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Western Press Review: Austria Flirts With International Ostracism

Prague, 2 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators across the West and across the political spectrum vent degrees of indignation against the growing possibility that Austria will admit a far-right party into a ruling coalition.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Austria will be inviting deserved pariah status

The Los Angeles Times offers in an editorial a succinct summary of the issue, as follows: "Joerg Haider, the charismatic Freedom Party leader, is notorious for occasionally voicing nostalgia for Austria's Nazi past. He says he wants to expel immigrants from the country and block any expansion of the EU to Eastern Europe. While Haider himself would not join a new government, his party would expect half the cabinet seats." The editorial subsequently says this: "Fair warning has been given. Austria will be inviting deserved pariah status if it rewards a party based on hate-mongering."

AFTENPOSTEN: It is not at all certain that the EU governments have chosen the right tactic

From Norway, the daily Aftenposten is critical principally of Haider and only somewhat less so of punitive tactics proposed by the EU. Norway is not an EU member. As an Aftenposten editorial puts it: "[Austria] is in a state of shock following statements by 14 EU governments that they will introduce political sanctions against [it]. The Freedom Party, and especially its leader Joerg Haider, have everything it takes to be disliked. His xenophobic and anti-European ideas are nasty enough, but what is so ghastly about him is his barely concealed sympathies for Fascism and the Nazis."

Aftenposten also says this: "Yet the EU's action raises a clear question of principle. It is calling for a boycott before a government has been formed, and before [the government] has been given the chance to articulate its program. Through their boycott, the EU states are interfering in the democratic process of another member state." The editorial concludes: "Joerg Haider and what he stands for must be opposed. But it is not at all certain that the EU governments have chosen the right tactic."

TO VIMA: Austria should be kicked out of the EU

In Greece yesterday, To Vima's Richardos Sometiris took a categorically opposite line of reasoning. Sometiris: "Austria should be kicked out of the EU." The writer continued: "It is said that Europe is concerned. But that is not enough. Europe should not accept these developments. If the Austrians want to try it, they can do so alone."

To Vima's commentator concluded: "If we accept the unbelievably foolish, politically selfish, populist game that is being played in Austria today, and if Europe takes no specific measures against it, we will have to concede that our common European democratic and progressive dream has been defeated. We must take the necessary measures to protect our democracies."

NEW YORK TIMES: The fight against corruption and Haider are one and the same

The New York Times today carries a commentary by internationally-known author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie recalls a celebration in Vienna three years ago on the 50th anniversary of Austria's liberation from Nazism. Rushdie was a speaker at that event.

Rushdie writes this: "It was clear to me that the event's more contemporary purpose was to give shape and voice to the good Austria, that passionate and substantial constituency of which surprisingly little is heard outside Austria itself. The supporters of Joerg Haider, head of Austria's Freedom Party, understood this too, and the rally accordingly became the focus of much ultra-rightist derision. Then, unfortunately, it began to rain. This was neo-Nazi rain, incessant, absolutist, intolerant, determined to have its way." Rushdie says he was delighted to see through the rain that many young, dedicated, liberal-minded Austrians braved the weather to declare through their presence their opposition to Nazism. He then writes: "That memory makes the news of Joerg Haider's surge toward power -- eerily reminiscent of the career of the Hitlerish central figure in Brecht's Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui -- all the more unpalatable."

Defenders of a new order in Austria say that the old order was corrupt. Rushdie's commentary says this: "They're right, and the fight against that corruption and the fight against Joerg Haider are one and the same. The European Union must devote as much energy to rooting out the slush fund artists in its own ranks as to closing ranks against Haider and his Freedom Party."

DIE PRESSE: A poor image is bad for business

The Austrian press, understandably, has pointed views on the Freedom Party controversy. In Die Presse, Josef Urschitz laments that the EU criticism will harm Austria's economy.

As Urschitz puts it: "We've done it. Austria now has pariah status in Europe, which is all that the economy needs. Whoever now says this [political crisis] would have no measurable effect on the economy is making the same mistake as those who believed they could take political steps without reference to the EU's opinion."

The writer concludes with this: "Tourism will not collapse, nor will Austrian exports suddenly plunge. But whoever thinks that a poor image is not bad for business in the long term should reflect on why large companies invest such great sums in public relations."

DIE PRESSE: Masochists punches yet to fall are the loveliest

Another Die Presse commentator, Guenter Nenning, says that Austrians, in their embrace of Haider, are engaging in national masochism. And now Brussels, the writer says with heavy irony, adds to the masochistic pleasure by its punitive effort.

Nenning: "Ignorant foreigners expected extremist blows from Haider [that never came]. Haider does not demoralize [Austrians] with fascist punches, but rather he denies us. For masochists, it isn't the punches they take that are the loveliest, but rather the ones that have yet to fall -- those fulfill our sweetest expectations."

WASHINGTON POST: Other governments are entitled to use diplomatic and other means at their disposal

The Washington Post says in an editorial that the EU's hardline stance on Austria's development caused some Austrian leaders to harden their own positions. The newspaper says this in an editorial: "Backlash was immediate in a country already known for circling the wagons at any hint of international pressure."

The Post concedes that, in its words, "As a matter of sovereignty, Austrians are entitled to vote for whomever they please." But, the newspaper says: "Other governments are entitled -- indeed, obliged -- to use diplomatic and other means at their disposal to make clear their condemnation."

ELEFTHEROTYPIA: The EU reaction is not only ill-considered, it is also dangerous

Another commentary from Greece, this one an editorial in Eleftherotypia yesterday, expressed incredulity. Eleftherotypia put it this way: "After the bloodbath of Europe and the Nazi atrocities, it is hard to believe that an extremist right-wing neo-Nazi party could come to the threshold of power."

The editorial said this also: "This is a grave problem and it is rightly causing concern in the European Union, of which Austria is a member. Yet the reaction of the European Union is not only ill-considered, it is also dangerous. The 14 remaining EU countries' threat to isolate [sets] a bad precedent of interference by Brussels in the domestic affairs of a member state. It is also giving Haider the opportunity to become a [martyred] hero."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Haider is a convenient scapegoat for certain politicians

The German press published much commentary on the topic yesterday. Today, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Dirk Schuemer adds this: "Joerg Haider is a strange bird: One can describe him as a populist loudmouth, a power-hungry cynic, a shrewd representative of interests, and even though it's a bit unlikely, a committed rightwing extremist and anti-Semite. Yet at the moment Haider is playing a role that even he couldn't have imagined, that of a founding father of Europe."

Thanks to Haider, Schuemer writes, the EU has left its dry bureaucratic routine to enter the world of symbolic politics. The writer continues: "Certainly a Haider who respects the Waffen SS as a body of upstanding people, who calls concentration camps 'prisons' and who praises the orderly employment policy of the Nazis is a repellent fellow. But could it be that, in the current dance of Holocaust remembrance from Stockholm to Berlin, this Haider is a convenient scapegoat for certain politicians?"

(Susan Caskie in Prague, Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen, and Alexis Papasotiriou in Athens contributed to this press review.)