the Nazis. This untruth is instrumental in Austria’s handling of right-wing extremism and Nazism since the Second World War and plays a central theme in the country’s post-war history.
From 1970 onwards, the state refused to investigate Austrian citizens who were senior Nazis. In 1986 it became public that the then freshly-elected president of Austria, Kurt Waldheim, was an officer in the German Wehrmacht during World War II. Despite lying about his Nazi background he refused to resign.
Only in 1991 did Austria officially admit to its complicity in Nazi crimes and apologise for them. As a result, until 1995, Austria refused to pay full compensation to Nazi victims. In 2010, a public poll reported that 36.5% of people still believe in the “first victim” myth. Even as recently as 2011, Adolf Hitler was still listed as an honorary citizen of several Austrian cities, including his birthplace, Braunau am Inn.
Today, the greatest far right threat in Austria emanates from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). The FPÖ is not only a catalyst for the implantation of right-wing extremist resentments in mainstream society but is also instrumental in sustaining nazi groups.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, an escalating militant and paramilitary right-wing extremist scene in Austria triggered increased intervention by the authorities, prompting some bans and a tactical shift inside the fascist scene towards the establishment of more “legal” outfits. Alongside the establishment of far right parties and youth organisations, independent so-called “tradition associations” played, and still play, an important role in rooting the extreme-right in civil society.
The most important of these are the Kameradschaftsbund (an association for the commemoration of fallen soldiers with around 250,000 members), the Österreichischer Turnerbund (a nationalist gymnastic club with about 60,000 members) and the Kärntner Heimatdienst (a nationalist campaigning organisation with as many as 20,000 members).
Especially in rural areas, these organisations are active in social, cultural and community life and their far-reaching involvement in mainstream society means that not everybody who is a member of these organisations or takes part in their events is also a right-wing extremist.
These same associations are also courted and supported by the mainstream parties, lending them yet more bogus credibility. Nevertheless, their leadership, as well as their politics, is hooked into right-wing extremism.
These organisations are jointly responsible for the widespread xenophobic sentiment that abounds in Austrian society and for its seemingly inherent affection for nationalist ideas and the continuation of historic lies and revisionism.
The Austrian Nazi skinhead scene is tightly interconnected with its German counterpart and knows neither physical nor ideological borders since the movement in both countries believes in pan-nationalist ideas that seek to unify all German-speaking populations in Europe. Austrian nazis are regular supporters of far right demonstrations and events in Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and have taken part in paramilitary training in Hungary.
Within Austria, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Demokratische Politik (AFP) and a handful of experienced nazi activists fulfil an integrative role in recruiting and co-ordinating the grassroots scene. By far the best known hardcore nazi activist in Austria is the often-convicted Gottfried Küssel, who was arrested in April 2011 in connection with the notorious nazi website Alpen-Donau.info. His arrest was a blow to the right-wing extremist scene which has shown increased ground level activity in recent years and is currently in the throes of a generation change.
Pools for recruitment of young nazi activists are the far right student fraternities as well as the youth- wing of the FPÖ, the RFJ, acting as a link between politics (FPÖ) and the sub-cultural right-wing extremist scene. Again and again it appears that FPÖ officials and cadres have a second, less visible but more sinister, function within the far right scene. The FPÖ extensively uses far right student fraternities as a recruitment pool for the party as demonstrated by the number of members of student fraternities who sit in the Austrian parliament on the FPÖ ticket.
The FPÖ is again a serious contender in the political field in Austria, having already held national office in the 2000-2005 coalition government with the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). The formation of the coalition led Austria to become the only EU member state to have had diplomatic sanctions imposed on it from the EU for legitimising the far right.
During this period, the FPÖ was both actor and accomplice in the numerous corruption scandals that are only now just surfacing and which advanced their agenda through manipulating legislation and gaining influence in institutions like the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT).
For example, since 2002 no special intelligence report on right-wing extremism has been published and far right student fraternities have been removed entirely from the BVT’s report. Moreover, the recent case around Küssel’s nazi Alpen-Donau.info website indicated that nazi activists have, or have had, access to sources within the police, the Ministry of Interior and the BVT.
Austria key facts
The only far right party with national relevance is the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ)
- Founded: 1956 (first elected leader Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi Minister and SS officer)
- Party leader: Heinz-Christian Strache (since 2005)
- Membership: 40,000 approx
- Public funding (per year): ca. €3.7 million for the party + €2.2 million for the party academy
- National election 2008: 17.54% (57 of 183 seats in the National Assembly)
- European Parliament election 2009: 12.71% (MEPs: Andreas Mölzer and Franz Obermayr)
- Newspaper: Neue Freie Zeitung weekly newspaper (ca. 35,000 circulation)
- Supports nine political wings (youth-wing is Ring Freiheitlicher Jugend – RFJ).
- Co-founder in 2008 of the pan-European citizens’ initiative “Cities Against Islamisation”.
Freedom Party of Carinthia (FPK):
- Jörg Haider (then leader of the FPÖ) founded the FPK as a chapter of the FPÖ in Carinthia in 1986. After a split from the FPÖ in 2005 and the foundation of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), the FPK was revived as an independent regional party.
- In 2010 the FPK signed a co-operation pact with the FPÖ.
- The BZÖ won 44.89% of the vote in the elections in Carinthia in March 2009. All won mandates were allocated to the FPK after its revival.
Other far right parties:
- Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Demokratische Politik (AFP).
- Nationale Volkspartei (NVP).
- Heimatpartei Österreich (HPÖ), a splinter group of the NVP.
- Kritische Demokraten.
Ring Freiheitlicher Jugend (RFJ)
Recruitment base for the FPÖ among young people. The RFJ has branches in all nine federal provinces of Austria. Public funding 2000-2010: €1.9 million.
Bund freier Jugend (BFJ)
Officially dissolved the BFJ was the most prominent youth organisation of the nazi AFP. Its followers remain active.
The nazi AFP is the most active group linking and co-ordinating the Austrian far right extremist scene.
Far right student fraternities are, next to the RFJ, the main recruitment pool for the FPÖ. At least 15 FPÖ delegates to the National Council (lower house of parliament) are affiliated to far right student fraternities.
The anti-racist organisation ZARA documented 706 racially-motivated incidents in 2011. The Austrian national intelligence service lists 580 hate crimes and 1,040 prosecutions in 2010.
The most important far right publications are: Zur Zeit: weekly newspaper ca. 22,000 copies. Die Aula: monthly magazine ca. 11,000 copies. fakten: periodical of the right-wing extremist Kritische Demokraten party. Der Eckart: monthly magazine of the Österreichische Landsmannschaft (ÖLM). Huttenbriefe: nazi periodical published six times a year in Germany and Austria; circulation ca. 4,000.