Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Austria marks 80 years since ‘Anschluss’ as president warns against neo-fascists


Austria yesterday marked the 80th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany, with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen urging young people not to be “taken in” by neo-fascist and far-right ideologies.

On March 12, 1938, Adolf Hitler ordered 200,000 soldiers, SS officers and police to invade Austria, his native country, subsequently declaring its Anschluss, or annexation by the Third Reich.

A “Day of Commemoration” was held yesterday to mark the events of 1938 that changed the course of Austrian history and served as a prelude to World War II.

Asked in an interview with the Kurier daily what future generations could learn from the Anschluss, Van der Bellen said: “Not to be taken in.”

People should not take “peaceful cohabitation, codetermination and stable political conditions for granted,” he said. “These things can change.”

Van der Bellen — a former leader of the environmentalist Greens who in late 2016 beat an anti-immigration candidate in a polarizing and nail-biting presidential election — said minorities enjoy better protection today. “They can’t be outlawed at the stroke of a pen as they could then by a majority. If that weren’t the case, the state could be immediately turned into a tyranny of the majority, as happened back then.”

Van der Bellen has repeatedly called for vigilance and for tolerance since a coalition government took power in December last year, headed by the 31-year-old conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, with the leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), Heinz-Christian Strache, as his deputy.

The FPOe, which counts former Nazis among its founders, is the oldest of the major right-wing nationalist and anti-immigration groupings on the rise in the EU.

FPOe politicians have repeatedly rejected neo-Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism since the party joined the ruling coalition.

The party has also expressed its gratitude to “the Republic of Austria, democracy, parliamentarism and the rule of law.”

However, the FPOe’s position regarding the status of the Austrian state has long been ambiguous, with a strong current within the party — particularly among student fraternities — viewing Austria as part of a wider pan-German or “Greater German” identity.

Appearing on Austrian television alongside other leading politicians for the Anschluss commemorations, Strache said it was everyone’s individual responsibility to remember “the National Socialist terror regime that murdered people on a large scale because of their religion, their origin and their political opinions.”

However, since it joined the ruling coalition, the FPOe has found itself embroiled in a string of embarrassing controversies regarding its relationship to Austria’s history. In January, for example, a leading FPOe candidate in regional elections quit the party because of a scandal over song lyrics praising the Holocaust.

While Strache has been keen to clean up his party’s image, other incidents have tarnished it, such as one FPOe member of parliament who declared in 2006 on television that “National Socialism also had its good sides.”

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