Jewish Journal

Defiant Actions

Haider's Far-Right Freedom Party Joins Austrian Government

by Ruth E. Gruber

Posted on Feb. 3, 2000 at 7:00 pm

A far-right party has forged an agreement to share power in Austria's government in defiance of an unprecedented European Union threat to penalize the country.

The strong condemnation of Freedom Party leader Jorg Haider by the Europeans and the world community brought back memories of a Jewish-led campaign to isolate Austria in the 1980s.

Then, Kurt Waldheim was elected president despite revelations that he concealed a Nazi past.

This time, Austria's 14 European Union partners, vowing to rebuff any anti-democratic trends within Europe, have taken on the battle to keep the Freedom Party, and particularly Haider, out of the halls of power.

Significantly, the E.U. move, announced Monday, came just days after leaders from 46 countries attended an international conference on the Holocaust in Stockholm which, among other things, called for more preventive diplomacy and an early warning system to alert leaders to racist problems that could escalate.

"If a party which has expressed xenophobic views, and which does not abide by the essential values of the European family, comes to power, naturally we won't be able to continue the same relations as in the past, however much we regret it," Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, whose government currently heads the European Union, told reporters Monday. "Nothing will be as before."

Haider's Freedom Party won more than 27 percent in general elections last October, becoming the country's second largest party and representing the biggest breakthrough by a far-right party in Europe since the end of World War II.

Wiesenthal Center Joins European Protest of Haider

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has expressed "grave concern" about the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party, led by Jorg Haider, in a new Austrian coalition government.

In a letter to Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, noted that Haider had visited the center's Museum of Tolerance twice to demand that his photo be removed from the museum's "Demagogue Wall."

Haider was informed that "the only way the photo would come down was if he changed his policies and began telling the truth about the SS and National Socialism and stopped his attempts to curry favor with extremists," Hier wrote.

At the same time, the American Jewish Committee applauded the stand by the 15-nation European Union to break off political contact with Austria if the Freedom Party is included in the next government. "The EU's forthright and principled response on a matter of great importance to defenders of human rights and tolerance everywhere is deeply appreciated," said AJC president Bruce M. Ramer. -- Tom Tugend, Conributing Editor

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