The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/i/irving.david/press/irving-vrs-lipstadt/Press_Summary.000206

OBSERVER LONDON  06 February 2000

Europe has to act on Haider

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

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

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.


Read our special report on the Observer network at:


Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.