2017 has been a friendly year to Europe’s far-right, nationalist parties, who are ever growing in central Europe. A topic that would be up for discussion is the rise of Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ). Unlike it’s fellow nationalist parties, the FPÖ turned its electoral gains into real power. Entering a coalition government with conservative People’s Party (ÖVP).
The big shock of the September election was with its neighbouring country Germany. Nationalists Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered parliament for the first time, winning 94 seats. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party (PVV) came in second. In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) was defeated by the liberal Emmanuel Macron, making her campaign end at the run-off for the presidency.
Although a junior partner in Austria’s new government, the FPÖ has secured many key posts, including but not limited to the foreign, interior and defence ministries. Unlike before mentioned Alternative for Germany (AfD), Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) is not a newcomer. It’s been a big player in Austrians politics for years but has only been brought to light due to fresh momentum due to Europe’s migrant crisis of 2015-2016.
Plenty of refugees passed through Austria and many sought out asylum here. The FPÖ’s anti-migrant message had a positive response from voters – and was also taken under the wing of the conservatives under Sebastian Kurz. The new government made and announced plans to cut down on benefits given to refugees and to crack down on illegal immigration that Austria had a lot of. It also made point to announce its new plan to prioritise and fight against political Islam. The Muslim community has fears that that decision will make its community a target.
FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, now Austria’s vice-chancellor, often tells party rallies that “Islam is not part of Austria”. Mr Strache and Mr Kurz made the announcement of the government programme outside of Vienna, which ironically is where the Ottoman Muslim invasion of Europe subsequently came to an end. Mr Kurz denied all accusations of their being symbolism in the choice of location. But in a video blog, Martin Sellner of the alt-right Identitarian movement, hailed Kahlenberg as “a good omen”.
Hanging over the FPÖ is the shadow of its past. It was formed by former Nazis in the 1950s. In his younger years Mr Strache, was arrested by German police for participating in torch lit parade, ran by a banned neo-Nazi group but nowadays rejects all extremism. In a recent incident, a photo was published showcasing FPO politician, Andreas Bors, demonstrating a Hitler like salute. He denied all charges but didn’t take up his seat in the upper house of parliament.
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