The Heider phenomenon or the danger of the revival of right-wing extremism

Jörg Haider:

- June 1991: “The Third Reich had a thorough work policy”. After the scandal caused by this remark, Heider added: “I would like to unequivocally state that this remark did not have the meaning that you attributed to it. If this makes you less worried, I retract it and offer my apologies.” However, this remark led to Heider’s resignation from the office of governor of Karynthia.

- February 1995. During a parliamentary debate Haider evoked the “disciplinary camps of the National-Socialism”. That same day he retracted his statement and claimed he meant to say “concentration camps”.

- September 1995. While at a reunion of the Second World War combatants (including Waffen SS veterans) Haider said: “There are still honest people of strong character who stick to their convictions: despite the opposition they encountered, they stuck to their convictions up to the present”.

- December 1995. “The Waffen SS troops were part of the Wermacht and this is why they are entitled to the respect and the honors that any army deserves.”

- Summer of 1998. “Austria has 300.000 unemployed people and 300.000 declared immigrants.”

    In a recent interview given to the Budapest press, chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel tried to make himself clear. He said that the Austrians had had it with the cabinets dominated by the Social-Democrats, who failed to solve most of the country’s problems in 13 years. He also mentioned that 70% of the citizens were willing to give the new Conservative-extreme right-wing Government a chance. Therefore, organizing new elections would have certainly led to the victory of Haider’s party. The chancellor guaranteed that, as long as he would lead the cabinet, all democratic principles would be observed. The Liberty Party was forced to sign an agreement to this very end.

    One of the consequences of Second World War , namely the extermination in the death camps of 6 million Jews (together with other millions of citizens in the countries occupied by the Nazis), only on the grounds that they belonged to a different race or nation, led to the gradual acknowledgement of the fact that the new political world order settled after the war could not allow such a phenomenon to happen again. It became apparent that, in order to suppress any attempt of genocide (be it ethnical or not), the international community must create laws and organizations and must take strong measures (including military interventions) so as to stop the occurrence or the proliferation of such attempts.

    The solutions (maybe far from perfect) in Bosnia and the recent air operation conducted by NATO in Kosovo are illustrative of this philosophy. The principle of the non-involvement in the domestic affairs is gradually changing its meaning. It is no longer interpreted in a rigid way, as the respect for the human rights prevails over the idea of non-involvement. Nicole Fontaine, president of the European Parliament, reaffirmed this point of view. She declared in Jerusalem that the “very firm” reaction of the EU towards the extreme right-wing’s access to power in Austria can be explained by the fact that the European Union is “a community of values, not only a free exchange area”. “We were not inspired by Israel; our reactions were spontaneous”, she added, referring to the measures taken by Israel to recall its ambassador and to drastically diminish its contacts with Austria.

    Massimo d’Alema, president of Italy’s State Council underlined in his turn the fact that EU’s actions against the Austrian government cannot be considered “an interference in Austria’s domestic affairs or a socialist plot.” “The rejection of racism is compulsory; otherwise, one cannot be a part of Europe”, he said.

    The US secretary of state, Madeline Albright, repeatedly stated that Washington would keep an eye on Austria in order to make sure that the new government “observes its promises concerning democratic pluralism and human rights.” She specifically referred to “the importance of the protection of the rights of minorities and immigrants, as well as the solving of some problems that have been on hold ever since the Holocaust.”

    Paradoxically, Jörg Haider’s political success originates in the very democratic principles promoted by Austria and in its membership in the European Union. After Second World War until the fall of the Iron Curtain Austria was a country open to immigrants. Its very permissive legislation in this field made it easy for hundreds of thousands of Eastern fugitives to obtain political asylum. In 1956 Austria opened its borders to receive scores of thousands of Hungarians seeking refuge after the defeat of the Revolution. In 1989 the country re-opened its borders for the thousands of East-German refugees coming from Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

    Unemployment, whose main cause was not immigration, was very well exploited by Haider’s political agenda. For years, he has been explaining his fellow-Austrians that immigrants are to be held responsible for the unemployment and that they should consequently be expelled from the country.

    The rise to power of an extreme right-wing party in a Europe with democratic traditions and the absence of condemnation against this evolution represent a strong stimulant for other European parties of similar orientation, which unfortunately still exist. Belgium has already shown its concern regarding the future of the Flemish Block (of extreme right-wing orientation itself), which experienced an increase in popularity.

    In France, even if the election law did not allow Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political group to enter the Parliament, his party won many seats of council people at the regional and local elections and is represented in the European Parliament. Closer to us, after the most recent legislative elections in Hungary, in 1998, the Party of Truth and Life led by the extremist Istvan Csurka entered the State Assembly.

    As Israeli prime-minister, Ehud Barak, declared, this new Austrian government is the proof that “many efforts are still needed in order to fight against racism. Israel considers the global mobilization for a war against neo-Nazism, racism and xenophobia to be an absolute priority.”

Auschwitz? never heard of it…

    A poll was conducted in France and Germany at the beginning of this year aiming at assessing the knowledge that 14-18-year old teenagers have about the events related to the extermination of the Jews during Second World War . The results are discouraging and prove once again how necessary it is to undertake a vast action of educating the new generation so that the tragedies of the past may never repeat themselves.

    65% of the German teenagers and 76% of the French did not know the answer to the question “What is the Holocaust?”. However, 55% of the German teenagers and 49% of the French had heard of the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka. Most of the German teenagers (54%) and 43% of the French think it normal to prosecute those who deny the existence of the concentration camps. Yet, there is some significance in the fact that 61% of the French teenagers think that those who are questioning the extermination of the Jews through concentration camps, pogroms and deportations are entitled to do so, given their right to express themselves freely.

    Another significant fact is that the French teenagers who finished high-school, where the Holocaust is taught explicitly, condemn its denial in a proportion larger than the average: 60%. As for the importance of education, 72% of the German teenagers and 65% of the French think that the Holocaust should be taught more extensively in schools. (A.B.)

Holocaust denial: An assault on truth and memory

    The Royal Court of Justice in England (the equivalent of the supreme court of justice in other countries) is to judge the final appeal of David Irving in his law suit against Deborah Lipstadt.

    David Irving is a well-known British historian, author of several works on Nazi Germany, and he is believed to possess encyclopedic knowledge about the Third Reich. However, his books were often criticized for the friendly way in which they portray Nazi leaders. Deborah Lipstadt is a professor and teaches a course entitled “Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies” at Emory University, in the US. In 1993, she wrote a study called “Holocaust Denial: an Increasing Assault on Truth and Memory”, in which she especially attacked David Irving. The study quoted a fragment from a speech held by Irving in front of an extreme right-wing group, in 1991, in which he said: “I can see no reason why one should be delicate about Auschwitz. It’s a big fat lie, a legend. If we admit the fact that it was a rough labor camp for slaves and that a high number of people died there, just like a high number of innocent people died elsewhere during the war, why should we also admit the rest of the lie?”

    Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt claiming that her article had brought him a moral damage. But during the first stages of the law suit, Irving stated in court that he denies the fact that the Nazis murdered millions of Jews in specially-designed gas chambers. This would have been “logistically impossible”, he said. This denigration of the Holocaust had serious consequences for Irving. Before the suit, he used to earned an annual average of 160.000 USD from copyrights; now, he has difficulties in finding an editor and some countries forbade him to enter their territory. (A. B.)

If mr JÖRG HAIDER could read: The Plates at the Ebensee Quarry

    A few years ago I found out from my wife’s relatives about Austria and a place there called Ebensee, a small town in the mountains where a labor camp was founded during Second World War . Citizens from all over Europe were sent to die there, being forced to work under terror.

    In a summer of the 1980′s, my father-in-law, Emeric Poper (from Oradea) and his wife, Elvira Popper, decided to take a trip to Ebensee, where they wanted to lay a marble plate with the name of my wife’s grandfather, Martin Popper (from Episcopia Bihorului), who died in the fall of 1944.

    The couple placed the marble plate they had brought from home on the rocky wall at Ebensee, next to many other plates bearing the names of people from Europe killed by a degrading toil in that camp in the Austrian mountains.

    Why did this thing happen in a civilized country like Austria, why did people die there?…

    My father-in-law’s family faced the enraged action of the Hortyst troops in the spring of 1944: the house was ravaged and burnt down, the mother and the grandmother were turned to smoke in the Dachau furnaces, the three brothers (age 20, 17 and 14) ended up in different labor camps in Hungary and Germany, and the father was sent to the labor camp in Ebensee.

    20 years later, in 1965, my father-in-law rediscovered two of his brothers, who were alive and were living in Israel. They had got there after many hardships and had joined some kibbutz, then the Army. Ever since then, Moshe Hameiri (Popper), one of the brothers, would come almost every year to his brother’s, in Oradea, in order to keep in touch with his family and to heal (in the Baile Felix resort, near Oradea) the wounds he got in 1956, as a major in the Israeli Navy.

    He told me that in the fall of 1944, a few months after his family had been driven out of their home in Episcopia Bihorului, after he had lost his wife and mother-in-law, and not knowing anything about the fate of his sons, Martin Popper wanted in the Ebensee camp to honor God on Yom Kippur (the longest and blackest day in the history of the Jewish people). He resolved that on that day of long fasting he would not work and he would remain in the camp’s infirmary, pretending to be sick.

    On Yom Kippur, the Nazi soldiers shot everyone in the infirmary in an attempt to get rid fast of those who prevented them from fleeing the outcome of an unjust war that the German army had lost. Romania’s attitude joins the voices of all the other democratic powers in Europe in order to resolutely reject such tendencies for which there is now room in the year of 2000, the last year of this millennium. President Constantinescu’s message reassures us here in Jerusalem of this firm attitude.

    We also noted the attitude of the Austrian Government towards all Romanian citizens, as has been proven by the unfriendly visa-granting policy and by the discriminatory treatment against Romanians, who are considered to be a special category of thieves in Europe and worldwide.

    Romania is a country of long European tradition, with an extremely rich history and Latin culture, having exerted its influence over many European countries, a country that still keeps Austrian influences acquired under Austria-Hungary. However, Austria should reconsider its attitude towards Romania, also bearing in mind the misfortunes it caused to some Romanian citizens during Second World War (Ebensee being such an example).

    Austria must not forget that the evil demon of fascism, Hitler, was born there, that many of its citizens sought to excel in an uncontrolled Nazi fanaticism and that it was not long ago that even one of its presidents, Kurt Waldheim, was forced to abandon the international political scene for the shame of having been an SS officer. History must be written without forgetting all that was dark in those years that are now gone, yet without harboring vengeful tendencies.

    Austria must remain for us a beautiful country, with its waltz capital (Vienna), with its beautiful mountains and lakes, with the splendor of its winter sports, with its special people, with its traditions as a European democracy. We would like that the present people of Austria should not remember in shame the places where human beings died, where the blood of innocent people was shed for the sole reason that they were not born to be Arians.

    But let us not forget everything that happened in Austria when Europe’s days were at their blackest. (Dr. Cornel Sabetay)