Letter From Vienna: Antemurale, Once Again

The socialist-conservative coalition led by Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, which collapsed on July 7, had been faltering for months. When I arrived in Vienna two days later, the only surprising element in what appeared to be a mundane story concerned its immediate cause. Eighteen months of endless bickering over Austria’s economic, fiscal or social policy could be managed, it now appears, but discordant reactions to the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty at the Irish referendum (June 13) could not.

The Treaty was duly ratified by the Austrian Parliament on April 9, but the Supreme Soviet-style majority favoring ratification (151 deputies, to only 28 against) did not reflect the mood of the nation: opinion polls consistently show that Austrians are among the least fervent “Europeans” in the EU. In Austria—the heart of Europe geographically as well as culturally—the gap between “Europe” as an ideology and a project, and “democracy“ as a system and a process can no longer be ignored.

Aware of that gap and uneasy about its political consequences, Gusenbauer unexpectedly announced in an interview to the popular Kronenzeitung that his Social Democrats (SPO) would submit any future major EU treaty to a referendum. In brief, he said, he is hoping that the tide of Euro-skepticism may be stemmed by reconnecting the Project with the people.

Coming from a solidly pro-EU leftist party whose deputies supported ratification without a single dissenting vote, the announcement caused an uproar. Gusenbauer’s coalition partner, the “conservative” yet ultra-Euro-federalist People’s Party (OVP), was horrified. Like the rest of the European elite class, OVP leaders believe that the goal of an ever-closer Union is too important to be subjected to the fickle will of hoi polloi. Foreign minister Ursula Plassnik thus accused Gusenbauer of pandering to “those who create fear of the EU” and acting in a manner unworthy of a responsible politician. On July 7 OVP’s leader, Deputy Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer, announced that his party was leaving the coalition.

The new election is set for September 28. Neither major party is likely to do well on that day.

Gusenbauer’s party colleagues, while claiming to support his promise of future EU referenda, are privately unhappy with what some see as an unnecessary commitment recklessly made. Their unease is understandable. The party has alienated many of its supporters by making concessions to the OVP in early 2007 that violated its earlier commitments, e.g. by dropping opposition to the Euro-fighter program and by agreeing not to abolish university tuition fees (which are symbolic anyway). Socialists are not attracting fresh blood among students and yuppies, while among its natural blue-collar constituency the SPO is losing support due to its fanatical multiculturalism. As Vienna’s once impressively tidy and safe public housing blocks descend into the maelstrom of Third World degradation—overwhelmingly Muslim, of course—the SPO is endlessly “reaching out” to the leaders of unassimilable multitudes. It subscribes to all the usual tenets of self-destruction and acts accordingly, e.g. by drafting a jihadist imam as its advisor on Muslim affairs. In the meantime, its natural constituents are forced to flee their old neighborhoods. Those ethnically-cleansed natives often have a family tradition of voting “red,” but their endurance has limits and for many those limits have been reached.

Openly Euro-skeptic Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) of Heinz-Christian Strache is expected to be the only winner come September 28 and to increase its share of the vote from 17 to over 20 percent. Routinely described as “far-right” in the mainstream media, Strache has outlined tough conditions for entering any future coalition government. Topping his list is the deportation of long-term unemployed immigrants, a popular demand that Vienna’s bien-pensants are misrepresenting as proof of his “extremism.” He is also insistent that Austria should reassert her sovereignty vis-à-vis Brussels.

The Freedom Party first entered government as OVP’s junior partner under Strache’r predecessor Joerg Haider after a stunning success at the 1999 general election. In view of Haider’s somewhat checkered history EU leaders decided to isolate Vienna diplomatically and threatened to invoke Article 7 of the Nice Treaty which allows EU member states, voting by a qualified majority, to suspend the rights of a country in case of “a serious and persistent breach of fundamental rights.” Under pressure from within his own ranks Haider stepped down as the party chairman in 2000, bringing an end to Austria’s diplomatic isolation, and went on to found the Federal Future Party of Austria (BZO).

Strache, known to friend and foe as “Ha-Tse” (H.C., pronounced German style), claims to have no preference for either the Social Democrats or the People’s Party as a coalition partner. At the same time, he says that he would not want to enter government with a party that “sold” Austria to the EU and refused a referendum on EU treaties, which would seem to exclude the OVP. For their part, leaders of both major parties have said they do not want a coalition with the FPO. In the end they may have no choice: the only alternative is yet another socialist-conservative combination. That would be deja-vu all over again.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that the center-right will suffer a major blow in two months’ time. My friend Peter, a middle-aged, soft-spoken, British educated gentleman-farmer type in his 50s, looks like a natural OVP voter. He is unhappy with the People’s Party however, for a variety of familiar reasons similar to those that make American conservatives unhappy with the Republican Party. He is uneasy about Strache—a populist, he says, far from brilliant, rather unpolished, etc.—but he is thinking about Strache as an option. Only a few years ago that would not happen.

Even more worrying for the OVP is the evolution of Elisabeth, a party loyalist of some two decades’ standing. She sees immigration, culture, identity, and opposition to the EU, as Austria’s most pressing issues and she says the People’s Party does not offer a solution to any of them:

I’ve been a conservative all my life. Even though I never agreed with everything the OVP stood for, I considered them the lesser evil. However, having joined the counterjihad movement, having become EU-critical, I have now found that I no longer feel at home in the conservative party. There is simply no room for an EU critic and skeptic in their midst. They are not addressing the immigration issue with enough fervor. They are dhimmis through and through. There is only one other party that does address my worries and listens to my concerns; that stands for upholding Austrian and European values; that understands the nature of Jihad.

Three hundred and twenty five years ago Vienna saved Europe from the “prophet’s” hordes. A century ago Vienna went rogue, demolishing tried old certainties and offering seriously worse alternatives (Freud, Alban Berg, Kokoschka . . . ). Today it has an opportunity to correct the error of those ways. It is still one of the most pleasant and civilized cities in the world. Its Euro-skeptics and patriots have an opportunity to act before alien erosion along the edges—aided and abetted by the betrayal inside the walls—accomplishes what no janissary assault could accomplish on 9-11, 1683.

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