Beauty and the Beast(s)
Vienna / Strasbourg, January 17, 2022 (updated)
by Edward G. Steen, Secretary-General
The AEJ today registered a formal complaint with the council of Europe against Austria’s Far Right FPÖ leader Herbert Kickl. He is attempting, on the Viktor Orban model, to intimidate our Austrian tv colleague Simone Stribl for asking a question at a press conference.
The complaint now being considered by the Council of Europe Platform for the protection of journalists:
“The Association of European Journalists sees the recent attacks by the FPÖ on the Austrian tv (ORF) journalist Simone Stribl as a shameless and inadmissible attack on press freedom. Our professionally very experienced colleague had asked a legitimate question of Interior Minister Gerhard Karner. This was whether the behaviour of police officers – unmasked and posing for photos with anti-vaccination activists – at a demonstration in Vienna would have any consequences for them.”
The FPÖ’s General-Secretary Christian Hafenecker demanded a ‘clarifying discussion’ with Miss Stribl, as well as a public apology from ORF General-Director Roland Weißmann for the supposedly ‘slanderous’ denigration of (supposedly) “hundreds of thousands of protesters.”
This was “an inadmissible attempt to intimidate journalists” said our complaint to the CoE. “The AEJ expresses its complete solidarity with Miss Stribl,”
The affair is laughable as well as sinister. Like Donald Trump, Kickl, a skilled provocateur and tactician, has made opposition to compulsory vaccination the party’s rallying cry – with a predictable jump in Covid infections wherever the party is strong, in Salzburg for instance. (And Kickl got it too). The mad QAnon conspiracists, still going strong in both Austria and Germaany, are lurking in the mix too.
The regular big demonstrations in Vienna, as yesterday (15/01/22) have not been anything like the size claimed by the party. But they have been vocal, wasted much time and resource, and been very confusing, including anti-vaccers in fake police uniforms in Saturday’s demonstration (of some 27,000), and demonstrators with placards obscenely referencing Auschwittz declaring “Impfung (vaccination) macht frei“, along with the usual polemics against the media.
As Interior Minister, Kickl had favoured advertising police and security vacancies in far-right publications. The FPOe has even established a separate police union. Here is Politico‘s take on the situation a few weeks ago. In large part thanks to the FPOe campaign, Austria has the lowest level of vaccination in western Europe.
Back to the future
Hitler still haunts Austria, even in 2021, and shamefully his spirit still hovers over the Freedom Party (FPÖ), founded and led by a former SS officer in 1956. Despite brief experiments with common sense, the party has always retained a creepy affection for the Nazi time, and a base among racists and nationalists. It boasts three MEPs, and nurtures close relations with bigots and nationalists around Europe, and also with Putin (like other nefarious right-wing parties in the EU, such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France. The “Freedom Party” is far from dead as a movement and its current polling hovers at around 20%.
So the ghost of Adolf Hitler still haunts Austria, even in 2021, and his spirit still shamefully hovers over the Freedom Party (FPÖ), founded by a former SS officer in 1956. It has retained a creepy nostalgia for Nazi order. And even as more and more unspeakable things are discovered about Austria during the wartime, the party is far from dead as a movement. Its current polling stands at around 20%.
♦ Forgive me a personal reflection. My beloved politician grandfather Hans Gamper, a vocal anti-Nazi in pre-war Innsbruck, was immediately arrested when the Nazis marched into Austria in 1938. He was sent to Dachau concentration camp. His eldest son was murdered, his wife went crazy, but Gamper, a Christian Social politician, stayed sane and humorous despite everything. One of his favourite jokes, still relevant, concerned the generically stupid aristocrat Count Bobby.
Long after the war was over, Bobby called in at the Denazification Bureau, where he was graciously received and asked what they might do for him. “I would like to be denazified, of course,” he said. “Like it says on your door.”
“But Herr Graf there was a deadline – very latest November 15, 1945. Of course, for you, we could have stretched it, even to February, March 1946. But it’s July 1969″
“Oh,” Bobby replied cheerfully. “I wasn’t a Nazi then !” (Damals war ich doch kein Nazi)
♦ Die Presse account of press conference. FPÖ complained about awkward questions. (DE)
♦ Unexpurgated version of notorious “Ibiza video” , a 2017 sting using a fake “oligarch’s daughter” (actually a Bosnian agriculture student). It shipwrecked FPÖ – ÖVP alliance (Dec 2017 – June 2019)