Is Austria’s Right-wing Victory a Warning Sign?


Originally published by Voice of America.

Polls showing a clear victory for Austria’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party after a first round of elections Sunday could mean Europe’s migrant issue is driving voters across the continent to support less liberal politicians, according to analysts.

The pattern became evident in eastern Europe last year, when images of tens of thousands of migrants transiting through Hungary helped right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban consolidate his support.  In October, promises of a more assertive approach to the European Union and its calls for each member state to absorb thousands of migrants helped catapult the nationalist Law and Justice Party’s Beata Szydlo to victory in Poland.

“People have seen the absolute numbers that have exceeded initial expectations,” Alan Mendoza, head of the Henry Jackson Society, a London research organization, told VOA.  “People’s goodwill has evaporated,” he said.

Those sentiments were fueled by scenes of men, including some migrants, groping women during New Year’s Eve festivities in neighboring Germany.  In Vienna, police chief Gerhard Pursti caused outrage among Austrian women’s advocates when he warned, “Women should in general not go out on the streets at night alone” to protect themselves from sexual assault.

Critics accused authorities of failing to protect citizens.

Now, at the polls, “people have had to turn to extreme solutions to vent their frustrations,” said Mendoza, who sees the vote not necessarily as a turning point but a warning sign to establishment parties across Europe.

The migration issue already has sparked challenges against the established political order in places like France, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Austria’s case is of special concern, Mendoza notes, because of its history. “Austrians often say they were the first victims of the Nazis, but they were also the first collaborators.”


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