What we can learn from the changing Austrian political scene

By January 21, 2018 No Comments

Photo: Birgit Seiser//Kurier

By Alina Yalmanian

On October 15 another country in Europe saw its government take one step farther to the rightAustria. As a part Austrian myself I sadly wasn’t too surprisedfriends who had been involved in the campaign of the socialist party, the SPÖ, had told me months in advance that the party was getting ready for a loss. It was just a matter of reducing the impact of the blow. And, in a certain way, they managed to do so: they came second behind the ÖVP, the center-right party, but only closely saved some seats from the FPÖ, the far right party that came third. But know that in Austrian legislative elections, winners and losers are not necessarily determined by the number of seats in parliament, but by their inclusion in the coalition that will form a majority in parliament and the government.


The socialist party therefore turned out to be the real loser of the election as its previous coalition partner, the ÖVP, had explicitly stated that governing with them was no option. Stating inefficiency as their official reason, the center-right party had, however, also undergone some changes by giving it a new faceSebastian Kurz. Under the previous administration he was Austria’s foreign minister, earning the title of the world’s youngest foreign minister. He did, however, not only change the appearance of the party by dropping its archaic image, but he also toughened policies and politics. The originally traditional conservative center-right party, which usually governed with the also traditional socialist party, started to abandon its previous position and moved closer and closer to the far right Freedom Party. I found these developments particularly shocking as for Austriansbecause of their country’s unforgettable role in historythe far-right had become a place haunted with traumatising memories, which no one in their right mind wanted to relive. The results of the election are even more shocking when considering how a certain socialist tradition is anchored into society. But by looking at the latest developments in Austria, we can understand why the socialist party has suffered losses and why we should be seriously alarmed by the far right in Europe.

The huge blow to the socialist party in Austria seems in fact to be just another loss for the left in Europe. Over the past decade or so an alarming number of countries in the European Union have opted for governments on the far right, with Poland and Hungary being the most extreme and increasingly worrying cases. Every country has its present social issues that can partly explain the choice of the People to vote for far-right parties. Nonetheless there is an overall trend that can be pinned down and understood by looking at the development of Austrian politics in the last few decades. Consider Austria as a microcosm of the far-right trend taking Europe.

As foreign as this opinion and concept may seem to us Sciences Po students, for many, politics is boring. People often complain that politicians don’t say what they mean or only put things in a complicated mannerthis is particularly true for Austrian politics, where the traditional parties’ news conferences always looked like a gathering of elder men that enhanced the idea of politics as being rusty. So, when the center-right party decided to change its image it put their socialist counterparty at a disadvantage. Of course this development was also a strategic move politically speaking as it may have been used to distract from the party’s decision to move closer to the far-right party. In any case, a number of factors, including party politics and the People’s frustrations, made the far-right party more attractive to many despite its move to the right.

It is no secret and no revelation that societies change with time and history. The issue with that however is that they often change faster than politics. Politics try to catch up with society and throw it solutions after. It is also no secret that an important part of society nowadays has been asking for a more and more liberal mindset and government. For many, voters on the left are considered to be the clichés of vegan environment-obsessed protesters. This has caused the socialist party’s old trustworthy base to turn to the far right for representation. In fact, as the left is seen as more and more youthful and “trendy”, middle-class workers find the far right more and more appealing as it makes these “forgotten workers” the same promises the socialist parties did. Speeches about keeping jobs at home, protecting workers from the dangers of globalization and lowering unemployment have become more typical of far-right parties than of parties on the left, where progressive agendas are typically talked about. Traditional socialist party voters therefore turn to the far right in hopes of being heard there. The problem with that, however, is that this new strategy on the right is used to change their image and making voters forget that there are still people promoting hate-speech at its coreother than Austria, look at Marine Le Pen’s attempts to make it seem as if her party has changed and moved on. We should be mindful of the fact that the far right, as we can see in Austria, has managed to make itself more attractive to many voters.

In fact, the Austrian election results show that even in a country where its history shows how distant the People should be to the far right, the rise of such parties is increasingly successful. It also shows how the gap between the left and the right is continuously growing bigger, and that parties on the right are the ones benefiting from that change. With these new developments that can be partly explained with the new and changed interest groups of parties, we need to be aware of old dangers that have taken new faces, which make them harder to recognize. The far right is gaining more people’s trust in a country where it shouldn’t be possible, because of its traumatic history and past, because of its People’s wounds. If it has succeeded in a country like Austriaand if it is becoming increasingly successful in Germanyit seems that it will be an easy task to take other countries’ political scene by storm. Take Austria as a warning of what the new far-right looks like and of what it is capable of. We need to learn from the Austrian example in order to be aware of its new strategies and dangers to help prevent them in other countries.


Alina Yalmanian is a first year student, whose origins and nationality are too complicated to be explained in 2 lines. Plays the drums and practices martial arts even if she really does not look like it. On the Loose runs one Thursday every month.

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