A right-wing member of the federal parliament (MP) has retired from politics after coming under fire for belittling a massacre.
Fellow Freedom Party (FPÖ) members and left-wing competitors hit out at Werner Königshofer after he felt urged to emphasise that the “Islamic threat has struck Europe a thousand times more often” than self-styled Christian warriors like Anders Behring Breivik. Königshofer made the remark in an article published on his website called “Königstiger”. The term is not just German for Bengal tiger or King Tiger but also the colloquial name for a tank used by Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht force in World War Two (WWII).
Breivik murdered 77 people by placing a car bomb in the city centre of Oslo, Norway, and gunning participants of a tent camp on a nearby lake island on 22 July. He faces life in jail for murder. Königshofer said in the same article – which went online only days after the Norwegian tragedy occurred – that the “death of millions of unborn children all over Europe” by abortion on demand should also be deplored.
FPÖ deputy leader Norbert Hofer announced Königshofer would be expelled for his remarks after his statements caused outrage in Austria and abroad. Königshofer, who was member of a far-right movement before joining the FPÖ in 1987, said he was unaware of such a decision by the FPÖ board in a first reaction in August. The disputed right-winger added he expected FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache to speak to him about it. Strache was on holiday when the controversy erupted. He distanced himself and the party he has headed since 2005 from Königshofer’s statements on the killings in Norway.
Now it emerged that Königshofer left the parliament. The office of parliamentary president Barbara Prammer of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) – which forms a government coalition with the People’s Party (ÖVP) – announced today that Königshofer’s seat was vacant. He has not attended any parliamentary meetings since the scandal. Prammer’s office explained Königshofer had cited health reasons in a letter informing her of his retirement as MP.
The FPÖ explained it decided to kick Königshofer out since his words “harmed the party’s reputation.” The Tyrolean politician vowed to stay in federal parliament as an independent MP before failing to turn up for any sessions. Strache announced Königshofer’s points of view “strongly contradict the FPÖ’s ideology” while Hofer explained he was “shown the red card” after being booked. Strache also said he was “shocked” by some commentators’ attempts to link the FPÖ to Europe’s far-right extremism movements after it emerged that Breivik thanked his “brothers and sisters in Austria” in a 1,500-page manifesto.
State prosecutors are currently investigating against Königshofer over allegations he cooperated with managers of a controversial homepage. The website – which features a discussion forum in which neo-Nazis from German-speaking Europe debate political developments – is banned under Austrian law. It was taken offline despite being run via a server located in the United States after officials in the country decided to cooperate with their colleagues in Austria. However, the internet site appeared online only a few days later under a slightly different address. Königshofer is suspected of providing those who run the website with information from parliament. He denies having anything to do with the homepage on which Strache has been praised but also criticised.
The remarks on the Norwegian massacre were not the first incident with which Königshofer created an outcry. He was harshly attacked for denouncing a homosexual member of the provincial parliament of Tyrol as a “professional fag”. Königshofer also called on Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, to show more effort in sorting out issues regarding his “gay brothers”.
The latest Königshofer controversy highlights the FPÖ’s current challenges. New polls show that the party could win the next federal ballot. Analysts say the right-wing party – which is traditionally strong among protest voters – has good chances to claim first place in 2013. They explain the FPÖ’s election performance will also depend on the actions of the government coalition of SPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP).
The current SPÖ-ÖVP administration term is, as several legislatives in the past, overshadowed by public conflicts high-ranking representatives of Austria’s two strongest factions have engaged in. The coalition is at odds over if and how the army’s conscription system should be reformed. The SPÖ calls for a scaled-down, professional military since last year after having backed the current system for decades. Another disputed issue is the question to which extent the bloated public administration and the country’s inefficient health sector should be reformed.
The coalition’s war of words on a possible increase of taxes on assets is intensifying as well. The Social Democrats want to implement a special taxation on the country’s 90,000 richest households. The party’s coalition partner opposes such an idea. However, more and more ÖVP officials have shown support for a so-called millionaire’s tax after Erwin Pröll, the influential ÖVP governor of Lower Austria, suggested the wealthiest Austrians could be asked to pay higher taxes for a certain period.
The FPÖ is expected to overtake the ÖVP in the next general vote. Some experts think it will also outmuscle the SPÖ depending on whether the government manages to solve Austria’s most urgent problems. Political scientists explain that the FPÖ struggles to position itself these days after having focused on an “against everything” policy for many years. The party, which performed well in various provincial elections across the country in recent years, currently tries to win over people who previously supported Austria’s established political movements – without losing the trust of its core group of voters consisting of people with a right-wing mindset and those who feel disadvantaged and left alone by the state. Scandals such as the Königshofer issue seriously harmed the FPÖ’s new strategy of presenting itself as a party ready to lead.
Research group Karmasin – which spoke with 500 Austrians for political magazine profil – found that 26 per cent would currently back the FPÖ in a federal ballot, up by two per cent in October 2010. The FPÖ garnered 17.5 per cent in the most recent general election which was held in September 2008. Twenty-nine per cent of Austrians would support the Social Democrats of Chancellor Werner Faymann (October 2010: 30 per cent). The ÖVP, which is headed by Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, plummeted from 28 per cent to 23 per cent. Eva Glawischnig’s Greens improved by three to 15 per cent. The Alliance for the Future of Austria – which was founded by late FPÖ chairman Jörg Haider six and a half years ago – dropped from four to three per cent, according to Karmasin.