Haider Seek
George Szamuely
New York Press


Never was the flatulence of our elite so embarrassingly on display as in its response to the entry into the Austrian government of Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party. The first to make a complete fool of himself was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Sounding like someone from central casting, Barak spluttered that "for every Jew in the world it is a highly disturbing signal." Then Shimon Peres chimed in: "[Hitler] was from Austria… Even Hitler came to power by so-called democratic means." Israel duly withdrew its ambassador from Vienna and announced that Haider would not be welcome in the country.

The European Union then announced that it would have nothing to do with Austria. Our rulers outdid one another in their total contempt for democratic procedures. Who cared what Austrians wanted? "The ideas of the Freedom Party," argued French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin rather menacingly, "are contradictory to the principles on which the European Union was founded... The aim is to make the Austrians wake up and see that this project is broken off." Jospin did not explain what these terrible "ideas" were. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel saw no purpose to Austria’s existence: "It’s too simplistic to say that we must keep Austria in Europe at all costs. I think Europe can very well do without Austria." German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder unquestionably won the championship for emitting the most gas. "If we make it clear that we want nothing to do with politicians like Herr Haider, that is not interfering in another country’s affairs," he explained. "It is an expression that we stand for a Europe based on values and that Herr Haider has constantly violated those values."

The extraordinary thing about all these pompous declarations is that no one bothered to explain what it is Haider is supposed to have done. Newspaper accounts kept repeating the same three or four utterances. Even by today’s hysterical "hunt the anti-Semite" standards the case against Haider is pretty thin. Since these statement are the only ones on offer we must assume that this is the best case against Haider there is.

First: "Our soldiers were not criminals, at most they were victims," he is alleged to have said in October 1990. This is staggeringly innocuous stuff. Haider may be wrong, but his use of the word "victims" hardly suggests an ardent Nazi. Second: "In the Third Reich they had an orderly employment policy." This was uttered in the middle of a June 1991 debate in the Carinthian state legislature. Taken out of context, it is hard to know what Haider meant. Is an "orderly employment policy" a good or a bad thing? Either way, Haider later apologized for the remark. Third: Haider once allegedly referred to Mauthausen as a "punishment camp." He later corrected himself, saying he meant "concentration camp."

And that’s the case against Haider. Not one phrase – and people have been searching assiduously – that sounds remotely anti-Semitic. Not one remark that denies the Holocaust. Not a single defense of Nazism. Not a single defense of the Anschluss. Yet from the screeching of U.S. officials you would have thought the swastika had been hoisted over the Hofburg palace. Slavishly courting the Jewish vote, Hillary Clinton wrote an ingratiating letter to World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman. "Haider’s record of intolerance, extremism and anti-Semitism," she wrote, "should be of concern to all of us. Neither he nor his party should be seriously considered as a partner in an Austrian government." Madeleine Albright – loathsome as ever – got into the act: "We’ll be watching, and we’ll take appropriate steps. There’s always a concern when countries don’t deal with their past."

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As it turns out, Austria’s moral failings pale in comparison with those of America’s new ally in the Middle East – Syria. Last week Tishreen, a state newspaper, published an article by its editor suggesting that Israel had exaggerated the Holocaust in order to win Western support for its expansionist policies. Albright seemed unable to muster the same rage she had directed against Haider. Al Gore – never one to let a sanctimonious cliche pass him by – intoned, "The world has suffered horribly in the past century at the hands of leaders who have used the tools of democracy to undermine the spirit and purpose of democracy."

As a matter of fact, it is hard to think of a movement less fascist than Haider’s. He is out to destroy the cozy division of spoils between the two established parties of Austria. The civil service has been politicized, as has the awarding of official jobs and even of business licenses. His "Contract with Austria" promises to keep taxes at 40 percent of GDP. It talks of breaking up the state monopoly on broadcasting, cutting politicians’ pay, reducing financial aid to political parties, abolishing press subsidies and ending state patronage of artists. He argues – correctly – that the Blairs and the Schroders, though they talk about the Third Way, are essentially creatures of the large corporations: "The gap between the pin-stripe socialists with regular spa holidays in the gardens of Tuscany and the little people in Austria has become unbridgeable." He is against throwing people out of work for the sake of "competitiveness." And – horror – he is opposed to the practice of importing cheap labor to drive down wages.

All of this makes him anathema to the Third Way mediocrities who run today’s West. The shrewdest comment came from – not surprisingly – Serbia. What is "happening around Austria," explained a government spokesman, "is only another example of interference in the internal affairs of other countries because it is obvious that anything is possible today in a Europe that serves America and not itself." Exactly. As long as Europeans keep following American norms of political correctness, the European Union will stay dead in the water.

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