By Wolfgang Pomrehn
KIEL, Germany — Anti-fascist protests hit many European cities on February 12 and 13. Protesters opposed the new Austrian government, formed by the conservative OeVP (Austrian People's Party) and the FPOe (Freedom Party of Austria), whose leader Joerg Haider is infamous for his sympathy for the Nazis, his nationalism and his racism.
However, the European protesters find themselves in a complicated situation. A boycott of Austria has been launched by EU governments, which have argued that Haider can't be tolerated because he doesn't subscribe to a "European community of values".
This boycott has been denounced as hypocritical by many leftists, as well as some conservatives, especially in Germany. The racism Haider is advocating is in fact not that different from what social-democrats in Germany, Denmark and elsewhere are practising — such as refusing citizen rights to most immigrants and expelling immigrant kids who commit a criminal offence to countries they have never seen before.
There were no such protests from these governments when Italian fascists participated in Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet in Rome in 1994.
One reason for the European governments' protests against the new Austrian coalition might be their wish to press for reforms in the European Union, particularly to introduce decision by majority vote in the Council of Ministers and thereby diminish the influence of the smaller countries.
However, the international protests came first from countries where the memory of Nazi atrocities is still vivid, such as Belgium, Israel and France. These governments' call for a boycott of Austria was a response to pressure from their peoples, who still remember that Austria was not the first victim of Nazi Germany (as it likes to see itself) but its partner.
When German troops marched into Austria in 1938 there was no resistance from Austria's ruling circles. Rather, they were warmly welcomed and Austrians participated in Nazi organisations at least as widely as Germans did.
Normalising the FPOe, as though it were just another legitimate political party, would also send a very threatening signal to the rest of Europe. Even if other governments' policies only differ slightly from Haider's own, their language is still very different.
Haider and his party, on the other hand, never tried to disguise their racist attitudes. While he apologised for his sympathetic comments on Nazism, he never did so for his countless attacks on immigrants.
It's no wonder that he has won a lot of sympathy in Germany and that leading German conservatives and liberals criticise the EU boycott harshly. Less then a year ago the German Christian Democratic Union ran a racist campaign of its own, against plans to make it easier for immigrants to become German citizens.
While conservatives from France and some other countries are urging the expulsion of the OeVP from the common European Conservative Party and even the ex-Francoist Spanish Popular Alliance argues for a boycott, German conservatives are visiting Vienna to express their solidarity.
Haider's victory, therefore, could strengthen the far right in other countries, especially in Germany. Progressive forces must keep the pressure on their governments to make them take their own boycott seriously, whilst acting to prevent any misuse of this boycott for other ends.