14 May 2014

Dilemmas of Austrian Identity – Alfred Goubran’s Idiotikon: Der Gelernte Österreicher


 
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1897)

 
It is an intriguing title, Der gelernte Österreicher (Braumüller, 2013), with its allusive irony, as in a gelernter Tischler (trained carpenter) or (like the current Mayor of Vienna) a gelernter Biologe (trained biologist). Gelernte impliesa professional training, first as an apprentice, then as a fully fledged practitioner. Artisanship. Craft. Skills that can be acquired by following a technical induction. But a gelernter Österrreicher?

As to Idiotikon, a word which like gelernte immediately sends ambiguous signals to the reader, we are told it originally meant a dictionary of the linguistic idiosyncrasies of a country or region”(1) – but that is now archaic. Goubran traces the etymology of “idiot” from Greece (a private person – not pejorative) through Rome (pejorative to describe the incompetent), finally arriving at Lenin’s “useful idiots” who were both the victims and the perpetrators of ideological manipulation. His bitter essay is a characterisation of the mainstream intellectual, managerial, bureaucratic and political Austrian as “useful idiot”, a type he claims has all too often exchanged his independence of mind for identity-free careerism. It is a malevolent generalisation worthy of the writer Thomas Bernhard, but Goubran’s strictures on the Austrian ethos have a serious intent, which cannot always be said of the literary hyperbole and finely tuned rants of Bernhard.
 
The careerism that is pilloried here is not of the common or garden variety. While the author is fond of ending his chapters with the mantra hier in Österreich wie überall (“here in Austria as everywhere”), his essay is specifically an investigation into the Austrian strain of a Europe-wide phenomenon, namely the loss of authentic identity, be it of the nation or the individual. National identities are an embarrassment to trans-national visionaries who seem to regard them as innocuous only if reduced to drearily predictable clichés fashioned for tourism; individual identities are subsumed in consumerism, centralisation of political power and globalisation. It is an environment hostile to personal authenticity and dominated by branded intellectual or cultural goods, empty slogans, aggressive marketing and invasion of personal privacy. “The protagonist of this controlling world is the identity-free man who keeps himself in power by means of rules and regulations. We encounter him when the discussion turns to banks and international concerns. We find him on company boards and on committees when centralisation is driven forward” (p. 183).(2)
 
This last reflection does make the supposed Austrian loss of identity sound like every man’s in the modern world. However the central idea of this polemicis the facility with which the canny Austrian assumes identities for the purposes of self-protection or self-advancement. Goubran locates this skill in the context of post-Versailles survival, tracing the transformation of the gelernte Österreicher to neuer Österreicher in four stages beginning with the Anschluß in 1938, when he was transmuted into a Deutschösterreicher;(3) then the post-war Parteiösterreicher whose Parteibuch (proof of party affiliation) was his passport to a career (Goubran claims that teachers routinely had two Parteibücher – one for the Conservatives and one for the Socialists). There followed the incremental collapse of the two- party hegemony from the 1980s which led to a moderner Österreicher; and finally the liberale Österreicher appears in the early nineties. The implication is that these transformations represent strategic positioning rather than an embrace of principle, a hollow Anpassungsfähigkeit or vorauseilender Gehorsam (conformism or obsequiousness) rather than personal conviction.

In all this we are in familiar territory. An obsession with the tension between a supposedly authentic and a supposedly manufactured or imposed identity informs the Austrian self-image from Robert Musil’s novel The Man without Qualities (1930–33) through post-war studies like psychiatrist Erwin Ringel’s Die österreichische Seele (“The Austrian Soul”, 1984) and historian Friedrich Heer’s magnificent Der Kampf um die österreichische Identität (“The Struggle for Austrian Identity”, 1981); and on to such antinomian outbursts as right-wing politician Jörg Haider’s characterisation of the Second Republic as a Fehlgeburt (“miscarriage”). Musil’s depiction of an Austrian identity crisis is set in the context of an imperial elite gradually losing its sense of purpose and relevance. Ringel’s is set in the aftermath of the Nazi trauma. The most controversial and interesting of the three is Heer, who advances the theory that Austrian self-hating schizophrenia (the Morbus Austriacus) has roots going back to the ruthless eradication of the Reformation in the Austrian Crown Lands. He points out that the support for the right-wing Freedom Party is often strongest in areas where Protestantism also was once strong. Furthermore the rhetoric of the Waldvierteler Georg Ritter von Schönerer at the turn of the 19th century was based on a “Pan-German Political Programme” that was anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic – 86,000 Catholics joined the Protestant Church under the influence of Schönerer’s claim that “Germany’s cathedral dome is built without Jews and Rome”.(4) However Goubran’s starting point is the Anschluß, which was also the starting point for the famous cabaret creation of Helmut Qualtinger and Carl Merz, Der Herr Karl, the cynical trimmer who survives each regime and says he only joined the Nazis because there was free beer and sandwiches at the meetings. “My understanding of democracy”, said Herr Karl, “is keep your mouth shut and smile.”
 
Notwithstanding its rather unpromising beginning steeped in the clichés of liberal austromasochism, Goubran’s polemic begins to veer, gradually at first, then almost totally “off-message”. Just when you think he is in danger of disappearing in the soggy embrace of the left-liberal consensus, he articulates a refreshing fight-back against the sanctimonious orthodoxies contending for our souls (and votes). Possibly without intending to do so, his book supplies a counter- blast to the instrumentalisation of a tragic past for short term political gain and to inauthentic posturing generally. When, as happened recently, an Austrian journalist is required to enter a temporarily closed area protecting guests at the Freedom Party’s annual ball only with police escort, and describes this restriction as “like North Korea”, he is not striking a blow for freedom, as he would have us believe, merely posturing for a particular constituency.(5) Moreover his false moral equivalence devalues the suffering of those trapped in the totalitarian embrace of one of the most barbaric regimes on earth. As Hubert Feichtlbauer puts it in his remarkable study of The Austrian Dilemma: “Politics without morality leads us into an abyss. Morality instead of politics is the terrorisation of people’s opinions.”(6)
A similar insight is, one might almost say, a by-product of Goubran’s polemic and makes his essay decidedly worth reading, questionable generalisations and somewhat convoluted arguments notwithstanding.

Unfashionably Goubran begins with Anton Wildgans’s notorious Rede über Österreich given in the Wiener Rundfunk on 1 January 1930. The speech is an attempt to preserve Austrian exceptionalism, based on its leading role in the now defunct Empire. Standing above Partei and “above nationalities”, the Deutschösterreicher had become nolens volens Völkerkenner, Menschenkenner, Seelenkenner (a connoisseur of peoples, of men and of souls). Although Goubran makes short work of this, pointing out that the empathy-charged homo austriacus was nevertheless able to stage a Kristallnacht only eight years after Wildgans’s speech, the latter is better understood in its historical context. Overnight in 1918 Austrians had lost their leadership of a 600-year-old empire; Wildgans’s ascription to them of “psychological skills and service to an idea” was not entirely fantasy and his words were an attempt to apply a suture to a terrible psychic (as well as territorial) amputation. Alas, gangrene had set in.
The second “horrible example” of deliberate self-deception (which is really Goubran’s theme) was the characterisation (endorsed by the allies) of Austria as Hitler’s “first victim”. This “get out of gaol free card” is the root of much ambivalence and conflict even today. Wolfgang Schüssel, Chancellor in the controversial coalition government formed between Conservatives and the right-wing Freedom Party in 2000, tried to square the circle by officially commemorating “all the victims of the Second World War and the Nazi terror”; when he gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post, he was criticised for saying that “the sovereign state of Austria was literally the first victim of the Nazi regime”, although he added: “This in no way diminishes Austria’s moral responsibility.”(7) These two statements may be taken as true or mutually contradictory according to your point of view. Goubran merely cites the “victimhood” argument in order to underline his dubious generalisation that the Austrian character “hovers between Ohnmacht (impotence, i.e. as Hitler’s victim) and Selbstzufriedenheit (smugness, i.e. as in the Wildgans speech).

There are indeed many other abusive references of this kind scattered through the book: claimed Austrian “successes” are mostly fake, designed to bolster morale in view of Austria’s extreme unimportance in the world (p. 37); likewise Austria’s patriotism is mostly spurious; insofar as it exists, it is part of the Heimatindustrie designed for foreign consumption (p. 46). The gelernte Österreicher has “replaced thoughtwithconvictionhislearningprocessislikeabeheading”(sic!p. 47). “The less identity there is, the more there is a desire to belong” (p. 53). “In Austria, criticism from below is impossible… criticism from those outside the magic circle of successful [i.e. gelernten] Austrians is regarded as lèse-majesté„ (p. 56). The Raunzen (“grumbling”) of the Austrian is a “mixture of complaint and grievance-mongering, of accusation and self-pity, of moroseness and discontent”. It is “the know-all-ness of the impotent, the opinionated whispering of the powerless, carping and dogmatic, plaintive and spiteful” (p. 62) – and so on, and on. Here again he sounds like the alter ego of Thomas Bernhard whose characters, whether or not they reflected Bernhard’s view of Austria, certainly purported to express a striking degree of self-hatred among its inhabitants (e.g. Austria is a spiritual and culture-free cloaca”).
 
Is it likely that even the most embittered Magyar pseudo-liberal or the most self- important Hampstead intellectual in the UK would generalise in this manner about his or her fellow-countrymen or women? It is true that one expatriate blogged his opinion that the Magyars are no better than “pig swallowing in their own slime”. But this was at the height of the campaign against the Fidesz government and is more a fit of childish bad temper than the considered view of an intellectual set out in a cultivated essay. Austromasochism seems to be an Austrian unicum, a toxic combination of frustration and Wichtigtuerei (“self-importance”). For the bien-pensant Austrian intellectual any display of patriotism is effectively taboo, not least because he lives from the exposure and denunciation of “nationalism”, which itself has become more or less synonymous with patriotism in the minds of left-liberals. The default position of only allowing national pride to be expressed through sport and kitsch representations of landscape and folk music is indeed well described by Goubran. Even here, it seems, we are now commanded by left-liberals to purge our devotion to the familiar and loved landscapes of home from possibly nationalist feelings. An article in the Financial Times(8) solemnly tells us: “This love of the native landscape can be entirely innocent. Often, though, it segues into anti-immigrant feeling” (my italics). But such dreary political correctness is amateur stuff compared to the self-flagellation an Austrian like Bernhard can generate from the same topos: “If you weigh up the meanness of the inhabitants against the beauty of the landscape, it is likely to lead to suicidal thoughts.”

To be sure the Austrian bien-pensant is following a European trend whereby displays of patriotism both annoy and embarrass many intellectuals. Even on the left, however, there are signs that a rethink is underway and a more nuanced approach is becoming apparent, perhaps under pressure of political developments. To take an example more or less at random, The Observer, a left-leaning British newspaper, recently featured a review by the libertarian socialist Nick Cohen of a book by Linda Colley, the distinguished historian of British identity. Although Cohen praises the work, he feels obliged to point out that “nowhere in the fifteen essays did I find a glimmer of admiration for Britain’s traditions of free speech, say, or trade union rights. Like so many on the middle-class liberal-left she [Colley] can barely bring herself to say a good word about her country. Without realising what she is doing, she hands to the right all patriotic feeling, all notions that there are ideas and movements in our history that are worth defending… grateful conservatives are more than happy to fill the space the unpatriotic left havevacated.”(9) A similar sentiment, with knobs on, could be expressed about much of the Austrian intelligentsia, especially the leading writers, who fall over themselves to establish their counter-cultural critical credentials in a manner that sometimes seems close to self-parody.

The danger of this attitude is that it stimulates “populism” (in the form of the Freedom Party) as a reaction to a mealy-mouthed and pharisaical intellectual stance on patriotism. As the late Social Democratic historian Tony Judt put it in an interview with Newsweek: “Haider [the late Jörg Haider, then leader of the Freedom Party] is bad news, not a monster. But Europe’s anger at his success only brings out the most evil instincts in him and his followers.”(10) That may be so, but the Austrian left’s pathological distrust of a localpatriotic identity can have even more bizarre consequences. The most spectacular of these was the inverted or transferred nationalism of the writer Peter Handke, who embraced the violent Serb nationalism of Slobodan Milošević, the latter being recast as the innocent victim of imperialistic western powers. Not only did Handke rush to Belgrade when the NATO bombing began, stating that “my place is with the Serbs”, but he also gave an ambivalent speech at Milošević’s funeral which seemed exculpatory to many. It hardly needs stressing that Milošević represented everything a left-liberal intellectual like Handke purports to abhor – virulent nationalism and brutal dictatorship, not to mention persecution and genocide of minorities.(11) Still all the intelligentsia are comfortably “on message” when it comes to lambasting Viktor Orbán’s Hungarian “nationalism”, not least because he too has alluded to Hungary’s occupation by the Germans in 1944 as the nation’s loss of sovereignty, implying therefore that from then on Hungary was no longer Hitler’s ally but his victim. Furiously denouncing such fine tuning of history perhaps enables Austrians to feel a little less uncomfortable about their own psychological dilemma.
 
The conflicted identity and double standards of liberal Austrians were on display in a more complex form when the Schüssel government took power in 2000 in coalition with the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ)(12). The entire intellectual establishment was against this because it effectively made the Freedom Party salonfähig, whereas those on the left of course maintained it was not a party fit for government. The trouble with this line was that (a) the Freedom Party had long been operating within the rules (if not always in the spirit) of democratic politics; and (b) its political programme for government was within the framework of the rule of law democratically applied, however objectionable liberal critics might find some of its politicians’ verbal provocations; moreover the programme jointly adopted with the ÖVP(13) under Wolfgang Schüssel, was unimpeachably democratic. Indeed the first measures passed by the government concerned integration of immigrants and improvement to the status of minorities. It then proceeded to restitution of Jewish assets robbed by the Nazis, an issue that no government, left or right had hitherto systematically addressed. All this counted for nothing and for the first time the EU illegally applied “sanctions” to the democratically elected government of a member state.

Even “the three wise men”, pompously sent by the European Union to inspect democracy in Austria, could in the end do little more than condemn the distasteful language of some FPÖ politicians and certain of the party’s election posters, which were indeed xenophobic. But if every misleading or objectionable poster put up by democratic parties in Europe were to lead to a ban on the party in government, we should probably not have any political parties that were fit for European government. In reality the EU was trying to exit a situation of its own making without losing face: a similar inspection of the state of democracy in, for example, France, where Le Pen’s anti-Semitic party was riding high, or in Italy, where Neo-Fascists and members of the chauvinistic Lega Nord were actually in government, could have proved highly embarrassing. As late as 1994, Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the National Alliance (formerly “Movimento Sociale”) party, from 1995 in coalition with Berlusconi, had been saying things like: “Fascism has a tradition of honesty, correctness and good government” and “Mussolini was the greatest Italian statesman of the twentieth century”. No inspection of Italy’s democracy by “three wise men” took place.
 
The behaviour of the Austrian Socialists on the other hand, working with forces in the EU to impose illegal sanctions on a government they disapproved of, was unquestionably undemocratic. The double standards were, if anything, even more glaring than in the case of a confused idealist like Handke. Conveniently airbrushed out of leftist accounts of the affair was the attempt of the Socialist leader (Viktor Klima) to reverse his party’s exclusion policy then operating against the FPÖ in order to stay in power. On 23 January 2000 he gave an interview to the magazine Format which opened the door to a possible co-operation agreement with the FPÖ to underpin a minority Socialist administration – in effect the option previously adopted by Socialist Chancellor Bruno Kreisky in his first minority government in 1970 (see below).(14) Also airbrushed out on the conservative side of the argument is the fact that President Klestil, who did everything within, and in fact beyond, his remit to prevent the ÖVP–FPÖ coalition, had himself given an interview to Le Monde in 1998, at a time when he needed FPÖ votes for his election to the presidency, in which he had conceded that the party was fit for government.(15)

Foreign press reporting was ambivalent, so that many outside Austria probably had little idea that the coalition government commanded some 58 percent of votes cast in the general election; nor that the government’s programme was not “extreme right-wing”; nor that the “sanctions” had no basis in EU law, but were cooked up in telephone calls between three or four EU leaders in a matter of days and finally adopted by fourteen EU states. Still less were newspaper readers in other countries likely to learn that the Schüssel government carried through some long overdue reforms such as cutting back on the excessive financial privileges of the bureaucracy or starting in earnest the long overdue restitution of stolen Jewish property, or compensation for the victims of Nazi forced labour policies. Later it occurred to some liberals to argue that their pressure was the driving force behind these desirable outcomes. However this does not explain why no such steps had been taken by previous Socialist governments, and anyway the declared aim of at least the prime movers of the sanctions was to overthrow the democratically elected Schüssel government, as the Belgian Foreign Minister rather imprudently admitted.(16)
 
Goubran does not allude to these controversies except obliquely, but he does have a long appendix on the extraordinary affair concerning Bruno Kreisky’s libel on Simon Wiesenthal, a libel which is all the more puzzling to outsiders because of Kreisky’s Jewishness. The scandal may be traced back to the competition from both the left and right political establishments to attract the substantial voter potential of ex-Nazis which existed while many such were still alive. It was Kreisky the Socialist who first entered into an agreement with the Freedom Party, which indeed included in its ranks actual Nazis from the war period. He needed the party’s support to sustain his minority government in power after the Socialists failed to win an overall majority in 1970. After the 1975 election, Friedrich Peter of the Freedom Party, who had been talked up as potential Vice Chancellor by Kreisky in the event that the Socialists again needed the support of the Freedom Party, was exposed by Wiesenthal as having been in the SS battalion responsible for civilian massacres on the Eastern Front. Kreisky’s vanity was wounded and he made statements implying that Wiesenthal had been a Gestapo collaborator. In the furore that followed it was Wiesenthal who became an object of hatred, receiving death threats, having to move his quarters and having to be placed under police protection. No evidence to support Kreisky’s smears has ever been produced and when Kreisky repeated his libel in 1980, Wiesenthal sued and Kreisky lost.
 
A simple outline of this ugly incident does not reveal its underlying landscape of conflicted Austrian identity. As Goubran points out, Kreisky’s popularity was based precisely on his capacity to act as an integrational figure who had built a new consensus that to a large extent reconciled left and right. Moreover he had done it by departing from the traditional conservative consensus, which stressed consolidation and continuity, and substituting a left-leaning consensus of modernisation and progress that moderate conservatives could accept. Bringing former Nazis back into the fold of salonfähigkeit was part and parcel of this political project – and Wiesenthal’s revelations endangered it. Seen from this perspective, the support for Kreisky’s smear is perhaps a little more understandable. (Goubran says 83 per cent of Austrians thought his remarks justified according to contemporary opinion polls.) The desperation to cling to a healing consensus was evident, although it inevitably meant that, as in some primitive tribal ritual, Wiesenthal, the bringer of discord, had to be sacrificed. (The Kronen Zeitung even suggested his citizenship be revoked.)(17)

The obvious question suggests itself: if Kreisky could succeed in his ex-Nazi integrational project (and to a large extent he did, despite his appalling Wiesenthal “gaffe”), how is it that Wolfgang Schüssel’s coalition with the FPÖ in 2000 earned only hysterical denunciation from day one? The FPÖ that Schüssel dealt with was anyway that of a new generation and not stuffed with apparatchiks who had actually participated in the Nazi regime.(18) How could it be deemed worse – evidently a different order of badness – than Kreisky’s accommodation with former Nazis?(19)

The simple answer would be that what is allowed to left-leaning politicians is seldom, if ever, allowed to those on the right by the liberal press. This is something that will be obvious to anyone examining the matter honestly, but one example taken at random may stand for many: the recent policy of deporting illegally immigrant Roma from France, as rigorously pursued by the Conservative Nicholas Sarkozy, was widely and indignantly condemned in the left-liberal press as an attack on human rights; when François Hollande’s Socialist government continued with exactly the same policy, the press largely fell silent.(20) However, as Goubran points out, the hypocrisy in the Kreisky–Wiesenthal affair took a more oppressive turn. One of the few journalists to condemn Kreisky’s smear as “outrageous, immoral and opportunistic” was sued by the Chancellor. He was convicted of libel, a conviction (upheld on appeal) which threw an unflattering light on the Austrian judiciary’s notion of the freedom of the press. In 1986 the European Court of Human Rights overturned the verdict (on the basis of free speech) and the Republic was obliged to pay him compensation of over 280,000 Austrian Schillings.(21)

Nevertheless the “simple answer” advanced above does not adequately reflect the forces that underlie the application of double standards I have outlined. It was precisely because Jörg Haider purported to attack the party consensus that had been stitched together in Austria as a prophylactic against both the hatreds that led briefly to civil war in 1934, followed by the ruthlessness of the Ständestaat and the horrors of the Nazi regime, that he was perceived as so dangerous. Haider’s main crime in the eyes of the Establishment (left and right were at one on this) was that he promoted conflict and dissension, touched raw nerves and (most dangerously of all) did his best to discredit the whole notion of two-party rule (Parteibuch Politik) and even the shadow government represented by Austria’s celebrated Sozialpartnerschaft.(22) A long established hegemony had of course bred corruption (more or less endemic in Austria), so Haider’s researches opened doors through which many skeletons came tumbling. The collectors of offices (Ämterkumulierung), salaries, honoraria, pensions and perks within the magic circle of the politico-bureaucratic elite began to fear for their emoluments. Although the Schüssel government did take some steps to regularise abuses, it of course turned out that the real aim of the FPÖ was not to abolish the system but to share in it. As with most populists who come to power by promising to clean the Augean stables, they simply replaced the existing muck with their own (the FPÖ politicians and their hangers-on were among the most corrupt in Austria since the Second Republic was founded).

Not only did Haider and the FPÖ attack the sacred cow of consensus, they often did so in a particularly Mephistolean way by showing it up as a comfort blanket keeping out the realities that it was designed to replace. For example the FPÖ’s Secretary General (Peter Sichrovsky) stated in an interview that Austria’s democracy had been “built up by former National Socialists and their successors”.(23) Of course this was not true (Austrian democracy was built up mostly by democrats who had been in exile or camps); on the other hand it was unavoidable that a large number of people who had been confessing or passive Nazis would necessarily be involved in Austria’s economic and political reconstruction. The politician’s disingenuous remark deliberately undermined the creation myth of the Second Republic and shotholes in the comfort blanket of the gelernter Österreicher. The consequence of such (electorally successful) tactics was a deep polarisation. FPÖ supporters felt liberated from the burden of the sins of the fathers, which they resented as unfairly laid upon them. Breaking verbal taboos could be presented as an issue of free speech. Their opponents in the “respectable” political Establishment found themselves caught between the Scylla of a past that had to be managed and atoned for and the Charybdis of electoral realities.

The whole period from the Kreisky–Wiesenthal affair through the Waldheim rumpus (when Austria’s head of state was even put on the US Watch List after he was less than frank about his wartime record, though no evidence of participation in war crimes was ever proven against him) to the “Black-Blue” coalition under Schüssel has been traumatic for those whom Goubran calls the gelernten Österreicher. Up to the year 2000 there were Austrians still alive in whose lifetimes the Empire had collapsed, the First Republic had collapsed, the authoritarian Ständestaat (Corporative State) had collapsed with Austria’s Anschluß to Hitler’s Third Reich, the country had been occupied by the victorious allies for a decade, and finally the Second Republic had been born. That the psychological adjustments required for survival under multiple dispensations can breed cynicism or hypocritical conformism or careerism is hardly a profound insight. However one might just as well marvel that essential decency and moral values, which are also everywhere apparent in Austria, have survived such a battering. In Goubran’s narrative, the inauthenticity of the gelernten Österreicher has simply segued into that of the modern “identity free” (identitätslos) wielder of power, who is interested in the latter for its own sake because it guarantees him the semblance of a real life that his lack of identity otherwise denies him (p. 148). In fact Goubran goes even further when he seems to claim that risk-free political posturing by such people conceals an affinity with what is being denounced: “Whoever wants to establish himself today as a Nazi hunter (Nazijäger) does so out of opportunism. He provides the best evidence thereby that he also would have behaved opportunistically under the Nazis (damals)” (p. 152).

This piece of hyperbole conceals an unpleasant truth about synthetic indignation exploited for image-making – hier in Österreich wie überall. One can sympathise with Goubran’s argument that such behaviour is a form of compensation for the individual’s loss of identity in an increasingly apparatchik-dominated world, locally centralised but simultaneously held hostage to economic globalisation. In his closing remarks Goubran (rather surprisingly for an Austrian intellectual, since most are depressingly keen on “more Europe” and trans-nationalism, and correspondingly sceptical in matters of sovereignty, national identity and so forth) shows himself to be on the side of the angels. He stresses that the valuable individuality of cultures springs from a nationality (not “nationalism”) that is today increasingly under attack. For those who want to dominate today, “national identity” must be sacrificed, because “the state, ideally the ‘World State’, can only function when all differences between peoples and nations (that is all that makes them unique) have been levelled down or abolished… The first steps to achieve this will involve the standardisation and centralisation of national parliaments simultaneously with the removal of their power”.(24) He is doubtless too circumspect to add that this will be achieved through what the EU itself has cynically called “the beneficial crisis”, be it financial, environmental or “climate change”.
If Goubran is to be believed, the gelernte Österreicher perceives a great future for himself in such a world. It would be his escape from Identitätslosigkeit – and from history.


1 Ein Wörterbuch des sprachlichen Eigentümlichkeiten eines Landes oder einer Region.
2 All page numbers refer to Goubran, op. cit.
3 It may be objected here that Goubran’s choice of the appellation Deutschösterreicher is misleading, since the Nazis specifically targeted the notion of a German with an Austrian identity…
4 Hubert Feichtlbauer, The Austrian Dilemma (Holzhausen Verlag, Vienna, 2001), pp. 15–16.
5 Viktor Orbán’s National Conservative government in Hungary has also been likened to North Korea in Der Kurier, a mainstream Austrian newspaper. Such comments are the products either of hysteria or cynicism, perhaps both in this case, since those working themselves to a frenzy of denunciation also have a calculated agenda.
6 Feichtlbauer, op. cit., p. 8.
7 Feichtlbauer, op. cit., p. 87.
8 Simon Kuper, “Skating on Thin Ice” (Financial Times, 1/2 Febr. 2014). The marker slogan for the piece reads: “I hate to sound like a 1930s fascist but the love of any country is mixed up with its landscape.”
9 The Observer, 5 Jan. 2014: Nick Cohen reviews How We Invented Freedom by Linda Colley.
10 Feichtlbauer, op. cit., p. 5.
11 It should perhaps be noted that Handke was himself half Slav, having a Slovene mother, whose illegitimate son he was. His various controversial utterances exhibit a complex, if not confused, sense of identity.
12 Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Austrian Freedom Party).
13 Österreichische Volkspartei, the Austrian equivalent of Christian Democrats.
14 See: Margaretha Kopeinig, Christoph Kotanko, Eine europäische Affäre: Der Weisen-Bericht und die
Sanktionen gegen Österreich (Czernin Verlag, Wien, 2000), p. 13.
15 Kopeinig–Kotanko, op cit., p. 9.
16 Kopeinig–Kotanko, opcit., p. 25. Louis Michel said the sanctions should “with all expedition smash this government”.
17 Goubran notes that “the intellectuals, cultural figures and artists” in Austria simply remained silent (p. 177).
18 This is not to say that Haider didn’t exploit Nazi nostalgia when it suited him – there being still votes in it – and also used deliberately dishonest language such as referring to concentration camps as “punishment camps”. Haider’s own parents were keen Nazis.
19 Here it should be noted that the SPÖ (Socialist Party of Austria) actually entered into a coalition
with the Freedom Party in 1983, after they had again failed to attain the absolute majority in Parliament. However at this time the FPÖ, which always had two distinct ideological streams, was dominated by its “economic liberals” under its leader Norbert Steger and is/was not therefore deemed to have been as undesirable as previously, and as it became under the abrasive “nationalist” leadership of Jörg Haider.
20 The Economist (see the edition of 18 August 2012), is a journal in the English liberal tradition of its
founder Bagehot. Its article was perhaps the exception that proves the rule, describing the double standards of the left in this matter with refreshing candour.
21 This was therefore more or less on a par with the 270,000 Schillings that Kreisky was required to pay by a court which found that he had libelled Wiesenthal, a sum which was never paid because Kreisky died soon afterwards. Kreisky never apologised for his libel either.
22 A kind of shadow government where leading actors, represented by their chambers or unions, stitch up agreements on wages and other matters that are then taken over by the elected government. Although smelling somewhat of corporatism, it was (and to some extent still is) highly effective in ensuring industrial, social and political harmony in Austria.
23 Quoted in: Hubert Feichtlbauer, The Austrian Dilemma (Holzhausen Verlag, Vienna, 2001), p. 3.
24 In fact a leading Austrian intellectual Robert Menasse recently gave a characteristically witty speech that indeed advocated the abolition of the “nation state” in Europe, and its absorption into a vaguely conceptualised European association of free regions. One of his main arguments is that there is no room for “national interests” in regard to fund a mental questions of mankind, “just as there can be no special national versions of human rights”. This is marvellously disingenuous. Firstly, the European Court of Human Rights (not part of the EU, but well into “mission creep”), does not augur well for Menasse’s concept of universally agreed human “rights”. It has started handing down decisions giving concessionary “rights” to illegal immigrants convicted of crimes as serious as rape or terrorism which enable them to resist the deportation ordered by a national court. This sort of judgement creates new rights that may be inimical to those of other citizens and is certainly not legitimated by universal consent, or indeed the democratic process. Secondly most of the conventional political agenda concerns national interests that have to be negotiated with others. It is hard to see how “regional” interests would end up being negotiated any other way than “national” interests, though it is not hard to see Menasse’s scarcely hidden agenda of destroying national cultures and identities in favour of amorphous “euro-cultures”. The likely consequence would either be that real power would devolve to a distant bureaucracy at the centre, or the regions, lacking political coherence, would implode, and perhaps also “Europe” with them. The speech can be read at www.schwarzkopf-stiftung.de/uploads/europa-countdown-e2e.pdf


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