Originally created 02/11/00

Don't panic on Austria



The newest European media demon is Austria's provincial governor Joerg Haider. His populist, right-wing Freedom Party is participating in a coalition government headed by highly-respected Wolfgang Schuessel of the People's Party.

Haider isn't even part of thegovernment, though the party he heads was awarded five cabinet posts for winning 27 percent of the vote. Significantly, none of the Freedom Party ministers appointed by Schuessel has a record of cruelly tasteless remarks like those made by Haider.

Haider has praised some of Adolph Hitler's policies -- though not those that waged World War II or slaughtered six million Jews. Moreover, he has apologized for those remarks, admitting it was wrong of him to make them.

So why are the European Union and the Clinton administration imposing diplomatic sanctions on tiny Austria, population about 8.2 million?

It's not Haider's "Nazi rhetoric" that Europe's governing socialist democracies fear so much as it is his message of free enterprise, deep tax cuts, immigration caps and erosion of Austrian sovereignty vis-a-vis the European Union.

These are all valid issues that could, and likely will be, raised in other European nations. They have nothing to do with Nazism or Hitler, but by using Haider's intemperate remarks the socialists seek to smear legitimate sovereignty concerns with the ugly brush of the war and Holocaust.

Walter Laqueur, head of the international research council at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has been sued twice by the Freedom Party, so he's certainly no friend of Haider's.

But even Laqueur notes the Western democracies' "sudden anti-fascist vigor... seems a little suspect... European and American spokesmen didn't protest when five neo-fascists served in the government of Italy under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. They didn't protest when Haider's party participated previously in an Austrian coalition. They didn't protest the presence of Communist ministers in the French government."

There was no totalitarian coup in Austria. Its elections were democratic. Before the E.U. and U.S. panic, they should at least honor the request of Austria's president to give the coalition a chance to govern before condemning it.