While many American commentators on both the left and the right are hyperventilating about the “rise of the neo-Nazi right” in Austria, it’s refreshing to see a voice of common sense appear. What makes it doubly refreshing is the fact that this op-ed was published in The Jerusalem Post, and was written by Ian Buruma — who is not known as a right-wing extremist, to say the least.
If Ian Buruma and The Jerusalem Post are not worried about a Nazi revival in Austria, why should anybody else be?
Europe’s Far-Right Revival Isn’t Nazism
By Ian Buruma
Two far-right parties, the Austrian Freedom Party and the Movement for Austria’s Future, managed to win 29 percent of the vote in the recent general elections in Austria. This is double what they got in the elections of 2006.
Both parties share the same attitudes toward immigrants, especially Muslims, and the European Union: a mixture of fear and loathing. Because the leaders of the two parties, Heinz-Christian Strache and Jorg Haider, can’t stand each other, there is little chance of a far-right coalition actually taking power. Nonetheless, this is Adolf Hitler’s native land, where Jews were once forced to scrub the streets of Vienna with toothbrushes before being deported and killed, so the result is disturbing. The question is: How disturbing?
Twenty-nine percent is about 15% more than populist right-wing parties usually get even in very good (for them) years in other European countries.
Strache, leader of the Freedom Party, wants the government to create a new ministry to manage the deportation of immigrants. Muslims are openly disparaged by leaders of both parties. Haider once praised the employment practices of Hitler’s Third Reich. Inevitably, the new rightists bring back memories of storm troopers and race laws.
Yet to see the rise of the Austrian right as a revival of Nazism would be a mistake. For one thing, neither party is advocating violence, even if some of their rhetoric might inspire it. For another, it seems to me that voters backing these far-right parties may be motivated less by ideology than by anxieties and resentments that are felt in many European countries, including ones with no Nazi tradition, such as the Netherlands and Denmark.
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In Denmark, the hard-right Danish People’s Party is the third-largest party, with 25 parliamentary seats. Dutch populists such as Rita Verdonk, or Geert Wilders, who is driven by a paranoid fear of “Islamization,” are putting the traditional political elites — a combination of liberals, social democrats and Christian democrats — under severe pressure.
AND THIS is precisely the point. The biggest resentment among supporters of the right-wing parties in Europe these days is reserved not so much for immigrants as for political elites that, in the opinion of many, have been governing for too long in cozy coalitions, which appear to exist chiefly to protect vested interests.
All this is linked to resentment about immigrants. When the offspring of workers from countries such as Turkey and Morocco in the 1960s began to form large Muslim minorities in European cities, it caused tensions in working-class neighborhoods. Complaints about crime and unfamiliar customs were often dismissed by the liberal elites as racism. People simply had to learn to be tolerant.
This advice was not necessarily wrong. Tolerance, European unity, distrust of nationalism and vigilance against racism are all laudable goals. But promoting these aims without discussion, much less criticism, has resulted in a backlash. When the Dutch, the French and the Irish voted against the European Constitution, they were expressing their distrust of the political elites. And populists who promise to restore national sovereignty by rejecting “Europe,” fighting “Islamization” and kicking out the immigrants are also exploiting this distrust.
The rhetoric of xenophobia and chauvinism is unpleasant, to be sure, and, especially in a country with Austria’s past, even hateful. But the new populism is not yet undemocratic or even anti-democratic. The phrase most often heard in Austria among those who support the right-wing parties is “fresh air.” People say they voted for Haider or Strache to break the stranglehold of the ruling parties.
Mr. Buruma is no friend of the Right. Notice that he thinks “Geert Wilders… is driven by a paranoid fear”, that Dansk Folkeparti is “hard-right”, and “[t]he rhetoric of xenophobia and chauvinism is unpleasant”.
And yet his conclusion is sound: the Austrian election is not a sign of resurgent Nazism. It’s a signal that the voters are fed up with the stranglehold that the elites and their Multicultural ideology have on the Austrian (and European) political process.
So… if Ian Buruma can write common sense in the pages of an Israeli newspaper, does that mean the end of Nazi-hysteria in the American press concerning the right-wing parties of Europe?
Don’t bet on it.
Hat tip: Occidental Soapbox.