In a bit of good news regarding the world-wide resurgence of radical right-wing nationalism, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) party lost this month’s presidential election in Austria, a vital country to the European Union.
Norbert Hofer – a far-right populist who has helped white-wash FPÖ’s nazi past – fell to center-left candidate Alexander van der Bellen, who espouses pro-European stances. The vote was the second match-up between the two political adversaries this year. After a razor-think margin produced a Van der Bellen victory in the first round, the FPÖ challenged the result, leading to the recent election that saw the margin of victory inch up to 3%.
For moderates, liberals, and leftists, this is first good electoral news in a long time. Since the twin electoral disasters of Brexit and Trump’s victory, pro-social forces have been reeling as radical nationalist politics have become increasingly powerful – and belligerant.
Hofer and the FPÖ are just another example of how extremism has marched up to the gates of power in Western democracies. The party is a direct descendent of the Austrian Nazi party, which collaborated with its German counterpart to oversee among the most heinous war crimes of the 20th century.
A Van der Bellen supporter named Florian talked to The Guardian about what she and many other Austrians see at work in the nation’s political climate:
It’s just like the Trump phenomenon in the US. Non-urban, less educated, male voters go for Hofer’s Freedom party. Hofer is in fact even worse than his image. His ideas are racist, sexist and fascist…There is a latent sympathy for fascist ideas in the population, especially among older people. The FPÖ has a very powerful and efficient network of various rightwing online media supporting them, in combination with their own extremely successful social media work.
Even in the wake of this victory, however, the anti-immigrant, rightward tilt of western countries is by no means a thing of the past. Angela Merkel, who received accolades for her treatment of refugees, is caving to some of the most reactionary tendencies of her Christian Democratic Union of Germany party. Just this week, she announced support for a partial burka ban, a move considered by other western countries that is based more in fear than any demonstrable benefit save that of marginalizing a particular religious community.
To defeat reaction and hate, pro-social parties and populations need to not only oppose the likes of Hofer, but must present an articulate alternative vision as well. Hillary Clinton, according to some analysts, failed because she didn’t provide a coherent counter to Trump’s dystopic worldview. It’s past time for those who care about improving the world to create one.