FPÖ justifies ‘Moroccan thieves’ campaign

High-ranking representatives of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) have defended controversial slogans of the party’s Tyrolean department.

The rightist party’s Innsbruck branch warned from “Moroccan thieves” in rhyme on a recently presented poster. The slogan was part of the FPÖ’s campaign for the upcoming Innsbruck city hall ballot. Residents of the provincial capital of Tyrol will elect a new local parliament on 15 April.

FPÖ Innsbruck front runner August Penz apologised to the Moroccan government and the Moroccan community in Innsbruck on Sunday. He promised to remove the disputed posters within days. Penz took the full responsibility for the campaign slogans. He said offending the North African country and the Moroccan community in Tyrol has not been his intention.

Penz announced his U-turn shortly after it emerged that the Innsbruck prosecutors started investigations to find out whether the FPÖ could be charged for sedition. The Austrian foreign ministry condemned the FPÖ’s election campaign strategy. The ministry confirmed reports that the ambassador of Austria in Moroccan capital Rabat had been summoned by the Moroccan foreign ministry.

Now Gerald Hauser – who heads the FPÖ’s Tyrolean department – defended the slogans which were labelled by the Moroccan political leadership as “xenophobic”. Hauser said yesterday (Mon) his party wanted to “highlight a massive problem”. He added that “a thief will always be a thief.”

Harald Vilimsky, the general secretary of the federal FPÖ board, backed Hauser’s approach. He claimed that the number of crimes by immigrants were on the rise in the Tyrolean city. FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache did not comment on the controversy while the Moroccan embassy in Vienna said that Austria’s freedom of speech must not allow anyone to discriminate against a certain community or ethnic group.

Political scientists and commentators are at odds over whether the debate could boost the FPÖ or rather harm its strength. While some observers are certain that the latest controversy would help the FPÖ to strengthen its popularity among Austrians who feel disadvantaged towards foreigners, others think that the party could well do without any new scandals. Several former FPÖ ministers and lobbyists with links to the party are accused of pocketing millions of Euros in suspicious businesses in the past years. A parliamentary commission is currently trying to find out whether the accusations have any substance.

These occurrences – which have dominated the headlines for weeks – could mean a throwback for Strache’s attempts to position himself as the Robin Hood of politics. Research by public opinion institute Karmasin shows that 14 per cent of Austrians think that the FPÖ was burdened the most by the corruption and bribery allegations. Fifty-one per cent named the People’s Party (ÖVP). The ÖVP’s federal government coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPÖ), were blamed by nine per cent to be entangled in the scandals the worst of all political groups.