Kurzistan, Freedom Party and the Balkans

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FPÖ claiming in electoral campaign to being the vanguard of anti-immigrant ideas

Austrian elections were closely watched in the Balkans and not just for the strong showing of the far right FPÖ, but also in regard to the repercussions for the region with a new government in the making.

In this context, I gave several interviews for N1, Al Jazeera Balkans, Dnevni Avaz and European Western Balkans. Here are some points I made. While last year the large fear in the presidential victory of the Freedom Party’s candidate Norbert Hofer. Ironically, his near victory (and eventual failure) drew more attention than the success of FPÖ in recent elections. Yes, they were nowhere close to last year’s results, but with the conservative candidate for chancellor  Sebastian Kurz winning,  who openly supported a coalition with the FPÖ and successfully hijacked the FPÖ agenda, their success is greater now in terms of ideas and access to real power.

Beyond the dangers for Austria, there are potential consequences for Southeastern Europe. I discussed the negative repercussions of the party policies on the Balkans in the context of presidential elections last year. Their open support for independence of the Republika Srpska, courting the nationalist, corrupt and autocratic president of the RS Milorad Dodik and their rejection of Kosovos independence puts the party in diametric conflict with European and Austrian policies in the region for the past decades.

While Kurz is a too clever politician and having gained his experiences as Foreign Minister, he would not let FPÖ take Austria into open conflict with EU policies. However, his opportunistic support of undemocratic, nationalist and corrupt VMRO-DPMNE under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski in parliamentary elections in December 2016 highlights his willingness to sacrifice support for rule of law and EU integration on the altar of (seeming) national interest and personal advantage.

Thus, there is less need to worry  about Austrian policy turning 180 degree on the Balkans . However, even the combination of pursuing foreign policy as a product of domestic anti-immigrant campaigning, a more isolation trend, small moves towards a more pro-Russian and “pro-Serb” nationalist line would be destructive for the Balkans who risk loosing or at least seeing a decline in Austria as a key partner.

As a recent commentary in “Der Standard” notes ,there is an inherent anti-systemic, German-national core in the FPÖ that is likely to make it an unreliable and dangerous partner in government. Beyond the immediate policy towards the Balkans, it will matter whether Austria will align itself closer with the Visegrad group and emulate some of the more populist policies of the region. Thus, it would also undermine the idea of liberal democratic values in its foreign policies, but in domestic politics and “lead by example.” This will be welcome by Central and Southeast European prime ministers who have openly attacked liberal democratic values, either implicitly or explicitly.

On the plus side, the foreign ministry and its diplomats are committed and engaged in the region. They will be able to absorb some of the political changes, similar to the state department after the election of Trump. However, a clear and signal in the government formation and the Austrian EU presidency will be required to dispel doubts about the future government and they will have to extend beyond the declaratory statements of Sebstian Kurz emphasizing the European character of any future government under his leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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