VIENNA (Oct. 7)
In a bid to increase his acceptance at home and in the European community at large, far-right leader Jorg Haider has stunned critics by including a Jewish author on his party’s list for elections to the European Parliament.
Haider’s Freedom Party, the strongest far-right party in Western Europe, already holds five of Austria’s 21 seats in the European Union’s Parliament.
Political forecasters say the party is poised to increase its representation in the Oct. 13 vote for the Parliament and could move up to the second position in the Austrian delegation, after the governing Social Democratic Party.
Haider recently offered Peter Sichrovsky, 50, the second slot on the party list, which virtually assures the author a place among the Freedom Party’s representatives to the Parliament.
Haider said the presence of a Jew in the anti-immigrant Freedom Party could improve his group’s standing in the Parliament, which routinely deals with such issues as human rights, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
“We will probably be less vulnerable, less open for attacks” with Sichrovsky in the party’s parliamentary delegation, Haider said in an interview.
He added that he included Sichrovsky on the list to prove that his group “is an open party. In our Freedom Party, it does not matter which religion you have.”
According to an American Jewish Committee survey released last year, one in three supporters of the Freedom Party manifests strong anti-Semitic prejudice.
The party, which has explicitly called for a ban on immigrants, won nearly a quarter of the votes in Austria’s general elections last year.
Haider’s naming of Sichrovsky to the party list prompted outrage from Jewish critics, who referred to Sichrovsky as a traitor.
In the interview, Haider referred to this criticism as “petty, small-minded anti-Semitism.”
Sichrovsky, 50, the author of 15 books and several dramas, defended his decision to join the Freedom Party, which he described in an interview as “one of the most interesting and most modern opposition parties, mainly because they are trying hard to modernize Austria.”
Sichrovsky, who described himself as a political conservative, attempted to deflect the criticism that many members of the Freedom party have a Nazi past and are close to numerous anti-Semitic and right-wing groups.
“The other `democratic’ parties in Austria have just as many anti-Semites or old Nazis,” said Sichrovsky, whose parents fled to Britain from Austria before World War II. “The [Nazi] `tradition’ between 1938 and 1945 did not disappear and it is not exclusive” to the Freedom Party.
Sichrovsky also had harsh words for his critics.
“I am probably the widest-read Jewish author in the world. If these people criticize me it means that they are living in the past, because they cannot differentiate between heritage and political opinion.”
Sichrovsky had once been among Haider’s critics.
After Haider praised in 1991 some of Hitler’s policies, Sichrovsky described him as “the scum that floats to the top, even when you add fresh water.”
But in recent interviews, Sichrovsky said he believed that Haider had changed his views.
In a related development, Haider’s Freedom Party has become the target of criticisms over its campaign for Vienna’s municipal elections, which also take place Oct. 13.
The party claims that too many foreigners — particularly Turks, Serbs and Arabs — have been allowed to live in Vienna and that the city’s quality of life has declined as a result.
“Vienna Should Not Become Like Chicago,” reads one of the party’s posters — a reference to the crime rate in Chicago during the era of Al Capone.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was visibly taken aback by the poster during a recent trip to Vienna.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley reacted to the poster by saying, “To judge Chicago by an infamous person of the past would be like judging Vienna by Adolf Hitler.”
In Vienna’s 1991 elections, the Freedom Party won 22.6 percent of the vote, which for the first time put it in second place behind the Social Democrats.
Political observers forecast that the party will win 26 percent of next week’s vote.