Monday, October 02, 2006

Christianity, Islam and Austria

Mark Landler:

For Jörg Haider, the once-powerful far-right leader whose party has been a fading partner in Mr. Schüssel’s coalition, the election was a reprieve from political extinction.

His party, the Alliance for Austria’s Future, appeared to have clung to seats in Parliament, winning 4.2 percent of the vote, just above the required 4 percent threshold. If it had fallen below that — as pollsters had predicted — Mr. Haider would have lost his toehold in national politics.

“He is almost finished on a national level, but his ideas are not finished,” said Anton Pelinka, a political scientist in Vienna. The Freedom Party, which Mr. Haider led for two decades before quitting last year after a power struggle to start his new party, won 11.2 percent — a result that positions it to play a strong opposition role. It had called for Austria to expel all illegal immigrants and halt new arrivals.

Placards for the party’s new leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, depict an Austrian flag above the slogan, “Daham statt Islam,” a colloquialism that translates as “Home instead of Islam.” A 37-year-old former dental technician, Mr. Strache looks like a younger version of Mr. Haider.

A party official, Harald Vilimsky, said the campaign tapped into the frustration of many Viennese, who find that their German-speaking children are a minority in the public schools. Mr. Schüssel, 61, who is more respected than loved, dismissed fears of an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe. He was then embarrassed by reports that his mother-in-law was under the care of an Eastern European nurse, who was in Austria illegally.

While the extreme right did not match its best result — 27 percent in 1999 — it remains a force. A sign of that, analysts said, is that the anti-immigrant talk honed by Mr. Haider in the 1990’s has become part of the political mainstream.

Although the major parties deplore the xenophobia of the far-right parties, they have strengthened their stance on immigration issues. The People’s Party has toughened requirements for Austrian citizenship, while the Social Democrats have promised to crack down on crimes committed by foreigners. “They don’t say, ‘We’re going to be tough on foreigners’; they say, ‘We’re going to be tough on illegal immigrants,’ ” said Herbert Lackner, the editor of Profil, a political magazine.

Only the Green Party called for more tolerance, and it finished fourth behind the Freedom Party.

Many Austrians are convinced that the European Union’s expansion will flood the country with people bent on taking their jobs. The new twist, since the heyday of Mr. Haider, is that this suspicion now has an anti-Muslim tinge. “In the 90’s, anti-immigration rhetoric was focused on rising crime and asylum seekers from the Balkans,” said Peter Paul Hajek, a political analyst at the Austrian Marketing Institute, a polling company. “Now it’s more about the clash between Islam and Christianity.”

Nice to see that there are some politicians in Europe who see the threat posed by Islam.

Austrian voters veer back to far-Right

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