Austria Rejects Hate

In a Europe seeing a rise in synagogue burnings, swastika graffiti, and anti-Semitic candidates, the crushing election defeat of Austria's extremist Freedom Party - and its de facto leader, Jörg Haider - is a refreshing rejection of the politics of bigotry.

Mr. Haider's party was pummeled, tumbling from 27 percent of the vote in 1999 to 10 percent this past weekend. The charismatic Haider, who has lauded Adolf Hitler's economic policies, praised the SS, and termed concentration camps "punishment camps," says he will give up his governorship of Carinthia and hints he may leave federal politics - a message he's delivered before.

One reason for the party's plummet is internal divisions and lack of preparation for the elections. That is not necessarily an ideological comfort for supporters of tolerance. But voters were apparently quite upset with Haider's antics in Iraq, which he visited several times this year in an attempt to court Saddam Hussein. Haider also did not let up on his anti-Semitic attacks on his opponents.

The biggest winner was the Freedom Party's senior coalition partner in the previous government, the conservative People's Party. This party essentially co-opted Haider's anti-immigration, anti-asylum issues, but without the anti-Semitic message.

As Europe integrates - an idea that the People's Party supports - and debates questions like migrants and refugees, the results in Austria show that it's possible to have this debate without stooping to Jew-bashing.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.