Will Russia's game with Austrian ultra-right justify itself?

Will Russia's game with Austrian ultra-right justify itself?

Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ), which won 26% of votes cast in October's parliamentary elections, entered the new Austrian government. At the same time, a young charismatic politician from the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) Sebastian Kurz, who had been serving as foreign minister, became perhaps the youngest chancellor in the history of the alpine republic - it is perhaps difficult to come up with a better springboard for a political career.

For the Austrian nationalists of the FPÖ, led by Heinz-Christian Strache, joining the government and obtaining key ministerial portfolios (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Health) is an unqualified success. Straсhe, who was made vice-chancellor, skillfully took advantage of anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiments in the society that arose against the backdrop of the influx of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East and increased terrorist attacks in European countries, and improved the ÖVP's positions to the level of the middle and late 1990s, when the party was led by an odious politician Jörg Haider.

The FPÖ has already entered the government coalitions twice in modern Austrian history, and both times as a junior partner of the ÖVP. In this sense, considering Austrian political traditions, nothing extraordinary happened this time. It is obvious that Austria's society already recognizes FPÖ as a full-fledged 'people's' party, and not 'political marginals' - like it happens, for example, with regard to the ultra-right Alternative for Germany in the FRG. Although, when in 1990 the FPÖ entered the government coalition for the first time, mass protests took place in Vienna with the participation of a few hundred thousand people. There is nothing like that observed now.

From the Russian perspective, another detail is way more important: the FPÖ concluded a five-year agreement on party cooperation with the United Russia party a year ago. The agreement was signed by the United Russia party's Sergei Zheleznyak, who is on the EU's sanctions list because of the Crimean issue. In addition, the FPÖ, which represents the interests of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, has consistently advocated the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the European Union. After the FPÖ became the ÖVP's partner in the new government, the revision of relations with the United Russia party has been no longer included in the party's plans. "I see no reason for this. We also maintain excellent contacts with Washington and Beijing. For the benefit of our country we are pleased to cooperate with all government parties," the head of the delegation of the European Parliament, Harald Vilimsky, said. According to the Austrian political scientist, Professor Gerhard Mangott, "from a legal point of view, the FPÖ is not under any pressure in the matter of cooperation with the United Russia party, since this party is not subject to EU sanctions." At the same time, according to Mangott, Austria's position on the issue of extending anti-Russian sanctions from the EU will not change even considering the inclusion of the Freedom Party in the government: "Chancellor Kurz will have to explain many issues to his European partners and he will not be able to depart from the pan-European line on the issue of sanctions against Russia."

Interaction with the FPÖ fits into the logic of cooperation between the Russian political establishment and the ultra-conservative European parties - whether it is the FPÖ in Austria, the National Front in France or the Alternative for Germany in Germany. In the case of the FPÖ, however, there is an important factor, which should not be forgotten by Russia's politicians - a country proud of its decisive contribution to the victory over fascism: after the party was founded in 1956, its backbone were retired officers of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS; in fact, it united former supporters of the fascist regime in its ranks. It is a, rather, rhetorical question - whether there's such thing as 'ex-fascist'. Anyway, the first leader of the ÖVP was Anton Weidinger - he was in the Waffen-SS, the NSDAP and was a minister under the Nazi regime. The denazification campaign in Austria has never had such a scale as in neighboring Germany, since the Austrians believe that they themselves were victims of Nazi Germany's Anschluss, which was led, oddly enough, by Austrian Adolf Schicklgruber.

Moreover, subsequently, there has never been a clear dissociation from the crimes of National Socialism on the part of the FPÖ members. Thus, Jörg Haider, whose political views were formed in a family, where both parents were convinced supporters of the NSDAP, was the party's chairman for 15 years and propagated the concept of 'German Austria'. It is not surprising that he spoke rather gently of the Wehrmacht's crimes: "These are soldiers who did their duty to their homeland during the war. As for the war crimes committed by both sides, then it is not necessary to blame only German soldiers." The current leader of the party Heinz-Christian Strache in his youth also had active contacts in the right-extremist milieu and was part of radical nationalist organizations whose sympathies for National Socialism are not a secret. A detailed dossier on Strache and his activities in the right-wing extremist circles was compiled by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in the article 'Die Akte Strache'.

The effectiveness of cooperation with the Austrian Freedom Party for Russian geopolitical interests in the foreseeable future is rather vague. From an ideological point of view, in spite of a certain closeness in the matter of upholding conservative values, this party is, to put it mildly, a strange partner for Russia in terms of its history and propagandized ideology.