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The Populist Politics of Austria

In this small nation's elegant capital in November 1992, newspaper headlines bannering the Clinton presidential victory temporarily displaced the local story of the moment: a decisive political coup by Jörg Haider, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). Although it is quite clear that Austria's status quo, socialist-conservative, "Red-Black" alliance has functioned effectively as a patronage machine, one longtime political observer notes that "it appears ineffectual, even paralyzed, when faced with larger political issues, especially immigration." Amid a general economic downturn throughout Europe, this latter issue was tackled head-on by Jörg Haider's Freedom Party in late October 1992, when it proposed a national referendum: a 12-point petition on the key issues of asylum, immigration, and multicultural education. This startling coup reverberated within the nation's parliament over the next several months and subsequently shaped a spring constitutional debate, forcing a vote to address these critical national concerns.

With Germany, its neighbor to the north, badly shaken by street violence and arson since the beginning of the 1990's, Austria's Nationalrat had for many months ignored the need to address the troubling fact that this once powerful but now greatly diminished middle European nation would be drawn into the maelstrom of Continental violence, either incipient...

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