Saying ‘nein’ to Austria’s far right

Presidential candidate Rosenkranz got 15 per cent

Hans Punz/AP

Sunday’s Austrian election was, by most accounts, fairly boring: 71-year-old incumbent Heinz Fisher, a veteran Social Democrat, won a second six-year term in a landslide victory, as was widely predicted. But watchers of Europe’s far right could not ignore the fact that Barbara Rosenkranz, a controversial candidate nicknamed “Reich Mother” with supposed Nazi sympathies, got 15 per cent of the vote.

The result was still less than her Freedom Party had hoped for, leading some to suggest the right had received a trouncing. Party Leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who initially predicted Rosenkranz could get 35 per cent, blamed an “unprecedented media witch hunt” against the 51-year-old and her family: husband Horst is a one-time member of a neo-Nazi party and fundraiser for imprisoned neo-Nazis who publishes a far-right magazine. They have 10 children, whose old-fashioned Germanic names—like Mechthild, Hildrun, and Wolf—have raised eyebrows.

Still, the controversies that swirled around Rosenkranz were largely of her own making. On television, she suggested that Austria’s anti-Nazi laws be scrapped (later saying she did so to provoke her interviewer), and spoke out against laws making Holocaust denial illegal. Rosenkranz sparked a massive public outcry when, after being asked whether she doubted the existence of gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps, she said: “My view of history is the one of a person who visited Austrian schools between 1964 and 1976.” (Austrian schools didn’t always teach the Second World War at that time, the Austrian Times reported.)

So was Rosenkranz’s rejection really a trouncing of the far right? If so, it looks like a fairly underwhelming one; many Austrians were outraged at her nomination, but when election day arrived, more than half stayed home. Fischer, who got about 79 per cent of the vote, celebrated his victory regardless. Low turnout might “lead to discussions,” he said, “but I’m very happy about this fantastic result and the strong trust many Austrians apparently put in me.”

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