NB: this post is regarding the elections in Austria, which occurred this past Sunday. I wrote it prospectively, last week, with the intention to publish it before the elections, but did not have the chance to return to it to finish the post. I became tied up on the issue of open borders.
In any case, the right-wing populist did not win the Austrian presidency, although the vote appears to have been about as close to 50/50 as possible. This does not change the general observations and thoughts below (in fact, only reinforces these), so I have decided to leave it as is.
Austria's mainstream parties long believed they could keep the far right under control. On Sunday, though, a right-wing populist could become the country's president. What went wrong? The answer has implications for all of Europe.
In this post I will examine the comments from this Spiegel article regarding the right-wing movement in Austria. Through this lens, one will find common threads through many countries in Europe and also in the United States. In many ways the causes are the same.
What went wrong? One need only consider the frustrations of many people throughout the west regarding the favoritism of the government toward policies that favor the elite. Instead of looking to the roots of the blowback for answers, which would require introspection and self-examination, they view the entire movement (in almost every western country at the same time) as “wrong.”
To summarize the situation in Austria, the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is on the verge of taking the presidency for the first time; their candidate is Norbert Hofer.
If he wins, and his chances are good, Austria would have a president who is "decisively opposed to forced multiculturalism, globalization and mass immigration."
One might attempt to examine why the people are voting for a candidate who is against such things, instead of asking “what went wrong?” Maybe it is because such things are being rammed down the throats of the people.
Hofer says he doesn't understand all the agitation surrounding his candidacy and all the talk of a "presidential putsch" from editorialists and experts on the constitution.
Similar concerns are raised everywhere that a supposedly right-wing, nationalistic politician gains support. Such concerns of a “putsch” are not raised regarding mainstream candidates who have been leading the west for decades – despite the usurpation of authority from both the people and the parliaments.
All of Europe is looking this week to Austria, this small country in its midst where an eventuality considered by many to be outrageous may soon become reality.
What is outrageous to those who are accustomed to controlling the narrative is that the narrative is no longer controlled; what is interesting is that it is happening at the same time in many places. Perhaps for this we have the internet to thanks, as the tool has afforded a global opportunity to compare grievances and share notes.
Hofer is receiving calls from right-wing parties throughout Europe, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany.
The right wing in Europe is becoming organized and developing contacts across the Continent. The election on Sunday is far more than just a purely Austrian affair.
Across Europe, large, mainstream parties are losing power and influence. It has happened in Spain, France and Germany, but nowhere has the phenomenon been as dramatically visible as during the first round of the presidential elections in Austria.
It is happening in the US as well, given the agitation Donald Trump is causing the Republican Party and the establishment.
The two main parties in Austria are in turmoil:
The setbacks for the ÖVP and the SPÖ have been dramatic. Into the 1970s, the two parties enjoyed four times the support they did in the first round of this year's presidential elections…
They [the two main parties] watched the rise of the right-wing populists but continued to take their own primacy for granted.
Ignoring and abusing the people might have something to do with what went wrong.
Regarding Europe, Hofer says that "those issues that can be decided in the member states must once again be allowed to be addressed and decided there."
Centralized decisions by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels might have something to do with what went wrong.
The opposition, internationally, is lining up against Hofer:
…Sigmar Gabriel, head of the Social Democrats in Germany, [demands] that "all democratic forces" must form a front against Hofer"…
Left, right, center – it doesn’t matter. This popular uprising is perceived as a threat to them all.
Hofer was largely responsible for the party's 2011 platform, called "Austria First." It offers a look at the country as the FPÖ wants it to be.
“Austria First” – sounds familiar.
From the platform, an example:
That Austria is "not a country of immigration" and should focus primarily on its own citizens -- and not on those that do not possess an Austrian passport.
Again, a similar sentiment in much of the west.
These days, it is becoming clear just how large, and likely lasting, the estrangement has become between voters and those parties, like the ÖVP and SPÖ, that were once defined by the term Volkspartei. Their old mistakes have continued through the decades and new ones have joined them. Both the center right and the center left have underestimated the electorate's anger that has built up as a result of their almost God-given claim to leadership in Austria.
The people feel taken for granted at best, milked at worse.
The situation has been made worse by the fact that mistrust of those in power has been growing not just in Austria, but in all of Europe. That mistrust can be summed up in three overarching complaints: We are being steamrolled by globalization; nobody is listening to us; and the market economy benefits others.
If only we had a market economy….
In an attempt to keep their relevance, the two major parties tried to mimic some of the policies of the FPÖ:
But they were heavily punished by the voters anyway. Why should voters choose a copy when they can have the original?
It has become apparent that this opponent cannot be defeated with imitations. It may, however, help to listen to the voters, even those who have been lost, to take their concerns seriously and to provide their own answers that are more intelligent than those coming from the FPÖ.
These would be answers that those in power would not like: decentralize, stop working in secret, stop cutting deals that benefit the elite at the expense of the rest of us, stop being the puppet of the Anglo-empire, stop agitating for all war all the time.
If someone would provide those answers, we could be on to something. Since those answers won’t be forthcoming (and also not likely from the right-wing populists to any meaningful extent), the west will continue on this path until it cannot.
By then the people might figure out that no matter which leader they choose, the only right answer is to choose no such leader.