Bosses of Austria’s strongest right-wing faction are struggling to settle an intense party-internal dispute which experts say poses a risk to its grasp for power.
Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer, Strache’s deputy, recently announced that member of the parliament (MP) Werner Königshofer will be expelled over a string of controversial claims. The Tyrolean politician wrote on the internet shortly after a massacre in Norway that the “Islamic threat has struck Europe a thousand times more often.”
Self-proclaimed Christian warrior Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people in Oslo and on a nearby lake island on 22 July. He is in custody and faces a trial for murder. Writing about the killings, Königshofer said the “death of millions of unborn children all over Europe” by abortion on demand should also be deplored.
Strache and Hofer explained they decided to dismiss Königshofer as it was not the first time the right-winger made disputed statements. Now Martin Graf said he expected a discussion to follow on whether Königshofer had to go due to what he wrote on the internet. Graf – a long-time FPÖ MP and representative of the opposition party’s far-right circles – announced yesterday (Sun) he “respects” the decision, but added that there were “many things to discuss” for his faction.
Graf – the federal parliament’s third president – said “other areas of threat must not be neglected” in the wake of a drama as the massacre in Norway. The FPÖ official also claimed he was not aware of what Königshofer said in detail. Graf added he could imagine that many accusations brought forward against him were “exaggerated” by political rivals. Graf warned the FPÖ must not indirectly support “left-wing agitation.” The parliament’s third president also revealed that the freedom of press in Austria was at risk in his opinion.
Hofer counterattacked on the same day. The party’s deputy leader announced the FPÖ board to confirm the preliminary decision to expel Königshofer “due to the large number of unacceptable statements and actions” by Königshofer. Strache said a few days ago Königshofer’s points of view “strongly contradict the FPÖ’s ideology.”
Hofer referred to sports by explaining that Königshofer was shown the red card after he was booked. Königshofer made clear shortly after news that he will have to leave the party emerged that he will appeal the decision.
Strache said he was “shocked” by alleged attempts to link his party to far-right extremists in Europe. Breivik thanked his “brothers and sisters in Austria” in his manifesto. Both the FPÖ and its main right-wing rival, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), are positively mentioned in the 1,500-page document.
Breivik, 32, also linked articles by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff who was ordered to pay a fine of 480 Euros for calling the Koran “evil” and Islam “hostile.” The verdict – which was announced in February – is not yet legally binding. Sabaditsch-Wolff made the disputed statements in a congress organised by the FPÖ’s academy, which receives public money, in Vienna two years ago. She was found guilty of vilifying religious theories. Sabaditsch-Wolff said in her speech that Islamic prophet Mohamed “enjoyed having something going on with kids”. She also claimed: “Muslims want war, they hate us”.
Hofer told the Kurier newspaper he got to know Sabaditsch-Wolff “as someone who strictly opposes violence.” She was part of a group of European right-wingers who met with Israeli nationalists last December. Another member of the travelling committee to Israel was Strache – who said attempts to make his party responsible for Breivik’s theories and actions were “primitive.”
The FPÖ did well in most recent federal and provincial ballots. The right-wing party garnered 17.5 per cent in the general election of 2008, 6.5 per cent more than in 2006. It could come first in the next general vote, according to analysts. Austrians will be asked to head to the polls in 2013 unless the government coalition of SPÖ and People’s Party (ÖVP) collapses before the scheduled date. However, political scientists said the various scandals the FPÖ was entangled in recently could harm its attempt to become more popular among swing voters and people who supported modest parties representing the political centre before.
Meanwhile, Federal President Heinz Fischer warned Austria must not allow a crime like Oslo murders to “eliminate its democratic achievements.” The former Social Democratic MP and president of the parliament said: “Total public security is impossible.” He added that “emotional cries for more or utmost security” “were no surprise.”
Fischer said Austria should uphold a “balance between freedom and necessary restrictions to guarantee people’s safety.” He also called for more dialogue. “We have learned that international problems cannot be solved with violence but only with negotiations and dialogue. It is the same with domestic issues. Arguing in a fair, rational and calm way plays an important role in trying to diminish aggressive circumstances in politics,” the president told the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper, adding that he was strictly against any kind of hostility “towards religious beliefs, nationalities and languages.”
Other Austrian politicians called for a “disarmament of words” in society and domestic politics.