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Austrians Praise Deceased Nazi Admirer Haider Print E-mail

By Benjamin Weinthal
JPost Correspondent in Berlin
October 19, 2008

"He was a remarkable person" and one should "pay tribute to him," was how Social Democratic Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer described right-wing extremist politician Joerg Haider at Haider's funeral ceremony in Klagenfurt, Austria on Saturday.

While local Austrian authorities declared an inebriated Haider to have died as the result a high-speed car crash last week, Karlheinz Klement, a former member of Haider's ex-party, the Freedom Party, asserted that the Mossad had assassinated him. Klement's conspiracy thesis is circulating among Austrian neo-Nazi and right-wing internet forums.

In the mid 1990s, Haider proclaimed the Freedom Party "to be the PLO of Austria" at a party event. He split from the Freedom Party in 2005 and formed the Alliance for the Future of Austria, a hard-line, reactionary and anti-foreigner party based in the Federal State of Carinthia, where he served as governor.

Haider was notorious for his praise of Nazi employment policies and the Waffen SS, an organization devoted to exterminating European Jewry.

The Waffen SS are "decent individuals with character, who stick to their beliefs despite strong opposition and remain true to them today as well. That is a good basis, my dear friends, for us younger people to inherit," said Haider at meeting of the Veterans of the Waffen SS in Carinthia, Austria.

Haider's funeral turned into a day of national mourning and 30,000 Austrians flocked to the Carinthian capital of Klagenfurt to attend the service, which was covered live by Austria's national broadcaster, ORF.

Given Haider's anti-Semitic and xenophobic views, and taking into account that he represents a rallying point for Europe's radical right, it was an astonishing show of political solidarity as Austria's heads of state and political parties paid tribute to him. Chancellor Gusenbauer said Haider had had "an excellent feeling for what needs to be changed" in Austrian politics.

Heinz Fischer, the Social Democratic president, said Haider's death was a "human tragedy," and that he had been a "politician with great talents."

The ex-head of the Austrian Green Party, Alexander Van der Bellen, said Haider had been "an exceptional politician, highly qualified to inspire people and win [them] over."

The conservative People's Party vice chancellor Wilhelm Molterer said Haider hadn't minced his words, and therefore "deserves great respect."

The Social Democratic president of the Austrian parliament, Barbara Prammer, recognized the great political and life achievements of Haider, who helped shaped Austria's political landscape over the decades.

The praise for Haider contradicts the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) statement issued to The Jerusalem Post shortly before the national election in late September. In response to the Post's question about whether Austria had a "special responsibility" toward Israel due to Austrian complicity with Germany during the Holocaust, Andreas Schieder, the SPÖ State Secretary in the Chancellery, wrote: "That is also the basis for the commitment: prevent the beginnings. Never forget - no more fascism.

"However, we are painfully aware of what the chancellor at the time, Franz Vranitzky, noted in a speech before the Knesset in 1991. Austrians were not only victims, but also perpetrators. The SPÖ will continue to fight anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and any form of National Socialist ideology."

Heribert Schiedel, an expert on right-wing extremism at the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance, a prominent think-tank in Vienna, told the Post that political statements from Austrian parties regarding Israel are "insignificant, ineffective and meaningless."

When asked about the across-party-lines praise for Haider, Schiedel told the Post that "it is an expression of an underdeveloped Democracy and political culture" in Austria that Haider helped to shape.

Haider and his party epitomized an aggressive anti-Israeli agenda, with a foreign policy supporting alliances with the Iranian Mullah regime, Iraq under the rule of former tyrant Saddam Hussein, who Haider visited several times in Baghdad, and the Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.

Haider had welcomed an Iranian economic delegation to Carinthia in July 2007 at a time when both the European Union and the US sought to discourage trade with Iran due to its uranium enrichment program, which could be used to make nuclear weapons.

He demanded that the "responsible warmongers" in Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 be summoned before a war crimes tribunal, and that Austria evict the Israeli Ambassador in Vienna. Israel's right to self-defense against Hamas rocket attacks and Hizbullah terror activity played no role in Haider's foreign policy views.

He fanned the flames of Austrian anti-Semitism, blasting the head of the Austrian Jewish Community, Ariel Muzicant, as a "Zionist provocateur in the West" who wanted to silence criticism of Israel with the "club of Anti-Semitism."

Haider also criticized Muzicant for seeking to end flight connections with the Iran.

Some Austrians felt that the major media in Austria had watered down their criticism of Haider and employed flimsy excuses to justify his anti-Democratic and anti-Israeli statements as well as his crude defenses of the Hitler movement.

Columnist Gudrun Harrer wrote a controversial analysis in the left-liberal daily Der Standard entitled: "Many Arabs considered Haider 'the Lion.'"

She argued that "This 'attitude,' Haider's view of the Arab and Islamic world and his sympathy for its undemocratic regimes, is complex: One might see his anti-Americanism and his recourse to political incorrectness as coming from his questionable interpretation of European history or as a reaction to his own rejection, especially by Israel, which called its ambassador back from Vienna in 2000 because of the FPO's participation in the government. In addition, Haider was probably simply also seeking a way to gain international prominence, and nobody else wanted him."

Schiedel, from the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance, considers Harrer's commentary to be "highly problematic" because it shifts the "guilt to the Israelis and Jews" for Haider's views and plays down his distorted understanding of Nazi history.

 

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