In Vienna veritas! “Magnificent”! “Bravo to the Austrian people”! In France, Marine Le Pen was ecstatic when the results of the first round of the presidential elections in Austria were announced on 24 April and, to the dismay of many, the far right candidate Norbert Hofer got 35% of the votes, pushing the Chancellor Werner Faymann to resignation.
Alas, today the independent, Green-backed, candidate Alexander Van der Bellen won Austria’s presidential election, preventing Norbert Hofer from becoming the EU’s first far-right head of state. Hofer conceded defeat in a Facebook post.
In the classic spy thriller The Third Man, post-World War II Vienna is a moral wasteland infected by doubt and thirst for money. The still young (45) Norbert Hofer incarnates the Austrian new assertiveness and lack of a penchant for solidarity and European common values. After a short career as a political adviser to Jörg Haider’s successor, Heinz-Christian Strache, Hofer was put in charge of rewriting the FPÖ (The Austrian far-right “Freedom Party”) manifesto in 2011, pencilling in a “commitment to a German people and cultural community”. In German, this is actually Volksgemeinschaft, an expression that reminds of the rhetoric of the Nazi era.
Hofer was always ambiguous about Austria’s Nazi past, as well as about what makes the Austrian identity. He is thus a long-time member of the student fraternity Marko-Germania, which in its 1994 founding document rejected the “history defying fiction of an ‘Austrian nation’”. Yes, those students who still go through a real fencing ritual, with swords and scars and all the knights’ paraphernalia. Those funny 19th century German chums from a Burschenschaft who used to thinks of themselves as warrior monks.
He is actually an honorary knight of the Order of St. George and, of course, loves guns. He carries his gun everywhere, a Glock pistol. He used to practice paragliding, but in August 2003 he crashed and got severe spinal injuries. After that, he engaged in six months of rehab, moving from a wheelchair to the use of a cane to walk. His fraternity Marko-Germania (which doesn’t accept Jews) dreams of a new Anschluss, a union of Germany with Austria, and of throwing foreigners out.
Having been close to Haider, Hofer knows everything there is to know about corruption and all that remains opaque in the country’s political system. Corruption is deeply engrained in Austria’s structure. Austria is a country in which political parties can receive financing from abroad without any control over the source of the money; a country in which parties are allowed to receive anonymous donations… and the list can go on.
Austrian banks have made huge profits in the Balkans by financing all parties involved in the Yugoslav wars. In the 1990s, Austrian banks started functioning in a very American way, setting up branches across the unstable region. One of those banks was Hypo, the bank of Hofer’s mentor Jörg Haider, which started immediately doing serious business with potentates and local businessmen in the Balkans, among whom there were also some warlords.
That Hypo has been actively corrupting politicians all over the Balkans, but mostly in Croatia, starting from the beginning of the Yugoslav wars, was a fact widely known in Austria, long before it became a scandal in Croatia. The journalist Kurt Kuch from the Austrian weekly News revealed in his book “Country of thieves” (Land der Diebe) a whirlpool of corruption in Austria. “There are countries, like Austria, that are still in a very early stage of fighting corruption. Police and state prosecutors are weak in personnel, dependent and strongly politicized. Political support can lead to an accelerated career in justice and executive. Personal friends without qualifications are heaved into the highest offices. Politicians avoid criminal prosecution by authorities skillfully and shamelessly. The citizens of the country are being systematically robbed. No sector is immune”.
But Hofer’s message during the electoral campaign was that he would protect Austria from everything: the Brussels tyranny, TTIP, refugees, the Muslim invasion.
In his campaign, Hofer was backed by Felix Baumgartner, the Red Bull hero who jumped to Earth from the stratosphere… In political terms, Norbert Hofer was doing something similar.