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Hullabaloo


Saturday, September 24, 2016

 
Something to haunt your nightmares

by digby











Time Magazine reports:
As recently as a couple of years ago, when Max Geishüttner was in his second year of law school in the Austrian city of Linz, he tended to avoid talking about his support for the country’s Freedom Party. It wasn’t exactly taboo, but a lot of Austrians still associated the party with racism, even neo-Nazism. Its first two leaders, from 1956 to 1978, were former SS officers, and their successors in the years that followed were implicated in a series of scandals over anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. In the homeland of Adolf Hitler, who also went to school in Linz, such a reputation seemed an impossible obstacle to popular acceptance in a Europe that was supposed to have left such prejudices behind.

“So you would feel, like, a bad conscience if you say, ‘I vote for the FPO,'” Geishüttner told me at one of the party’s campaign rallies in mid-September, using the Freedom Party’s German abbreviation. But 2016 is different. Thanks to a broader shift to the right in European politics, the FPO has become the most popular party in Austria, with its support growing fastest among voters younger than 30. Its presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, is well positioned to win a runoff election in December, which would make Austria the first country in Western Europe to elect a far-right head of state since the fall of Nazi Germany. “Now it’s normal,” said Geishüttner.


The Freedom Party’s rise is not an anomaly. Across the once placid political landscape of Western Europe, right-wing upstarts have created what Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, recently termed “galloping populism.” He was referring to movements like the Sweden Democrats, the National Front in France, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and other voices on the far right calling for their once open countries to close up and turn inward. But the insurgency is not limited to Europe. All the rising rightist parties are aligned with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in what they encourage voters to fear: migrants taking your jobs, Muslims threatening your culture and security, political correctness threatening your ability to speak your mind and, above all, entrenched elites selling you out in the service of the wealthy and well-connected.

In the case of Austria, the man responsible for harnessing this formula is Heinz-Christian Strache, a fast-talking, telegenic former dental technician who took over as FPO chairman in 2005. Back then, the party’s approval ratings were in the single digits, weighed down by claims of anti-Semitism that had dogged its upper ranks for years. But Strache changed the party’s image. Support for the state of Israel became part of its platform, and its new leaders renounced the aversion that their predecessors had expressed toward Jews. Instead, Strache focused his party’s hostility on a different minority group: Muslims.

“Political Islam,” he told TIME in an interview in his office in Vienna, “is the fascism of today, and that is what we have to fight.” Such claims would have once been met with outrage in Europe, but no longer. Amid the political backlash to the refugee crisis in the summer of 2015, when more than a million asylum seekers from around the Muslim world came streaming into the E.U., a patchwork of populist movements have begun to call for Europeans to shut their borders to Muslim migrants, close Islamic schools and ban Muslim women from covering their hair or face in public. And they’re winning.

We have one of these too. And the US is the world's only superpower.