RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL NEWSLINE 15 October 1999
AUSTRIA'S EX-COMMUNIST NEIGHBORS RESPOND TO HAIDER'S
by Michael Shafir
The electoral success of Joerg Haider's far-right,
populist, and xenophobic Freedom Party in Austria's 3 October
parliamentary elections triggered different reactions from
that country's former communist neighbors.
Only Istvan Csurka, leader of Hungary's Justice and Life
Party, dared go as far as to openly voice satisfaction,
saying he was "delighted" with the results because "all
nations have a right to defend their own living space and
their particular way of life against foreigners." In this
context, Csurka used the Hungarian equivalent of the Nazi
term "Lebensraum," for which he had been harshly criticized
in the past. And he suggested that the Austrian elections
might foreshadow Hungary's future political scene, in which
"the liberals could be swept out from the parliament."
The event was ignored by like-minded parties elsewhere
in the region. In Slovakia, the National Party (SNS) was
preoccupied with an internal power struggle that saw its
former leader, Jan Slota, replaced by Anna Malinkova, a
woman--the ultimate insult to the macho Slota. But as the
daily "Pravda" remarked on 6 October, Malinkova is much
closer to Haider than the coarse Slota ever was. And like
Haider, she will probably embark on a process of making the
party's image more sophisticated, while conserving its ultra-
nationalist, anti-minority, and anti- European integration
In the Czech Republic, the anti-German postures of
Miroslav Sladek's Republican Party (SPR-RSC) would not allow
that group to display pro-Haider sympathies. After all, the
SPR-RSC was dealt a serious blow when it was revealed that,
its rhetoric notwithstanding, the party had been financed
from the purse of the German ultra-right Republicans. At the
time of the Austrian elections, the SPR-RSC was preparing for
a visit by the leader of France's National Front chairman,
Jean Marie Le Pen, which began on 14 October.
Haider's rhetoric against European integration (or, as
Csurka calls it, his "anti-globalism"), his insistence on
property restitution to German-speakers forced to leave
Austria's neighboring countries, and his demands that the
status of the largely insignificant German minorities there
be improved are reason enough to make those countries'
governments apprehensive. Even without Haider, those
countries' relations with Vienna are strained: Austria
threatens to veto EU accession unless the controversial
nuclear plants at Krsko (Slovenia), Temelin (Czech Republic),
and Mochovce and Jaslovske Bohunice (Slovakia) are
immediately shut down. And there is also the problematic
issue of the 1945 Benes decrees, which an Austrian government
that includes the Freedom Party would pursue far more
rigorously than has been the case to date. Indeed, on 13
October, in London, Haider said the Czechs' admission to the
EU could not proceed before they abrogated those decrees.
Just as applause for Haider came only from Budapest, so
did the strongest criticism. Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 6
October said that Haider's position against EU enlargement
"is in conflict with Hungary's own interests." "To put it
bluntly," he continued, "we are interested in an Austrian
government coalition made up of parties...supporting
Hungary's EU membership."
Reactions from Slovenia were initially more restrained.
Foreign Minister Boris Frlec on 4 October said he feared the
elections "could have awe-inspiring consequences,
particularly for the Slovenian ethnic minority" in Austria.
But two days later, Premier Janez Drnovsek expressed the hope
that Haider may "turn out to be more pragmatic and reasonable
than the initial impression suggests." By 12 October,
however, Deputy Foreign Minister Franko Juri was calling
Haider's post-electoral statements on Austrian-Slovenian
Intimidated by the prospect of an Austrian veto against
its EU membership, Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary
Jan Figel on 5 October said he does not expect Haider to
enter the government but Bratislava "will discuss
[contentious issues] with any democratically elected
government." Jaroslav Volf, leader of the Social Democratic
Party had said the previous day that Haider's electoral
success "could not please him" but it at least demonstrated
that "political extremism does not apply to Slovakia alone."
The bluntest comment came from Estonia. Alluding to
criticism of his country's treatment of the Russian minority,
Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves commented on 11 October
that "if a political force similar to the Freedom Party had
come second in elections in Estonia, one can well imagine
what a row the OSCE would have made."
In the Czech Republic, there was unexpected "fallout"
from the Austrian elections. On 4 October, Premier Milos
Zeman remarked that the vote demonstrated that a party
advocating "xenophobe and racialist moods" can garner serious
support even in an economically prosperous country and that
this was "food for thought." Freedom Union Deputy Chairman
Petr Mares volunteered the comment that a de-facto two-party
coalition has also emerged in the Czech Republic and that, as
in Austria, this may push the electorate to support a radical
alternative. Only in the Czech case, Communist leader
Miroslav Grebenicek would play the role of Haider.
Mares's ideas were unexpectedly embraced by Civic
Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus. He said that the
elections' outcome demonstrated that Austria's 13-year-old
"grand coalition" of the Social Democratic Party and People's
Party has "lasted too long." While refraining from
criticizing the results, Klaus was ready to use them to
embark on ending a partnership that was only 16 months old
but, doubtless according to his viewpoint, has also "lasted
The minority government of the Social Democrats has been
ruling by the grace of the ODS. That grace's time is now up.
Vienna politics have thrown Prague politics into turmoil, but
not for the first time in history. And that, to quote Zeman,
is indeed "food for thought."
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