I took these images while waiting at the gas station for my turn at the car wash.
The DIY store on the other side of the street has just been taken over by a big German chain. It sports some big advertising banners along the main street, that have been changed to show the new design. Actually I had liked the old design better. It was more stylized and it had, although being gaudy, a much more tasteful combination of colors. The new big posters with artificially smiling “friendly faces” get quickly annoying when you see them every day 🙂
Apropos friendly faces. Next Sunday we have the run-off election for the presidency in Austria. The first ballot didn’t come as a total surprise, but nobody had expected such an unusual result.
From six candidates, only one, Richard Lugner, owner of a big construction business and something like a harmless Donald Trump, was considered chanceless. So he was.
Irmgard Griess, a former judge, entered the race as an independent candidate. For my taste she was a bit eager to get elected, tried to get support from almost any political party, and was in the end supported by the NEOS, a neo-liberal party that’s relatively new in Austria.
Alexander Van der Bellen, a professor for economics and for years head of the Green Party, was leading in all the polls.
The Social Democrats nominated one of their ministers, Rudolf Hundsdorfer, a man rooted in the unions. It was clear that he would not make it into the run-off, but then, the ruling party just had to nominate someone.
The Social Democrats are in a never-ending coalition with the Conservatives, a coalition that looked like a grid-lock for ages, a marriage without love. One of their mightiest politicians, Erwin Pröll, the governor of Lower Austria, was expected to be their candidate until February, but then even he finally realized that he is extremely unpopular everywhere but in his own province. He drew back, which is bad luck for Lower Austria. A lost election would have been an elegant way to get rid of him.
They also had to nominate someone who could be sure not to win, and so Andreas Kohl became their candidate. He is an intelligent, cynical former secretary of the party, the architect of their catastrophic coalition with late Jörg Haider’s right-wing populists, a man well acquainted with intrigue.
And then there was of course the populist Freedom Party, formerly led by Jörg Haider, then and now a safe haven for nasty nationalist politics with strong fascist tendencies. They tumble from one scandal to the next, but it does not seem to hurt their standing. During and after their last time in government, they were involved in innumerous dubious affairs, many leading to prosecutions, but somehow the so-called “wave of refugees” last year has washed that memory away.
Norbert Hofer is their candidate. He is the “friendly face” of the party, a man who gets across as humble and congenial on first and maybe second sight. Incidentally he is also the youngest of the candidates.
People in Austria tend to be pretty xenophobic. I found it surprising, that our current government didn’t give in to right-wing pressure when Angela Merkel opend German borders for Syrian refugees, but then, they were only travelling through. We greeted them with a toast and waved them good-bye.
Carrying the real weight cost the German government dearly. Angela Merkel’s popularity tumbled, and finally Germany began to close borders. Austria was next. In a desperate attempt to re-gain popularity, our goverment turned their stance and began to act as hard-liners in Europe. It was too late though. Currently everybody agrees, that if we had general elections now, the Freedom Party would come ahead by a considerable margin.
The result of the first ballot was grim. Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, the man whom everybody and their polls has expected to come in as second after a strongly leading Alexander Van der Bellen, Norbert Hofer earned 35%. Alexander Van der Bellen, my personal favorite, was lucky to make it into the run-off with 21%. Suddenly the race was very, very open at best, although many commentators already see Norbert Hofer as our next president.
Would that matter? The answer is yes. The Austrian president has a very powerful position, and it is only due to tradition, that the presidents don’t use their power to determine politics.
The president can, for instance, dissolve an elected government if he thinks they don’t do their job. You can take it for granted that Norbert Hofer has visions of what a government’s job is, that run contrary to everything the current government stands for, and likely to most of what his current voters expect or desire.
As a president, Norbert Hofer could dissolve the government at any time, and of course he would do so in a situation that most favors his Freedom Party. If they came out as winners of general elections (as it’s likely), he would hardly accept a government without the Freedom Party (if it were possible at all) and he would make sure that H.C. Strache, their party leader, is the next chancellor.
Would that matter? Well, if you look at the protagonists, I fear it would. Strache is likely a puppet. He, a former dental technician with an ever leering grin instead of intellectual prowess, has a long history of contacts with the extreme right. I don’t deem him a leader, but he is a symbol for what has become possible in the wake of Jörg Haider. Hardly anyone in his retinue is better.
Norbert Hofer is probably even more dangerous, because he is definitely intelligent. He is the main author of the party’s current program, and in the meanwhile the friendly mask has worn thin. Hofer sees his chance and he is not only determined to win, he is also determined to change this country.
As all the nationalist populists in Europe he is extremely anti-european, against the Euro as a currency, and most of all against open borders.
If you think of it, among the many things that the EU has improved in Europe, the open borders of the Schengen-zone and the Euro are probably what normal people enjoy most. The borders have become symbolic, you can just drive across to Italy for a coffee and you can even pay it in your own currency. It is a dream-come-true, but not for the lurkers in the brown swamp at the right.
Hungary and Poland are good examples of what right-wing populist governments can do to a country. In Hungary Viktor Orbán gained almost the majority needed to change the constitution, while in Poland the new government has at least an absolute majority. In both countries there are repressions against journalists and dissidents. Both governments do their best to change the rules, in order to make sure that they never again can lose an election.
Therefore: if you are Austrian and if you have not voted yet, do us all a favor and vote for Alexander Van der Bellen. Do it, even if you don’t like him. Do it, even if you were disgusted by everyone and had decided not to vote at all. Go out and do it, even if you think he’s just the lesser evil. He may be so, but for sure he would be so by a giant margin.
Thanks for making it down here 😀