Right-wing Parties Score Victories in Elections in Austria and Belgium

Right-wing parties scored dramatic victories in elections held Sunday in both Austria and Belgium.

In Austria, the right-wing Freedom Party won 22.8 percent of the vote, increasing its number of seats in the country’s 183-seat legislature to 42 from the 33 seats it won in 1990.

The European Jewish Congress criticized the results in Austria, saying the country had apparently not learned from the mistakes of its Nazi past.

“These results show that Austria has not learned its lesson from the past in teaching its younger generations to engage in the paths of tolerance and in the values of democracy,” the group said in a statement.

While the ruling Social Democrats led by Chancellor Franz Vranitzky appeared poised to form another coalition government, the party’s loss of 14 seats in the legislature prompted Vranitzky to term the election results “a very bitter, clear and large defeat” for his party.

The Freedom Party is led by Jorg Haider, a slick politician who recently led an unsuccessful campaign to keep Austria out of the European Union and another one to declare his country closed to foreigners.

Prior to his current electoral success, which makes the Freedom Party the strongest far-right party in Western Europe, Haider was forced to resign as governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia in 1988, after he expressed support for the Third Reich’s labor policies.

Haider, who says unabashedly he wants to be the next Austrian chancellor, continues to garner support among young neo-Nazis and old Communist leaders.

Blaming foreigners for the rise in the country’s crime rates and stating that he wants an immediate end to immigration, Haider stated that his party was ready “to take responsibility for all of Austria in 1998.”

In Belgium, extreme-right parties also made big gains in local elections Sunday, when some 7 million Belgians elected new municipal councils.

Far-right parties made considerable gains both in the Flemish and the French-speaking parts of the country, with Antwerp and Brussels being particularly hit by what the daily newspaper La Libre Belgique called the “extreme-right contagion.”

One out of three votes in Antwerp went to the extreme right.

(JTA correspondent Joseph Kopel in Brussels contributed to this report.)

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