So I read with some surprise that my least favourite Austrian politician is currently in Israel and visiting Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The Austrian Times quotes yesterday (Tuesday) Strache, leader of the right wing Freedom Party (FPO) as saying ‘One who comes to this place can understand the real problems. Our hearts are with you, Israel!’ The article also says he said there must be dialogue with all sides involved and affected, but added that there would be “no compromise towards the terror”.
Now for those of you not so familiar with the FPO they are often linked with ideas, statements and elements that (should we say) seem to reflect or are alleged to be of an extreme right and anti-Semite ilk. So at first sight this seemed like a strange turn of events. Was this a signal of a new more moderate approach by the FPO? Ah no, alas it seems that he was attending a ‘summit’ of other fellow travellers from the Netherlands and elsewhere focusing upon ‘strategies against the Islamic terror’.
Strache and the FPO recently fought the Vienna state election with the ‘issue’ of ‘Islamification’ as one of its core themes. So this trip to Israel is for the FPO, and others on the far right across Europe, just another attempt to add further colouring of their latest political cloak. Today ‘xenophobia’ is being portrayed as somehow respectable as it’s only the ‘genuine defence of the Christian way of life’ under threat from an Islamic conspiracy to dominate ‘our world’. This nonsense is being given an additional twist as this trip seems to suggest that they are actually ‘defending’ the Jewish-Christian tradition – now that would be surprising.
The FPO did well in the Vienna elections particularly in the strongly Social Democrat (SPO) districts. My somewhat limited reading of the election was that the SPO ran a ‘Vienna is a good place to live campaign’, the OVP (Conservatives) ‘liberal’ leader tried playing it tough on law and order etc and the Green’s failed to be distinctive. It was noticeable that the SPO made ground and took districts previously strongholds of the OVP or Green and lost ground in its core areas. All the mainstream parties here and elsewhere in Europe have to look seriously at how they connect with those who feel marginalised or this right wing popularism could turn much worse.
A postscript: The FPO also ran on the theme of crime by foreigners with the focus on the ‘wave of East European criminals coming across the now open border’. Oddly all the stat’s I’ve seen show that crime by foreigners is more commonly committed by Germans, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a popularist headline.