Almost six years ago, Wolfgang Schussel, head of the conservative People's Party, who is still holding the post of Austria's chancellor, made a covenant with Jorg Heider's nationalist Freedom Party after it became the second largest party. This move enabled Schussel to turn defeat into victory, to realize his dream to become chancellor and to legitimize Heider and his party.
This was the first time in post-war Europe that a party with a fascist ideology and a yearning for the days of Hitler had entered the government. The Austrians took to the streets en masse. The European Union imposed sanctions. Israel recalled its ambassador. However, the protest dissolved quickly: On the first anniversary of the new regime, only a few hundred took to the streets of Vienna in protest, the European Union lifted its sanctions and even Israel returned its ambassador.
In the six years that have elapsed, the extreme Right has weakened the rule of law in Austria and it never missed an opportunity to harm minority and weaker population groups. Above all, it proved that it lacked any ruling power: Internal disputes led to the dissolving of the Freedom Party. Heider established a new party (Future Union) and was replaced by Heinz-Christian Strache, who competed against his predecessor with nationalistic populist propaganda mired in misanthropy.
The political instability created by the Freedom Party brought elections forward four years ago. Austria was given the opportunity to punish the People's Party for the sinful pact with Heider. However, Schussel and his party emerged stronger; they renewed the coalition with the nationalist Right despite being able to choose any partnership they wished due to their strength in numbers. According to many, this was proof that the pact with Heider was not a political-tactical exercise but rather an ideological partnership.
Last week the Austrians went to the polls once again. Although the power of the People's Party had diminished somewhat, the social democrats only succeeded in surpassing it by a little more than one percent.
This is the place to point out that in recent years the social democrats also allowed themselves to join local coalitions with Heider and his cronies whenever it was convenient for them.
The Freedom Party became the third largest party. Heider and his "Future" just about got through the threshold. Yet, if all the votes given to the nationalist parties are put together, figures will show that some 20 percent of the electorate once again voted for separatist nationalist movements. Namely, a fifth of all Austrians have a consistent fascistic nationalist inclination.
The new government must deal with the root causes. A symbolic move would be to oust Schussel from political activity. The outgoing chancellor embodies the ultimate symptom of the collective disease. His ousting may present the beginning of an in-depth attempt to address the fascists trends that have swept Austria.