Mass Protests Denounce Ultra-Right Coalition in Austria

At the beginning of February, the traditional conservative party in Austria formed a coalition with an ultraright , antiforeigner, populist party with features reminiscent of fascism, the Freedom Party of Jörg Haider. It got 25 percent of the vote in the past election.

The formation of the right-ultraright government set off alarm bells throughout Europe and provoked a vast protest movement in Austria. The following article by our Austrian Fourth International comrades describes the development of these actions.

VIENNA-The Feb. 19 demonstration against the “Black and Blue” government has been the high point so far of the protest movement. About 300,000 people took part in the march and concluding rally.

The action was called by the left-liberal committees of personalities, SOS-Fellow Men” and “Democratic Offensive,” as well as by the Action Committee of left organizations, the Greens, and Social Democratic organizations such as the unions.

“Down with the Black and Blues” is a slogan you hear more and more in Vienna. Up until the big Feb. 19 demonstration, 3000 to 8000 people marched daily through Vienna. On Feb. 18, there was a high school student strike in Vienna. About 10,000 high school students marched through the downtown area.

On the morning of Feb. 19, small groups began demonstrating, such as women and lesbians. Klaus Bachler, director of the Vienna Civic Theater, opened this establishment to the protest demonstration.

In the early afternoon, various demonstrations formed around Vienna. There was rally of about 20,000 people, including Social Democratic trade unionists from Austria, trade-union delegates from Belgium, the youth organization of the Italian Party of the Democratic Left [successor of the Euro-Communist wing of the CP], a delegation from Communist Refoundation [successor of the left wing of the Italian CP], comrades from Fourth International sections such as the Revolutionary Communist League of Germany, and Austrian youth groups.

At the opening rally, our French comrade and European parliament member Alain Krivine warned about the hypocrisy of the European right-wing parties that now represent themselves as antifascist. That evening 300,000 people marched in Heroes Square-where in 1938 Hitler proclaimed the annexation of Austria to the Reich- to protest against the right-wing government.

The head of the “Black and Blue” government, Wolfgang Schüssel, tried to belittle the demonstration. He talked about a last gasp of the old left of 1968 and of the “Internet generation.” However, the organizers of the protests decided to demonstrate one day a week, on the model of the protests that brought down the East German government.

The Freedom Party general secretary, Peter Westenthaler, focused his assault on the Social Democratic Party and trade unionists, accusing them of taking the dispute onto the streets and demonstrating shoulder to shoulder with radical leftists and Communists from all over Europe.

Jörg Haider, the leader of the Freedom Party, the focus of the protests, had to lead an agitated life. On the evening of the Feb. 19 demonstrations, he was recognized in an Italian restaurant, and had to flee under police guard.

He did not dare put in an appearance at the European Union regional conference. He flew to Canada, letting it be known that he had “more important business” to attend to. In fact, he took a personal vacation to get away from the demonstrations.

The new coalition government tried to go back to a day-to-day routine, but without success. At the meeting of EU social ministers in Lisbon, the Freedom Party social minister was demonstratively ignored by his colleagues, which Austrian TV lamented.