Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Fascist Etiquette
Learning to Live With Your Right-Wing Neighbor

By David G. Young

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2000 --  

When hundreds of French protesters gather outside a Paris embassy to denounce a world leader, it can only mean one thing: Nazis. The selection of Jorg Haider's anti-immigrant Freedom Party to form a government in Austria has rallied people across Europe to protest the specter of an allegedly neo-Fascist government coming to power in the European Union.1

In response, the EU's president, Antonio Guterres, has employed sanctions and tried to diplomatically isolate Austria.2 Israel, meanwhile, has recalled its ambassador.3 Protests against the new government have spread all over Europe.

Okay, everybody, it's time to calm down. Haider is no Hitler. At worst, he is a closeted fascist sympathizer and xenophobe who is attempting to downplay his ugly beliefs for the sake of popular acceptance. This is unattractive, maybe, but not exactly a major threat to the world. Even if Haider were Hitler's Brazilian-raised clone, it wouldn't make any difference. The conditions that led to the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1930s simply do not exist in Austria today. People are secure and prosperous, and the prospect of tiny Austria posing a military threat to Europe is laughable at best.

People who continually recount 10-year-old statements by Haider to prove his Nazi sympathies are wasting their time. It is impossible to know what is truly in the man's heart. Maybe he's an evil Teutonic supremacist. Or maybe he's just an insensitive loudmouth.

So what if Haider sympathizes with Nazis? Far worse political parties have been coalition partners in Western European governments. Hard-line Stalinists helped rule France in the 1980s.4 Unrepentant communists have participated in Italian governments within the past decade, as has the National Alliance, the neo-fascist heir to Mussolini's party.

The truth is that parties and labels don't really matter in the end. Actions do. And the ugliest of the Austrian Freedom Party's proposed actions -- curtailing immigration -- is hardly unique to Austria. Many Western countries have far more strict anti-immigrant laws than Austria. Japan, for instance, allows virtually no immigration (a policy supported by all major parties), yet does not suffer even a whimper of condemnation form the world community. Even the European Union, with its relatively liberal immigration laws, tightly restricts the number of non-EU citizens that can move within its borders.

If Europe's hysteric mobs are going to be so outraged about Haider's party, then they should be prepared to take a hard look at themselves. Is Europe willing to prove Haider wrong by opening its borders to let in the hard-working people from Africa and the Middle East that want to compete in its labor market? I doubt it. Given that European leaders pursue policies that are watered-down versions of Haider's proposals, the EU's sanctions are nothing short of hypocritical.

If democracy has value, then people must be empowered to make the wrong choice in leaders. If Austria chooses a xenophobic path, then it will likely lead to economic isolation and decline. This will serve as an example to voters -- in Austria as well as elsewhere -- not to make the same mistake again. This is precisely the course of events that has taken place this year in Croatia, where a severe recession and absence of European integration have led voters to throw out the nationalistic party of former president Franjo Tudjman in favor of liberal-minded reformers.

Unlike Tudjman, however, Haider will not be able to impose any violent ambitions (if he even has any) against ethnic minorities of Austria. The Freedom Party is but a partner in a more mainstream coalition, and the most sensitive government positions are not even going to Freedom Party members.

Since the consequences of the election are nil, trying to overthrow this popularly elected party -- even by diplomatic means -- is a mistake. Foreign punishment will only harden the resolve of the nationalistic Austrians who voted for Haider. Unless Europe is willing to impose an anti-Haider dictatorship on Austrians for the next 20 years (as the United States did against President Salvador Allende in Chile in the 1970s), its efforts will be for naught. The best thing for people to do is to just calm down and be quiet. The Austrians must learn for themselves that Haider is nothing but a wrong-headed embarrassment.


  1. The Washington Post, Anti-Haider Protests Continue in Europe, February 7, 2000
  2. The Associated Press, EU Imposes Sanctions on Austria, February 4, 2000
  3. The New York Times, Haider Sees Row With Israel Blowing Over, February 7, 2000
  4. The Washington Post, Haider Plays On Fears of Foreigners, February 6, 2000