The timely death of the Austrian far right “guru” Jörg Haider is a cause for a double celebration.
First and foremost because the demise of Europe’s most prominent and successful fascist warms the hearts of all those committed to democracy and freedom. But also because, at last, he can perform some useful social function: fertilising the soil.
In the recent Austrian elections close to thirty percent of the votes were cast for one of the two major fascist organisations. This comes after Haider led his “Freedom Party” [sic] into joint government between 2000 and 2006. Although it looks unlikely that the fascists will return to those heady heights in the immediate term, their presence in parliament and on the Austrian streets is a cause of great alarm.
Haider and his movement experienced the best and worst of times. The child of Nazi parents (his father a storm trooper and mother a leader of the Nazi “League of German Maidens”) he grew up in relative poverty as both parents were banned from their pre-war jobs. Excelling at school and university, Haider — with the help of a generous bequest from a war-profiteering uncle — built a career as a lawyer and ascended to the leadership of the “Freedom Party”, serving as youth leader and then as a member of the Austrian parliament for many years.
Popular in his adopted bastion, the region of Carinthia, where he served as the first third-party premier, Haider built a base of support by courting hard-line wartime Nazi veterans and skinhead outfits. Not even his praising of Hitler’s policies and celebrating the record of the Waffen-SS damaged his credibility. His partiality to contrary populism, grand-standing and squabbles had the duel effect of creating a personal national platform and alienating members of his party. Organisational splits ensued.
But Haider’s version of Euro-fascism has been a standard by which other fascist organisations — not the least the BNP — measure themselves. The mix of local and national electoralism, populist campaigning and mingling with the seedy underside of fascism worked in Austria, so why not elsewhere? Austrian workers, traditionally ruled by the mainstream conservative or social democratic parties, have suffered similar social and economic onslaughts to those experienced by British and other European workers. Haider’s fascism struck a chord there and as we are witnessing, the BNP is experiencing a modest expansion.