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The Opposite of Love

by Matt Cherry

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 20, Number 2.

Bertolt Brecht’s parable on the rise of Nazism—"The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui"—concludes with a pungent warning about the threat of new Hitlers gaining power: "The bitch that bred him is in heat again." Fortunately, the far right never gained power in post-war Germany, and the Federal Republic of Germany did more than any other country to confront and learn from its terrible past. In another part of the Third Reich—Hitler’s fatherland of Austria—there was little attempt to face up to the people’s responsibility for the horrors of Nazism. And it is in Austria that the bitch has bred again: in February 2000 the Nazi-friendly Freedom Party was brought into a new right-wing coalition government.

The Orwellian-named Freedom Party rose to power by appealing to the pro-Nazi nostalgia of older voters and by using the job insecurities of younger voters to stoke fears of immigration. The party’s charismatic leader, Jörg Haider, has praised Hitler’s "orderly" employment policies and applauded veterans of the Waffen SS as "decent people of good character." He described Nazi concentration camps as "labor camps." Another Freedom Party leader claimed that immigrants were receiving fertility treatment in order to outbreed native Austrians. In claiming that immigration threatens jobs, the Freedom Party resurrected the ugly term überfremdung, which literally means "over-foreignization." "Überfremdung" was a term favored by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels. And like Goebbels, the party uses racist stereotypes in its campaign posters.

The Freedom Party is the first ultra-nationalist party to gain power in post-war Western Europe. It received 27% of the vote in the last general election but the conservative People’s Party invited Haider’s party into a coalition in order to secure a parliamentary majority—just as other conservative parties brought the Nazis into power in 1933 Germany. Although Herr Haider will not hold office in the new government—he says he prefers to remain out of office until he is strong enough to become Chancellor—other members of the Freedom Party will control key ministries, including justice and defense.

The new Austrian government was immediately condemned by the outside world. Or at least by governments in those parts of the world that had been bitten once before by a racist Austrian. Israel has withdrawn its ambassador to Austria. The European Union (EU)—of which Austria is a member—is downgrading diplomatic relations with Austria. The fourteen other member nations of the EU said they would avoid bilateral meetings with Austrian ministers. Some EU countries also vowed to adopt economic sanctions against Austria. As Free Inquiry went to press, neither the United States nor the United Nations had yet announced any actions against Austria. It is to be hoped that they will join the European Union in opposing the Austrian government.

The European Union’s moves against the Austrian government—on the basis of nothing more than the odious opinions of one of its constituent parties—have been criticized by some civil libertarians. Nadine Stroessen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), commented that, "to protect democracy and human rights, the Europeans have adopted the very authoritarian methods that they say they are acting to forestall."

The question of how far to tolerate the intolerant is always problematic. Yet while supporters of freedom and human rights may debate where exactly to draw the line in tolerating the new Austrian government, they can and should still take steps to demonstrate opposition. The Freedom Party is free to state its beliefs, principles, and policies; and others—including the citizens and governments of foreign nations—should have the right to condemn and oppose the Freedom Party.

Like the Nazis before them, many members of the Freedom Party are political opportunists pandering to popular prejudice for the sake of power and prestige. Wherever legally possible, that power and prestige should be withheld from them. Treating the Freedom Party like a normal democratic party will not only make racist politics more acceptable in Austria, it will also provide encouragement to the many other ultra-nationalist politicians in Europe and further afield.

Austria should be taught there is a price to pay for electing racists. If South Carolina can lose tourist dollars and business for flying the confederate flag, then surely Austria should be boycotted by tourists and businesses who oppose racism. Governments, people and private institutions should unite in their condemnation and active opposition to the racist Freedom Party.

Like Brecht, the writer Günter Grass explored how his fellow Germans allowed the Nazis to gain power and commit genocide. Why did such a civilized nation tolerate the Nazis? The problem, Grass decided, was not that the majority of Germans supported Hitler’s murderous hatred of the Jews. The problem was that they did not care enough to oppose it. "The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference," concluded Grass. The people of Austria and the world cannot afford to be indifferent to the Freedom Party.

Matt Cherry is Deputy Editor of Free Inquiry and Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

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