Austria’s Far-Right Ruling Party Seeks to Erase its Pro-Nazi Image

Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) head Johann Gudenus,
(L to R) Head of the parliamentary group of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe), Johann Gudenus, MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) and Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl talk to the press as part of a meeting on February 13, 2018 in Vienna, Austria. Photo: AFP

Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) announced Tuesday a bid to clean up its pro-Nazi image by appointing a committee of historians to look into its history. The move comes two months after the party, launched by former Nazis, joined the government and follows a series of scrapes involving its members.

In late January a regional official caught up in a scandal over a 1997 student fraternity songbook with lyrics glorifying Nazis was forced to resign.

“There’s been a lot of criticism of the FPOe, much of it unjustified, some, we have to say, justified,” parliamentary group leader Walter Rosenkranz told a press conference.

“We face the latent criticism that within the FPOe Nazi and neo-Nazi ideas are tolerated. No, they are not tolerated and those who think they can impose such ideas on us have nothing to do in the party,” he added.

Former FPOe MP and retired university professor Wilhelm Brauneder will chair the committee of researchers and representatives of independent bodies. These will include the DOW resistance archive centre, which specialises in Nazism and neo-Nazism and has been a powerful critic of the FPOe.

The party issued a statement Tuesday saying it “recognises without reserve the Republic of Austria, democracy, parliamentarianism and the rule of law.” The FPOe’s position on the Austrian state has long been perceived as ambiguous, with one faction still considering the country annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a German province.

“As members of the government, we have a special responsibility,” said FPOe general secretary Harald Vilimsky, adding that the party “clearly rejects Nazism, racism and anti-semitism.”

The new committee of historians, who are to produce a first report in the autumn, was promised last month by deputy chancellor and FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache.

Mr. Strache, who flirted with neo-Nazism in his youth, has toned down the hardline rhetoric and expelled party members for overstepping the mark since taking over from Joerg Haider in 2005.

The FPOe, which has 51 MPs and ministers, is still viewed with suspicion by Austria’s main Jewish organisation, as well as Israel which boycotts official contact with the party.