- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

Austria has been getting it from all sides in recent days, as Joerg Haider of the far-right Freedom Party has been discussing forming a coalition with Wolfgang Schuessel of the conservative People's Party. Mr. Haider, whose platform focuses on xenophobic fears that immigrants and European Union expansion would take away Austrian jobs, has responded in kind. "Our chance is simply to shame all those who are prejudiced against us, internationally as well shame them so that they see that we are a very constructive force which has played a remarkable role and bears responsibility," he said in an interview with Austrian television.

The two main actors have talked of forming a coalition by today and announcing their Cabinet by mid-week. The European Union is distinctly not happy, nor indeed is the government of Israel. There are threats of break-offs of official bilateral and political ties with Austria should this scenario unfold. Among Mr. Haider's more disturbing sentiments is his praise of the "orderly employment policies" of the Third Reich and defense of the Nazi Party's military arm as "decent people of good character." Particularly from an Austrian, such statements are enough to chill your spine.

The problem is that at this point, Austria has few choices. When the Social Democrats, who won the most votes in last October's elections, weren't able to win a majority or form a coalition, the only alternative was for Mr. Haider and Mr. Schuessel whose parties won an equal number of seats in the parliament to make a match of it or call new elections. Even if new elections were called, polls show that the Freedom Party, which has gained popularity even since October, would win if new elections were to be held.

While international leaders have valid concerns about Austria's leadership, hyping the threat of a new Nazi state is not the best way to deal with Austria's political challenge. Austria has the European Union, many heads of state, and the international media keeping it accountable for its wartime past and its present governmental state of affairs. Continued interaction with the rest of Europe may be a better guarantee than either Mr. Schuessel or Mr. Haider can give that the country will be ruled in a way that threatens neither its international partnerships nor domestic peace.

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