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Judentum und Israel
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Austria's new old coalition:
More of the same

From Karl Pfeifer in Vienna
Searchlight London, April 2003

According to Austrians, only cabbage is good when reheated. Perhaps inspired by this aphorism, conservative Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel has reheated his love for the extreme right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) and renewed his coalition with it.

The pan, however, must have been on a low light because it took Schüssel no less than 96 days to negotiate with the social democrats and the Greens before opting for a cheap deal with the FPÖ, the very same party that sparked last summer's governmental crisis and forced new elections.

Three years ago, most conservative Austrian hoped and believed that the new right-wing government would be able to reform the administration and the tax and pension systems but, apart from a little tinkering and a few cosmetic changes, nothing really happened. The current mood was summed up by the chief editor of the conservative daily Die Presse when he said the new government would be "more of the same, only a bit worse".

The last time a government was fashioned out of gluing the FPÖ to the conservative ÖVP, the European Union (EU) downgraded its relations with the Austrian government. This time, however, there has not been a single official declaration from Brussels.

This does not mean, though, that everyone abroad is happy with the present state of affairs in Vienna. For example, Schüssel invited the heads of government in those of Austria's neighbouring states which are about to join the EU to come to Vienna for talks on the day before he formed the new government. They all refused.

Generally, though, protest at the new coalition has been muted in comparison with 2000 when Schüssel's new government had to cross the few yards to the president's building by an underground passage underground because there were so many demonstrators in front of the building. This time, the numbers were far fewer and they were met by Schüssel fans, shouting "Wolfgang", "Wolfgang", who would not have dared show their faces three years ago.

Nominating Benito-Ferrero Waldner to the post of foreign minister, President Thomas Klestil made a Freudian slip by referring to her, on live TV, as "Benito" and, thus, reminding the Austrian public that she was so named by her parents in honour of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Schüssel's previous coalition government had 16 members; his new one has 18, They include little known 34-year-old nephew of the governor of Lower Austria, who becomes Minister for Agricultural affairs and Ursula Haubner, elder sister of the former FPÖ leader Jörg Haider, as secretary of state for social affairs.

Predictably, the new government will be reactionary, slashing social spending and continuing its class war from above against those on low incomes. But it will be buying fighter planes, something much more important for a right-wing government than health and social welfare. Some malcontents believe this is because there are fat bribes to be had.

Expressing its less than full confidence in Schüssel's newly resprayed government, the conservative daily Kurier has advised its readers to renounce any income above £10,000 a year so as not to pay tax, to sell their cars quickly the prices of petrol and licences are set to rise and, finally, to order new passports and new identity cards, because they are among the many things which will cost more.

A recent opinion poll shows the new government is not very popular with 72% believing it not to be the best possible government and 80% having the view that it is not corresponding to the will of the voters.

The government has declared that it will help those countries in Europe which are about to join the EU but, only three days after the formation of the government, Hubert Gorbach, the FPÖ infrastructure minister, threatened to veto this if the EU does not find an answer to the problem of heavy lorry traffic crossing Austria.

Haider, who remains Austria's top right-wing extremist, has promised not to trouble the government but Austrians know what his promises are worth. His non-aggression pledge was shown to be meaningless when he attacked Schüssel at a meeting in a beer hall on 5 March, foreshadowing many new internal conflicts in the coalition.

It is notable that, in the government's programme, promises help to the "old Austrian minority" in central, east and south-east Europe. This is a serious condern, as it is directed at German-speaking extreme right-wing elements in these regions. Austria is investing a fortune in the Viennese Haus der Heimat, where the extreme right can hold conferences on topics such as "from Benes to Sharon". Even before the formation of the coalition, Elisabeth Gehrer, the ÖVP Minister of Science nominated some extreme right-wingers for membership of University councils.

As if this were not bad enough, on the anniversary of the German occupation of Austria, the ÖVP will open an exhibition in honour of Leopold Kunschak, one of its earlier leaders, who boasted in December 1945, despite the fact, that he was not a friend of the Nazis, that he had been an antisemite his whole life.

Finally, on the other shore of the right-wing swamp, Andreas Mölzer, chief editor of the Vienna weekly Zur Zeit has suggested that his rag become the official publication of the FPÖ. This is a cynical ploy seeing that a cartoon strip in a very recent edition showed two pigs called to an FPÖ trough by Haider. The two then enjoy a lot of money from the trough before, in the last frame, defecating into it.

The FPÖ has yet to comment. 04-04-03



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