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Vice chancellor refuses to exclude FPÖ

The People’s Party (ÖVP) keeps refusing to disassociate itself from the Freedom Party (FPÖ) following FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s controversial comparisons with the Nazi era.

Strache discussed in a private conversation at last week’s Viennese Corporations Ball whether late FPÖ chief Jörg Haider was right by describing Austria’s right-wingers as "the new Jews". The FPÖ leader also compared the physical and verbal attacks against ball guests on their way to Hofburg Palace with the Reichskristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in 1938 when synagogues were set ablaze and Jewish people’s stores destroyed.

A journalist was accused of espionage by FPÖ officials for making the statements of Strache public. The FPÖ leader stressed he made the disputed remarks "under the influence of what happened. Many crying women told me of physical attacks and insults by violent protesters." Strache stressed he mentioned the "new Jews" theory only in connection with Haider. However, the reporter who started the controversy stressed that the late FPÖ head’s name was not mentioned at any time in the chat at the ball, an event widely seen as a get-together of right-wing extremists from all over Europe.

Strache argued he referred to how mass hysteria was caused. The right-winger did not deny seeing resemblances of the Nazis’ methods to the activities of violent protesters in the city centre of Vienna last Friday. Hundreds of people from Austria, Germany and other countries took to the streets against the ball. Organisers of a peaceful gathering to commemorate the people who died at Auschwitz condemned the violence which dominated the late evening. The Jewish Community in Vienna (IKG), labour unions, Green Party officials and students co-organised the death camp victims’ commemoration day event.

Andreas Khol, who heads the ÖVP’s pensioners' association, told Die Presse yesterday that Strache’s statement did not rule out his party as a possible coalition partner after the next election. However, the former parliament speaker said that the FPÖ boss disqualified himself from becoming chancellor or vice chancellor. Khol also criticised those who engaged in violent protests against the guests of the Vienna Corporations Ball. He said Strache would only be benefiting from their actions. ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger said today (Fri) he was "outraged" by Strache’s statements but also said: "No one knows what the situation will be like after the coming election."

Spindelegger’s announcement is seen as an attempt to avoid infuriating the FPÖ and keep another government coalition option for the time after the ballot of 2013. ÖVP and FPÖ cooperated for four years until 2005 – a partnership which caused anger around the world amid fears of a move towards the right in Austria. Newspapers and politicians across Europe felt reminded of the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany and Austria in the 1930s. Ex-ÖVP leader Erhard Busek told the Kurier today he had always been of the opinion that cooperating with Haider was impossible. "The same can be said about Strache," he stressed.

Independent Science Minister Karlheinz Töchterle, who was nominated by the ÖVP, said he would finding being part of a government partnership with the FPÖ a "complex task". Töchterle also pointed out he was against a "total political exclusion" of the right-wing party which finished the most recent general election in third place. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) came first in 2008 followed by their current coalition partner, the ÖVP.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer decided earlier this week not to decorate Strache with the Golden Badge of Honour with Star. Strache was set to receive the medal for being a part of the city hall and federal parliament for 10 years altogether. Fischer did not issue any further statement. The decision is nevertheless seen as a clear statement by the former SPÖ whip against the FPÖ head.

Only yesterday, another FPÖ official caused outcry by comparing the situation around Hofburg Palace last Friday with the Night of Broken Glass. Franz Obermayr, who represents the FPÖ in the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg, France, said: "There was a pogrom atmosphere in Vienna."

Upper Austrian ÖVP Governor Josef Pühringer decided not to call off his attendance of next week’s Burschenbundball in Linz which is organised by right-wing student fraternities. Obermayr heads a committee in charge of the event. Pühringer was allegedly set to officially open the ball. His office emphasised yesterday that he "will only visit it". The ÖVP Upper Austria chairman said this year’s attendance would be his last if he noticed any kind of far-right tendencies in the various speeches and conversations.

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