Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Hitler Legacy

AUSTRIA: On the 120th anniversary of the Nazi leader’s birth, far right parties are again being resurrected - From Billy Briggs in Vienna

IN A courtyard at the University of Vienna there was laughter as graduates posed for photographs, but as noon approached, an uneasy calm descended and guests left en masse. Improbably, one of Europe's most revered seats of learning has become a place of violence.

The controversy surrounds a statue called Siegfried's Kopf. Portraying a warrior from German mythology, the monument is a symbolic figure for Austria's far right, so each week fiercely nationalist students, called Burschenshaften, gather to pay homage.

But for months now there has been fighting on campus as other students protest at what they view as an unacceptable show of support for a despised Nazi past. In order to prevent violence, the university tried to remove the statue but were unable to because it is protected by the state. As a compromise, the piece was relocated from the main entrance to the courtyard where it now sits in a glass case engraved with the stories of Jews persecuted by Nazis during the 1930s; in the eyes of the far right an act of desecration.

On our recent visit, the Burschenschaften had been banned from visiting the statue and at the main entrance to the university armed police stood guard as they handed out leaflets to protest. Dressed in their uniforms, the Burschenschaften resembled colourful bandsmen of an age gone-by and are a far cry from the shaven-headed thugs normally associated with neo-Nazism.

As the protest continued other students gathered and there was clearly tension in the air. One girl claimed the Burschenschaften were part of a group of men who attacked a student march against fascism outside the Austrian Parliament the week before. Whispering, she added: "The Nazis are back in Austria." ...

Drumming up hatred of foreigners and campaigning against the "Islamisation" of Austria, the Freedom Party (FPO) and Alliance for the Future (BZO) jointly secured massive public support - 29% per cent - in a result viewed as a horrifying development by many people across Europe.

Both parties ran xenophobic campaigns, particularly the FPO who pledged to set up a ministry to deport foreigners and whose leader, Heinz Christian Strache, described women in Islamic dress as "female ninjas".

More sinisterly, the FPO wants to revoke the Verbotsgesetz, an Austrian law enacted in 1947 that bans the promotion of neo-Nazi ideology. ...