Vital Signs

Austria's Populist Face

European nations are seeing their cultural if not their actual borders weakened by multiculturalism and the process known as "McDonaldization." But Austrians, in contrast to their neighbors in Germany where status quo politics are the order of the day, are avidly protesting the corruption, incompetence, and slack enforcement of immigration restrictions characteristic of the "Grand Coalition"—a two-party consociation of socialists and conservatives that has held a virtual monopoly over Austria's politics since the end of World War II.

Thus, the national election of this past October represented vet another chapter in an ongoing political revolution. Readers of these pages have periodically been apprised of a remarkable rising star in populist politics—Austria's dashing opposition leader, Jörg Haider. The charismatic figure who has vexed the political establishment of this proud middle European nation of seven million once again defied the odds and pulled off a major electoral triumph. Last autumn's parliamentary vote brought Haider's Freedom Party (FPO) to within five percentage points of becoming the second most popular party, nearly edging out the ever-weakening Social Democrats and lackluster traditional conservatives. The FPO gained nearly a quarter of the seats in Austria's governing representative body, taking yet another step in what Haider's enemies have called his...

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