Two weeks ago I predicted that the right wing Freedom Party in Austria would not win the election for President. I was right, but it was close, very close. The margin of 31,000 votes out of 4.65 million cast is no cause for celebration by the liberal left. Of course the position of President is mainly ceremonial with little real power. Despite this, the election of a freedom party candidate would have been considered as having great symbolic significance. The problem with the Freedom party in Austria is that it contains within it remnants of the old Nazi style myths, so for most moderates it is irretrievably tainted; and possibly rightly so. Following the precept of “it’s not what they say but what they do that counts” Hofer is problematic to say the least. The party colours of the Freedom party is Blue, the Socialists, Red and the Conservatives, Black. This is significant in Austria as one of my students explained to me. “The Freedom Party (the FPÖ) are called the Zwetschke (Plum) party because, like the plum, they are blue on the outside, brown on the inside”. The significance of this, for those who have failed to study their history, is the Brown was the colour of the shirts worn by Hitler’s first “enforcers”, the SA.
For those perplexed by the lurch to the right in a mostly liberal and well ordered society look no further than the migrant crisis. People are afraid and feel under threat by the appearance of very many dark skinned individuals. Times are changing yet the same old same old political parties which have shared power since the end of the 2nd World War are clearly unable to face up to the problem. After all, if somebody rocks the boat, they might all fall out.
Actually Hofer was for sure the more charismatic candidate, younger and better turned out whereas Van Der Bellen is a rather raddled chain smoking 72 year old. In the Television age, Hofer must have gained votes on that basis alone.
For a more information on Norbert Hofer, check this Guardian article.