OBSERVER LONDON 06 February 2000 Europe has to act on Haider http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/austria/ Neal Ascherson IN THE courtroom off the Strand, we are meant to be thinking about David Irving. He is a fortnight into his marathon libel action against Penguin books and Deborah Lipstadt ; her book on Holocaust denial accused him of being a dangerous revisionist who distorted historical evidence. But last week, in those friendly, jostling moments as we took our coats off and fumbled for pencils and waited for Mr Justice Gray, we spoke only of Jrg Haider. If Irving wins, and Haider wins, then what? Soon the court was in session, and the big binders of documents were being fingered by judge, counsel and witness with snuffling English patience. I will need my L2 back now, will I not? You give us the reference for that on page 613 of ND3052-PS? But somewhere among the papers was a new message from Austria. I thought of a talk I had years ago with the late Bruno Kreisky. He was out of office at the time, a red-headed Galician Jew who rose to become the Social-Democrat Chancellor of Austria, who was violently critical of Israel, who loved the company of journalists. Listen, he said. Upper Austria is all mountains full of bone-headed Germans with Nazi instincts. Lower Austria is flat and full of grown-up, normal Czechs and Magyars and Slovaks and gypsies and Jews. All you have to do is make sure the decent lot stay on top of the mad lot. Bruno Kreiskys secret system, if he ever took it seriously, has now broken down. What he did take seriously was his faith in a sceptical, tolerant sort of politics, in citizens who laughed and then yawned when demagogues tried out the charisma. And that is breaking down too. The worst thing about Jrg Haider is not his beliefs but his believers. Do David Irving and Jrg Haider have much in common? In style and personality they are opposites. Irving is a genuine maverick, a man who goes looking for burning decks to stand on. In court, we have so often heard him snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Irving flourishes some unknown Third Reich document which he has discovered, uses it to great effect but then adds some wild assertion about its significance. Sometimes, watching this burly figure thrusting out his chest from the witness-box, you think that this is just a small boy who has got his thumb jammed on the Shock button. Would he have written all these books to exculpate Hitler if the British had not hated Hitler so totally? But Haider is not bizarre at all. He is embedded in a family and community who share his prejudices. He is impregnably dug in as governor of Carinthia. He is a cool, shrewd, postmodern politician who calls the concentration camps punishment centres and then apologises with an ironic smile to anyone who is shocked. Hey, its just a misunderstanding. Why get hung up on words? In reality, it is quite plain what Jrg Haider is. Not a neo-Nazi, but a fascistic right-radical nationalist a quite common species in central Europe. He knows that his Freedom Party is hated and feared by enough Austrians to make a Haider chancellorship untenable by democratic means for the moment. So he is condemned to share power, and to use that power not so much to transform Austria into a xenophobic corporate state as to reward his party followers with perks. He will drop just enough anti-foreigner phrases to keep them happy. But Haider and Irving do share a gift. They are shape-shifters. Haider can be the straight-backed ghost of the young Aryan soldier, or the dishy skier in the check shirt, or the earnest new broom to clean out the System. David Irving seems to have only one suit in the Law Courts, but he, too, has many shapes. In the last two weeks, we have seen the stooping, scholarly victim of international Jewish persecution. Then we got the strutting Time Lord who alone guards the secrets of the Reich. And in the last few days enter D.J.C. Irving Esq, the old-fashioned English gentleman who simply cant bear to see all these foreign (coloured) immigrants who have overrun his beloved shires and cricket pavilions. But do these likes and unlikes matter? Immediately after 1945, Europeans did not think so. They had learned a lesson. Never dither with fascism, as we so fatally did before 1939, but smash it instantly the moment its flat head appears round the door. The posters in the Fifties said: Niemals Wieder [Never Again]. That was how Monnet and Schuman and the founders of united Europe thought. In those years, most bridges were still broken, millions of displaced Europeans sat in transit camps, thousands of executioners changed their names and hid, and people remembered a German saying: Wehret den Anfnge [Stop it at the start]. A long time ago. But last week, suddenly and brilliantly, the European Union of AD2000 became a shaman. The 14 heads of government spoke for the dead ancestors who thought that a democratic united Europe was the only guarantee against war, and fascism. They did not just warn against a government which included Haiders party. For once, they acted. Was this, just possibly, because for the first time in 50 years there was once again a postwar Europe in which bridges hung smashed, refugee families huddled in foreign camps and torturers skulked with false papers? Whatever the hidden promptings, the heads of government were amazed at their own boldness. Some of them plainly now wish they hadnt gone so far. President Klestil has gone ahead as he was obliged to and appointed the new coalition government with Freedom Party participation. Nationalist outrage at EU interference has for the moment increased Austrian support for Haider. All that was predictable. Now the EU must start its blockade on bilateral contacts. None the less, this is a great moment and a fine hour for Europe. Yes, it might have been wiser to impose a checklist of democratic requirements on Austria, rather than to clap on these sanctions at once. But the chorus of British whines about interference in the internal affairs of Austria is 90 per cent arrant hypocrisy. Last week, Jrg Haider jeered that: There is panic in the European chicken-coop before the fox has even got in. On Europe, on immigration and asylum, the Tories have policies remarkably close to Haiders. They are foxes, and one day the chickens may turn on them too. AUSTRIAS FAR RIGHT Read our special report on the Observer network at: www.newsunlimited.co.uk/austria ###
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