Hans Rauscher is an author and a journalist at Der Standard, an Austrian national daily broadsheet newspaper that has been published in Vienna since 1988. Austria will re-run a Presidential election on October 2 that could produce the first far-Right Head of State in Europe since the Second World War.

Populism is a word that is very fashionable nowadays. What does it mean?

Populism means that a politician of a certain thought can convince people that something is very good for them, when in reality it is very bad. The populist tells people what they want to hear, even if they know it is not so. The rise of Right-wing populism especially is also a function of disappointment with the parties of the Centre. In most European countries we have had Conservatives, Social Democrats and Christians in power for decades, but now they are tired, they are corrupt, and they have no solutions, and a lot of people who used to vote for parties of the Centre now vote for Right-wing populists. In Greece and Spain they vote for the Left, but in the northern countries they vote for the Right-wing.

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Is this the case in Austria, where you will have to vote again, choosing between the FPÖ Freedom Party and the centre-Leftist candidate?

The Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, the FPÖ Right-wing party, have the support of a larger share of the workers than the Social Democratic Party, the party of the centre-Left which is practically a national party of the people. But the FPÖ has 34% of the workers, and the Social Democratics only 28%. Therefore the FPÖ are the largest workers’ party, and this is very significant.

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Are they going to win in this new Presidential election?

Nobody knows. It was very close before. The centre-Left won by 30,000 votes, and they only won because a lot of people did not want the FPÖ leader to be President. If there is a new refugee crisis the FPÖ candidate will win. Now they have about 35% in the polls, the Social Democratics about 24% and the Christians 21%.  This is a real revolution because as of now these parties who used to rule for decades in a coalition don’t have 50%.

If Austria goes to the extreme far-Right what will happen?

It will be like Hungary, in the direction of an authoritarian state. For instance the FPÖ has said foreign workers who are not citizens should be excluded from Social Security, and they already said this as junior partners with the Conservatives in a previous government. They will attack persons who are critical of them in the arts and in journalism, intellectuals especially, and they will try to change Austria from a representative democracy to a so-called Führer Democracy, like Hungary and Poland. There might be a referendum: Should the Chancellor and the President be the same person?

Norbert Hofer, Austria Freedom Party FPO

Norbert Hofer, Austria Freedom Party FPÖ

Will Austria stay in Europe?

The extreme-Right party want a completely powerless Europe, and at the same time they have very good connections to Russia and to Putin. They will turn away from the West and make deals with Putin, and they will at some point have a referendum about the EU, probably not on outright leaving, it is too dangerous for them because 60% of Austrians are for membership, but they will ask specific questions like: Should Austria pay so much money to Europe? Or: Should Austria keep borders open for the EU member states? These referenda will be used like tools in the face of the EU. Let me make one remark. There is no chance that they will have an absolute majority. They need a coalition partner, and the partner could be the Conservatives or the Social Democratic party. If you cannot beat them, join them. The FPÖ slogans have been taken up by the Centre and this is very sad. Like, for instance, supporting more direct democracy and referendums.

But what about Brexit?

The majority of general opinion in Austria says: look how the British hurt themselves. But a minority says: the British did the right thing. Mr Norbert Hofer, the candidate for presidency, a real Right-winger, says: if I am President and the EU does not change for the better I am for a referendum, but his Party Chief, Heinz-Christian Strache, says: let’s be more cautious. Part of industry supports the FPÖ, and they are against leaving the EU. But they are for a Europe of fatherlands.

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Do you think that this populistic wave will spread all over Europe?

It already has, but it does not have the support of the majority. A few weeks ago Marine Le Pen was the star guest of the FPÖ and she met with Hofer, and they made a joint declaration: Europe should return to being a loose organisation of fatherlands.

Do you think that fascism and Nazism are back?

A light fascism. There is one thing missing: anti-Semitism. Marine Le Pen has kicked out her father because of his anti-Semitism. Right now they think that the Israelis are a weapon against Islam. The FPÖ party was founded by SS generals, Nazis, and anti-Semites (the second Chairman of the FPÖ, Friedrich Peter,  was an Officer of the Waffen-SS, whose unit the First SS-Infantry Brigade did nothing but killing jews behind the frontier in the summer of 1941), but now the enemy are the Muslims.  There are different shades of Right-wingers, and they are on the march all over Europe.

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Are tragedies like the one in Nice opening doors for these people?

Nice means at least 2% more votes for Marine Le Pen, especially in the South of France where she is very strong. If they win fascism comes back, just not in the same form, without a holocaust or concentration camps.

What about Trump?

He is a real fascist. He is a psychopathic personality, and of course a populist. Populists speak to the people who in their own view or in reality are forgotten, on their way down, people who have been overwhelmed by foreigners. The workers saw their jobs go to China and therefore they vote for Trump.

You think that Trump will make it?

No, the polls are so-so. He made a big mistake with women. He lost a lot of the women. I don’t think he will win. To be the American President you need to win Florida, California, New York, Ohio. But it’s possible if something happens, for instance a real terroristic attack. Then he can win, because Hillary Clinton is not really liked. They think she is manipulative, too clever, and she is not a very good speaker.

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If Trump wins?

I will dig a bunker in our garden. He is the sort of guy who would start a war. The real danger is that if Trump gets to be President there will be a period of isolationism and Trump will leave Europe, and Mr Putin, who wants to get Europe under his influence, will take up the opportunity.

What is the role of Austria nowadays?

Today the role of Austria is as an example. In a country like Austria, a democracy for 70 years with a Nazi past that is serious, it will have an effect on Germany if opinions turn really ugly against the refugees. Mostly Austria is a test case. Why do they complain in a country like Austria, the fourth richest country in Europe? With 8.5 million people our welfare state is better than Sweden, we are richer than Italy per capita. One example is the city of Vienna with its social settlements, the big apartment blocks with low rent. They are not slums. They have swimming pools, gyms, saunas, and spaces for artwork. The point is that people are grumpy and disaffected, and they are in fear of Turks, of migrants, in fear of Muslims.  It is not a real threat, but people are afraid that they will take over. Muslims have a lot of children and will take away social benefits. It is also a vote about things that don’t exist. This is the danger.

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What will happen to Europe?

The Old Lady has more strength than we believe. We are going through a rather hard period, but she will somehow survive as long as Germany, France and Italy hold.

24th July, 2016

 

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Portrait of Hans Rauscher by Matthias Cremer / DER STANDARD

Der Standard International