The literature on Haider and Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ) has been fast-growing since the parliamentary elections of 1999 and the establishment of the People's Party-Freedom Party coalition. The works reviewed below are certainly amongst the most interesting and focus on two different aspects of what has been called "the Haider phenomenon."
In Haider light: Handbuch für Demagogie, Walter Ötsch, starting from the observation that the success of Haider is based on the successful political use of communication techniques, aims to explain and demystify the Freedom Party's methods. As Ötsch emphasises, the young Haider inherited from his former National-Socialist parents a simple Manichean view of the world and once stated: "my father has always taken the correct standpoint" (p 14).
This has somewhat logically led the politician Haider to adopt demagogy as his prime political "tool." Haider's election as the head of the FPÖ in 1986 and his deliberate radicalisation of the political discourse has shaken the post-Second World War consensus at the heart of Austria's second republic—traditionally dominated by the Social Democrats and the People's Party (pp 54-55).
Haider's strategy is to divide the world in two, what Ötsch calls the "we" (die Wir) and the "others" (die Anderen). In the world according to Haider, the "others" are all those who are not with "us," and are therefore the "enemies."
The "we" are specifically threatened by three enemies: the enemies from above ("die da oben"), from outside ("die da draussen") and from below ("die da draussen") (p 19). The enemies from above, Östch suggests, are those who contest the political power of the Freedom Party in Austria: the "old parties" (die "Altparteien")—Social Democrats and conservatives, the "Communists and leftists in the government," "the corrupted," "the parasitic elements," the media "controlled by the left" and the artists who oppose the Freedom Party.
The enemies from outside are those "abroad" who threaten Austria's interests (of course, Austria's interests as defined by Haider himself): "foreign secret societies" like the "Freemasons," the "Communist secret services, the KGB and the Stasi," "foreign capital," "the Slavs and the blacks" and the European Union. Finally, the enemies from below are those in Austria who threaten the cohesion of the "we": for instance, the Slovene minority and the "foreigners" in general.
To fight the "enemies," demagogy implies the constant use of denigration, defamation and exaggeration, the adoption of a simplified view of the world and the creation of new and artificial political "concepts" to enhance the appeal of the polarisation (that is, calling your political "enemies" by animal names). Haider exploits conspiracy theories (for instance, the "betrayal" of the country by the president Thomas Klestil and the opposition during the sanctions) and a limited number of political themes: immigration, criminality and corruption (p 47).
Thus, to defend themselves against the "others", the "we" must of course follow the lead of Haider, the "super-we": the infallible leader who is victimised by the "others."
Explaining Haider's appeal
Ötsch shows how Haider's appeal relies on emotions and feelings instead of political "rationality" and facts. There is no exception to his Manichean view of the world (the "we" are always good, the "others" always bad and intent on destroying "us," p 31) but, since the polarisation is purely artificial, the "super-we" Haider can decide who is the enemy (and it can change easily, depending on the political circumstances and the Freedom Party's interests, p 130).
Haider can tailor his message to his audience. For instance, an often quoted anecdote mentions how Haider has become a fashion icon and changes his clothes according to his target audience: blue jeans and mobile phones when addressing the young or traditional Austrian costumes when in Carinthia, the Land which he governs.
But Haider, even if he is the "super-we," cannot act on his own and has transformed the Freedom Party into what Ötsch describes as an extremely well-organised sect-like organisation devoted to the pursuit of his political interests (p 120).
The "dissidents" and those who have dared to contradict the guru have been successively disgraced and/or expelled from the party. Those who want to be, and to remain, in the inner circle are expected to accept Haider's fatherly "advice." In 1998, for example, Haider declared that Karl-Heinz "Grasser [Austria's current finance minister] was [his] political son and will therefore accept [his] advice" (p 128). Ötsch hence sees Haider's resignation as chairman of the FPÖ as a bluff which hides his continuing domination of the party (pp 134-135).
Haider light is a highly readable, highly original and relevant account of Haider's political strategy and, because it sheds light on the FPÖ's communication techniques, it should give Haider's opponents some concrete tools in the attempt to stop the rise of a dangerous political movement. As Ötsch states, "a communication process, whose model is known, loses its efficiency" (p 8).
Ötsch is interested in the method and the marketing surrounding Haider, not in the content of his politics and, when he briefly raises the question of the analogy between Haider and Hitler, he argues that the common points are to be found in the communication methods more than in the ideologies (pp 77-78; p 116).
Defining Haider's ideology
Hans-Henning Scharsach and Kurt Kuch's work, Haider: Schatten über Europa, should therefore be seen as complementary to Ötsch's, since it explicitly constitutes an attempt to define and "qualify" Haider's ideology. Haider: Schatten über Europa aims to answer the following questions: is Haider a right-wing extremist? Is he a fascist, a neo-Nazi, a racist or, on the contrary, a democrat?
Scharsach and Kuch's conclusion is clear and unambiguous: Haider and the Freedom Party have strong links to violent extreme-right-wing movements and Holocaust-deniers. The FPÖ was and/or is on friendly terms with well-known racist organisations such as the NPD in Germany, the National Front in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium and the Ku-Klux Klan in the United States. It has been supported by them, has often accepted their support and, since 1999, has increasingly been an inspiration for far-right networks in Europe.
One can of course argue with the definitions adopted by the two authors (after all, what is populism and what is neo-Nazism?) but what remains is an extremely detailed, well-documented and ultimately convincing "black book" of Haider and the Freedom Party.
Haider's comments on the "orderly labour policies of the Third Reich," his description of the SS as "honest and respectable men" and his reference to the Nazi concentration camps as "penal camps," implying that the inmates were somewhat guilty of something, are hence not analysed as the repeated "semantic" mistakes of a politician, but as constitutive of Haider's ideology and the tip of a rather worrying iceberg.
The book shows, for instance, why Haider, who has always claimed not to be anti-Semitic, nevertheless adheres to one of the tenets of post-Second World War anti-Semitism and revisionism when he denies the unique nature of the Shoah and equates the sufferings of the Jews and the fate of the Sudeten Germans (pp 66-67).
A "Third Republic"
The concept of a "Third Republic" introduced by the FPÖ in the 1990s also receives extensive treatment, and Scharsach and Kuch point out its undemocratic features: Haider's vision of the woman as above all a mother (pp 138-139), the establishment of a presidentialism where the parliament would see its powers reduced to the minimum (p 142) and the use of the referendum as a political tool (leading the way towards a plebiscitary—Bonapartist—political regime?).