A leading right-winger from Austria has caused a stir by accusing a journalist from his home country of “fouling his own nest” by posing a question about Adolf Hitler in Strasbourg, France.
Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache travelled to the city to meet French politician Marie Le Pen, head of the Front National (FN) party, in the European Parliament (EP) for talks yesterday (Weds). The right-leaning party bosses called in a press conference to inform journalists from all over the continent they planned to cooperate more closely based on their agreement over a broad spectrum of European topics.
Strache launched a rant at Raimund Löw when the reporter of Austrian TV network ORF asked Le Pen for his opinion on the decision of FPÖ delegates to abstain from a vote deciding over whether Hitler should be stripped of his honorary citizenship title. Representatives of Strache’s party in Amstetten decided not to take part in the Town Hall election some weeks ago. Amstetten decision-makers met to revoke the title from the Austrian-born Third Reich leader after a Green Party delegate revealed Hitler was still honoured that way 66 years after his suicide days before the end of World War Two (WWII).
The FPÖ chief accused Löw of “fouling his own nest”. He added it was a “disgrace” to pose such a question at an international press conference. “This is incredible,” Strache–who received support by FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky in his attack–added. Strache claimed that titles such as the one held by Hitler become obsolete when the person passes away. This argumentation has been put into question by historians.
Vilimsky issued a press release shortly after the incident in which he claimed Austrian journalists were trying to present their country as a “Nazi state” abroad. Strache linked Löw’s decision to ask Le Pen about the disputed Amstetten Town Hall meeting with occurrences in 2000 and 2001. The European Union (EU) decided to reduce its cooperation with Austria to the lowest possible rate after the People’s Party (ÖVP) of Wolfgang Schüssel decided to form a coalition with the FPÖ.
Le Pen–who is seen neck and neck with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in popularity polls in France–did not reply to Löw’s query, but emphasised more that the FN and the FPÖ will create closer ties than ever before. Strache hit out at EU leaders and once more criticised decision-makers for supporting ailing Eurozone member Greece. The FPÖ caused outrage ahead of a recent provincial election by creating a campaign poster showing a “lazy Greek” lying in a hammock while receiving generous financial support from other EU member nations.
The FPÖ boss compared the situation in the EU with political circumstances in the Soviet Union before the fall of the Iron Curtain. “The European Commission (EC) has not been elected by the people,” Strache argued.
Jörg Leichtfried, who heads the Austrian Social Democrats’ (SPÖ) delegation in the EP, criticised Strache for his appearance alongside Le Pen. Leichtfried claimed Strache was kept from meeting anyone in Europe but representatives of the far-right.
Strache–whose party has good chances to come first in the next federal election, according to surveys–has attended summits of Europe’s right-wing political leaders before. His decision to meet Israeli nationalists last December triggered a heated public debate, but also sparked an immense party-internal rift. The FPÖ’s far-right branch condemned the move, but Strache has kept focusing on a less harsh tone considering immigration policies in Austria in what is understood as an attempt to win over young and frustrated voters.
He called off his attendance of a disputed gathering of far-right student fraternities in Vienna last May at which hundreds come together year after year to deplore the death of German WWII soldiers. The meeting has been under scrutiny as many student fraternity members claim that the German Reich did not start the war. Numerous people have held street marches each year to protest against their get-together as some of the right-wingers dream of a reunion of Austria and Germany amid fears of an ‘Islamisation’ of the continent.
Strache was due to hold a speech at the meeting. However, he cancelled his appearance hours before he was expected to take to the stage. Reports have it that local police were asked to ensure his personal protection before being told at short notice that such measures were not needed. The FPÖ boss claimed a top secret meeting with high-profile politicians abroad made it impossible for him to speak at the commemoration–which always takes place at the same time concentration camp survivors meet to remember their torments.
Strache–who is a member of a far-right student fraternity called Vandalia–has been attending night clubs in cities and music festivals in the countryside for years. Research has shown that one in five Austrians younger than 30 want him as the country’s next chancellor.
He made headlines by having himself tested on drug consumption amid ongoing speculations that he took illegal substances last year. Strache accused the SPÖ of dirty campaigning when he presented the faultless examination results showing that he had not consumed cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines in the previous nine months.
Left-wingers are desperately trying to regain strength among their core voter groups of students, workers, and social benefit receivers while the FPÖ looks back on a number of federal, provincial and works council elections in which it managed to drastically increase its share. Conservative opinion leaders have called on ÖVP leaders to be more precise about their views to keep the FPÖ from becoming stronger.
Strache–who has headed the FPÖ since 2005–recently said his goal was to become the country’s chancellor, but some analysts have claimed he has no interest in taking political responsibility. They have suggested the right-winger fears a sudden loss in support if people find themselves disappointed by the FPÖ’s governmental decision-making.
The situation was similar after the ÖVP and FPÖ teamed up in 2000. Ongoing FPÖ infights resulted in the foundation of late FPÖ leader Jörg Haider’s Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) six years ago.