- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

Some ghosts die hard, and those of the Nazi Holocaust still haunt Austria these days. Joerg Haider of the far-right Freedom Party and Wolfgang Schuessel of the conservative Austrian People's Party announced Tuesday night that they had come to an agreement over forming a ruling coalition (which is expected to be approved by Austrian President Thomas Klestil today). International outcry over the controversial union has not had any deterrent effect so far. But Austria cannot deny that Mr. Haider's party is known to have been a haven for former Nazis and that just this fall he campaigned on a platform decrying "Ueberfremdung" the same term used during the Third Reich to describe excessive immigration.

Nor is it even clear that Austrians know exactly what they have been voting for as Mr. Haider tends to change his message with each new audience. Are the Austrians so eager for political change that they are deaf to the contradictory statements Mr. Haider has made over the past 10 years? Polls show that even if Mr. Klestil does not approve the coalition and calls for a new election, the Freedom Party would come out on top. Austrians should know what they are choosing.

In October 1990, Mr. Haider called Austria's World War II veterans "victims" and the next year praised the Third Reich's " 'orderly' employment policy." When his own provincial parliament in Carinthia was outraged, Mr. Haider apologized. In 1995 he praised former members of Hitler's Waffen SS as "decent people of good character" worthy of "honor and respect." But a month after his party won second place in Austria's general election, he apologized for his earlier statements and said that "we must observe the burden of remembrance" for that period of Austria's past.

Funny, just that fall he had been railing against too many foreigners coming into the country, and on Saturday, Mr. Haider predicted a government that would legislate a nearly complete ban on immigration. Quite a burden of remembrance for a time in German and Austrian fairly recent history when it was a practice to send undesirable foreigners and minorities to concentration camps. And quite a strange statement coming from a man who had said after viewing Washington's Holocaust memorial that "even those individuals who do not know much about history will realize that we must do everything to enforce tolerance, human rights and strengthen democracy." Xenophobia or tolerance? Which is it to be?

Those who would be harmed the most by Mr. Haider's policies are undoubtedly his fellow Austrians. There is the danger that Austria will be isolated internationally as it was under former president Kurt Waldheim who had been accused of committing war crimes under Hitler during his time in the military. Already the European Union has said it will cut official bilateral and political ties with the country. And yesterday concerned Austrians let Mr. Haider know they were conscious of what the future could bring as 15,000 of them protested against the coalition in Vienna.

For its own sake, Austria must re-examine Mr. Haider's record. Despite the fact that he will remain governor of Carinthia should the coalition become the government today, he still holds the reigns to the party's power, and his party would control half of the government's ministries. Austria must ask itself if it wants to put its law, its resources and its arms into the hands of a man whose views seem to veer from the unsavory to the unpredictable on some very serious subjects. Austrians ought to have the sense to realize this government will only cause them grief.

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