Europe-wide demonstrations against Haidar
The resignation of neo-fascist Jorg Haider from the leadership of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) has no one fooled in Austria or the rest of Europe. The move is widely seen as a tactical manoeuvre designed to take the heat off the Freedom Party and the right-wing coalition government of which it is part. Belgium's Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, described Haider's resignation as "doubtlessly a ploy to mollify Western capitals" and said that Haider "obviously remains in his party and continues to call the shots". There is speculation that Haider will now concentrate on consolidating his position as governor of the southern province of Carinthia in preparation for a concerted assault on the position of Chancellor at the next elections. The opposition among foreign governments, notably in the EU, to the Freedom Party's inclusion in the Austrian Government on February 4 has been fuelled by expressions of popular outrage in Austria and across Europe. As soon as the news of the new coalition was announced, some 300,000 protesters packed Vienna's Heldenplatz (Hero's Square) outside the Hofburg Palace, despite cold and rain, to oppose it. They called for the resignation of Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel of the conservative People's Party and his new government. The actions have continued, bringing together opposition parties, human rights groups, trade unionists, artists, pensioners and many others. Jewish community leader Ariel Muzicant who said: "It is a scandal that racism and anti-Semitism have once again become harmless crimes. It is a scandal that these crimes have been legitimised by the People's Party." The European Union (EU), US and other nations such as Israel have registered a range of actions from disapproval to outright condemnation of Austria's Government. Austrian delegates were publicly shunned at the recent meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Portugal. Both German and French leaders — Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Jacques Chirac — have promised resolute action. The strength of feeling has become increasingly evident far beyond Austria's borders. The Austrian Government can hardly move without encountering a continuous and expanding movement of opposition. The Belgian Government has taken a strong line on Haider who was publicly snubbed at an EU Ministers social affairs meeting. He was then forced to cancel his attendance at a regional EU meeting due to take place in Brussels. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel had earlier said the Freedom Party's inclusion in the Austrian Government set a "serious precedent" of normalising the extreme right in Europe. haidar's past words — claiming Nazi concentration camps were "punishment camps", praising Hitler's labour policies and producing anti-immigration FPO posters — are clearly more than words on his part. haidar's withdrawn libel dispute with the Sunday Telegraph over whether or not he said Churchill was one of the worst war criminals, led it to examine his recent past. It reminded readers of the time in 1995 that Haidar was filmed speaking to a predominantly Waffen SS gathering of diehard Nazis in a back room of a pub in the Carinthian town of Krumpendorf. He was heard to say: "I find it good that there are still decent people in this world with character who stick to their beliefs and their convictions — even if the wind blows against them." Haider has been succeeded as leader of the Freedom Party by his deputy, Susanne Riess-Passer, Vice-Chancellor in the coalition government. Agence France Presse quoted one Austrian weekly's comment: "One thing is sure: Reiss-Passer always does what Haider wants."