In spite of all the doom and gloom which we are often faced with reporting, there are some stories on occasion that give us reason for optimism. In all of Europe, these are few and far between, but the new Austrian coalition government is one such story. Against all the odds, the FPÖ are back in government, despite concerted efforts by the enemies of nationhood to keep them out. This time, they’re the nominally junior partner beside the centre-right ÖVP, but their strong election showing has ensured that they hold the balance of power in Austria. They are the kingmakers of a political scene that has for too long been the sole domain of the establishment gerontocracy, and their presence in government after just 48 hours has given us great cause for the hope of a better future.
Firstly, and arguably most importantly, the FPÖ have secured a number of top cabinet positions, including the Vice-Chancellery. Too often we have seen nationalist parties used by the establishment parties as a means to clinging onto power, and then fobbed off with a few insignificant ministries and portfolios of little consequence. This time appears to be different. FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache is now the proud holder of the position of Vice-Chancellor, and the nationalists will also control key ministries such as the Interior (Herbert Kickl), Defence and Infrastructure (Norbert Hofer) portfolios, whilst the foreign ministry is the domain of an independent minister nominated by the Freedom Party. Aside from the obvious prestige and legitimacy a party or movement gains from such high profile appointments from their ranks, the FPÖ now finds itself in a position of rarity for nationalist movements as a result of aforesaid appointments; they can actually change things!
We spend such great amounts of time obsessing over 1 seat here or a few thousand votes there, that it often becomes all-to-easy to forget the very reason we involve ourselves in politics in the first place. To change society for the better must always be our sole purpose in the political arena, or else our motives for entering it are personal and impure. The FPÖ are in a unique position in Europe, in that they can make that difference that they’ve set out to. Of course, there is no suggestion that it’s merely a matter of imposing one’s will on a state; no, they will face many obstacles, not least their centre-right partners who will be undoubtedly hostile to some of their more radical demands. They will have to make compromises, and in some areas will be forced to disappoint their radically but erstwhile followers.
Yet the early signs, as I alluded to briefly earlier, are very positive indeed. Already, just 24 hours after the new government was sworn in, their immediate agenda was set; a series of new anti-migrant policies, the promise of citizenship for Austrian residents of South Tyrol (which has royally upset the Italian social democrats), expanding democratic participation via referendums, and revoking the smoking ban, amongst other things. This is the second point from which we should draw great optimism. After all, a government should be judged on what it does, not what it says it will do during an election campaign. And so far, the signs are looking very promising indeed, as the new cabinet hits the ground running this week.
Finally, and a point to be forgotten at our peril, is the relatively muted reaction of both the domestic opposition and international opinion, in comparison with the Freedom Party’s previous stints in government. In 2000, when the FPÖ entered into a similar coalition arrangement with the People’s Party, hysteria boiled over; 150,000 protesters flocked to Vienna’s small streets to protest the “Nazis in the government”, whilst the liberal democracies of the west – egged on by the European Union – froze diplomatic relations and smacked sanctions on the small central European state. Today, there is quite a contrast; around 5,000 protesters at most made it to Vienna’s centre to protest over the last few days, whilst none of Europe’s states that were faux-outraged 17 years ago have so much as blinked in response to this new government. Even staunch Europhile and enemy of nations Jean-Claude Juncker has praised the government’s pro-European sentiment, becoming visibly annoyed when outrage-baiting journalists repeatedly questioned him on the “far-right”‘s participation in Austria’s cabinet.
So, many will tonight be asking, what’s the difference? Why is there such calm today, when just 17 years ago the world seemed outraged? Quite simply, the Overton Window is shifting in our favour. However, a word of caution; this is not necessarily as a result of a successful PR campaign conducted by any nationalistic party or grouping in Europe. Whilst it is true that nationalism in Austria, France and Germany has become more adept at softening images and wooing the general public, this has been remarkably ineffective in comparison with how social democracy has driven ordinary people to nationalism. This has been as a result of people, after analysing objectively what the liberals and leftists have done to our countries, simply recognising that the nationalists are right.
This, in turn, gives rise to further optimism. Consider for a moment that nationalism is beginning to succeed without any charismatic archetypes, or without a slick and successful propaganda campaign. Then imagine how far we could go if we did have these things! The possibilities are truly endless, given the marked improvement nationalism has made in just a few short years, without any media coverage, big donors or solid personalities. That said, Austria does have some fine nationalist personalities. Strache, for one, is a presentable and reasonably personable man, and the same goes for Norbert Hofer who garnered almost 50% of the vote in last year’s presidential election. Yet still, they have been deprived of fair media coverage, and starved of campaign cash as a result of liberal terror against any prospective donors.
So with all things considered, I would suggest that Austria is a shining light in this sea of seemingly endless darkness. The Freedom Party’s victory demonstrates that success is possible, and the implementation of our ideas is not necessarily light years away. Granted, it may take us some time to fully impose our program and agenda on society comprehensively. However, this is simply the beginning, the first of many steps towards our most beautiful social goals. A sign that victory, however implausible, is never impossible.