The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
To the Editor:
Andrew Nagorski offers a morally and historically muddled prescription for the European Union (EU) in its dealings with Austria and the Freedom Party ("The Politics of Guilt," May/June 2000). Nagorski derides the "reckless oversimplification" that leads politicians and publics to see only "good guys," who use the conventionally right words when discussing barbarities, and "bad guys," who "raise troubling questions." But Jörg Haider and the Freedom Party are not merely raising questions in the manner of the novelist Martin Walser; they are offering, however disguised by later retractions, policy prescriptions that much of the rest of Europe, not to mention the United States, finds morally abhorrent.
The EU and the American press have certainly simplified the story of the rise of the Freedom Party. Austria's "grand coalition" shares the responsibility for the situation in which the country now finds itself. But a political party that comes to share power as a result of discontent with the political system -- however legitimate and understandable -- does not and should not automatically gain international legitimacy. Dangerous right-wing movements -- and Nagorski does not suggest that the Freedom Party has really changed its stripes -- frequently come to power because they combine racist or xenophobic appeals with a plausible attack on the real deficiencies of the system. The "excuse me" apologies that Nagorski seeks from the Freedom Party and Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel are unconvincing: if words were enough, then Haider's own disavowals should suffice.
Nagorski is quite right to assert that Austria's "failure to face its past is one reason why ... Haider gets away with open xenophobia." The significant contrast here is with Germany, where, despite the near-collapse of the Christian Democratic Union, the difficulties posed by the integration of the east, and a flagging economy, there is no prospect of a right-wing resurgence on the scale of the Freedom Party. Why? In part because, from the Nuremberg tribunals to the furor over the publication of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners in 1996, other nations and their citizens have repeatedly shown their unwillingness to sanction any re-emergence of Nazi ideology in Germany, even in an attenuated form. This is not to belittle the distinguished contributions of many Germans, from Theodor Heuss to Willy Brandt, to the destruction of the extreme right in Germany. But their courage would have been less effective if the spotlight of the world had not been trained on Germany for the past 55 years. Denazification was imperfect and partial; so is the EU reaction to the Freedom Party. But it is a start, and a long-overdue one, toward making Austria acknowledge its past.
Ted R. Bromund
Associate Director, International Security Studies, Yale University