Innsbruck Despatch | International

Austria’s political shift towards Right

A file photo of the Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

A file photo of the Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Last Sunday, legislative elections were held in Austria, and its outcome might change the country’s political landscape once and forever. While the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) emerged as the largest party in the National Council, winning 62 of the 183 seats, the far-right Freedom Party of Austria made huge gains and finished third with 51 seats. The Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which had been the largest party for years and led the government, suffered a huge setback and received just 52 seats.

For many, this is a breaking point in Austria’s post-War history. No other far-right party has come as close to the two governing parties in decades as the Freedom Party did now. It is an open secret that the Freedom Party, which was founded by Nazis in the 1950s, still has neo-Nazi and fascist elements in its rank and file. But these did not dissuade a large chunk of voters from supporting it.

At the same time, those who were targeted by the Freedom Party for years — mainly Muslims, migrants and refugees — are already feeling the heat . “It’s surreal. Literally everyone knows that these people are Nazis. But now they could become part of the government,” said Nader Uriya, 26, from the city of Innsbruck. “Dark times are awaiting Muslims in Austria.”

Some Austrians are happy not to be in their home country at the moment. “I feel glad to not be in Austria right now. I fear that after the election outcome, which shows a very clear swing to the Right, racism and hatred could be much more explicit in daily life,” said Miriam Imarhiagbe, a law student from Vienna currently studying abroad. “Nevertheless, I also believe it should be important to be in the country and to oppose the current situation as much as possible,” she pointed out.

‘Clash of civilisations’

The strong show by the Conservatives as well as the Freedom Party can be explained in the context of the high-decibel anti-immigrant rhetoric they both used during the campaign. They slammed what the “left-wing liberals” did to their country by opening the borders to refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and emphasised that a “clash of civilisations” was unfolding in Europe.

The Conservatives’ campaign was mainly led by the Peoples Party’s 31-year-old leader Sebastian Kurz, who could become Austria’s youngest Chancellor. Mr. Kurz, whom Austrians call “Wunderwuzzi” or “the whiz kid”, once used to have liberal views on migration and refugee policies. But Mr. Kurz, who was the Foreign Minister in the outgoing government, changed his views later and even took credit for shutting down the so-called Balkan route immigrants were taking to reach Austria and Germany. In views that reflected the campaign of the far-right Freedom Party, Mr. Kurz also attacked distribution of social benefits among the newcomers.

Against this background, those who fear the current developments in Austria the most are the refugees themselves. “I fled from war and destruction and tried my best to start a new life in this country. However, my request for asylum hasn’t been replied to yet,” said Mustafa Zabuli, a 29-year-old refugee from Afghanistan. “Many of us [refugees] had noticed that there is a huge political campaign against us. We are literally the scapegoat for every problem. I’m very afraid that those who made this rhetoric now won the elections,” he told this writer in Innsbruck.

“My application for asylum has been rejected once. I expect that a right-wing government would deport me immediately,” said Ali Rezaee, another refugee from Afghanistan, living in Innsbruck at the moment.

Emran Feroz is a freelance journalist based in Stuttgart

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 4:46:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/austrias-political-shift-towards-right/article19896641.ece

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