Austria: Candlelight Protest Against the Far Right

People hold candles as they take part in a chain of lights to demonstrate against a possible governing coalition between Austrian Peoples Party (OVP) and right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) in Vienna, Austria, 15 November 2017. (Photo by LISI NIESNER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

At least 3,000 people formed a chain of light in Austria ‘s capital Vienna to protest against the formation of a government that includes the far-right Freedom Party, Reuters reports. Demonstrators holding candles, torches and bicycle lamps encircled the government district.

“Our republic’s most powerful political offices should be exclusively reserved for trustworthy people who are not in the slightest connected to right-wing extremists,” said Alexander Pollak, spokesman for SOS Mitmensch, one of the several human rights groups which organized the demonstration.

It was the biggest protest in Austria since coalition talks between the conservative People’s Party (OVP) and the Freedom Party (FPO) started two weeks ago. Organizers estimated the number of people taking part at 8,000 to 10,000, the police at around 3,000.

“We are here because they (the FPO) feed hatred and want to divide people,” said Brigitte Griesser, holding a candle.

The protest was far smaller than unrest 17 years ago when the FPO last formed a government with the OVP and more than 100,000 took to the streets.

“The shift to the right has become a European trend, it’s no longer just an Austrian issue and that’s why it is not that controversial any longer,” said protester Juergen Pucher.

European concerns

OVP’s leader and probably the next Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he expects talks with FPO to be over before Christmas. He doesn’t have a lot of options since the Austrian Socialists refused to enter the negotiations.

Some European leaders have expressed concern about the possible return to power of the FPO, which first became a major force in the 1990s under the late Joerg Haider, who praised Hitler’s employment policies., Reuters writes.

The party has steadily increased its mainstream appeal in recent years. It says it has turned its back on its Nazi past, though it still frequently has to expel members for anti-Semitic statements. It has also dropped calls for Austria to leave the European Union as most Austrians back membership.

Austria part of the growing anti-establishment movements

Elections in the past month are just the latest to upend the European political order by elevating anti-establishment populists, Politico writes.

They add that the 2015 migration crisis remains a potent political issue in part because it appeared European leaders were in over their heads. The spate of recent terror attacks on European soil also played into the hands of right-wing agitators eager to connect the influx of migrants with Europeans’ growing security concerns.

“In general, pure economic considerations are secondary to voters of populist radical right parties like AfD and FPO.  That said, many see the economy through a racial lens, thinking immigrants or ethnic minorities cost the society too much money, as they overestimate the importance of these groups in the social provisions,” said political scientist Cas Mudde, author of “On Extremism and Democracy in Europe.”

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