Austria Takes a Puzzling Turn to the Right

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Not since the Anschluss has Austria seen a resurgence of Nazi ideas so close to the mainstream. The far-right Freedom party, whose leader, Joerg Haider, has expressed views sympathetic to the Third Reich, became the second largest party in Austria after Sunday’s election, finishing only 6 percent behind the ruling Social Democrats and ahead of its coalition partner, the conservative People’s party. The mystery is how an extremist party has managed to break into the mainstream at a time of prosperity and relative social calm. "Austrians are not angry, they’re bored," says TIME Central Europe bureau reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "The Social Democrats have run Austria for more than 50 years, and the fact that they’ve been in coalition with the conservatives for the past 12 years leaves people feeling there’s no real opposition besides Haider. But there is a lot of xenophobia, and Haider has very skillfully whipped up and exploited resentment against foreigners. Lucky there was no recession, because he might even have won if the economy hadn’t been so good."

The Freedom party’s strong showing will press the Social Democrats and the People’s party back into their coalition, despite the vow by People’s party leader Wolfgang Schuessel to go into opposition if he finished third. After all, it was only the failure of his squabbling opponents to reach a coalition deal that allowed another Austrian demagogue to win Germany’s 1933 election. And like Hitler, Haider combines an odd assortment of conservative and left-wing economics with a paranoid fear of foreigners, a put-upon sense that his country has been wronged and an exhortation for it to rise to its formal imperial glory. Now where’s that Von Trapp family when you need them?