Austria’s far-right Freedom Party tries to clean up pro-Nazi image

Chairman of the Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache, who flirted with neo-Nazism in his youth, has toned down the hard-line rhetoric and expelled party members for overstepping the mark since taking over from Joerg Haider in 2005. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Austria’s far-right Freedom Party tries to clean up pro-Nazi image

Vienna: The far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) announced Tuesday a bid to clean up its pro-Nazi image by appointing a committee of historians to look into its history.
The move comes two months after the party, launched by former Nazis, joined the government and follows a series of scrapes involving its members.
In late January a regional official caught up in a scandal over a 1997 student fraternity songbook with lyrics glorifying Nazis was forced to resign.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the FPOe, much of it unjustified, some, we have to say, justified,” parliamentary group leader Walter Rosenkranz told a press conference.
“We face the latent criticism that within the FPOe Nazi and neo-Nazi ideas are tolerated.
“No, they are not tolerated and those who think they can impose such ideas on us have nothing to do in the party,” Rosenkranz said.
Former FPOe MP and retired university professor Wilhelm Brauneder will chair the committee, which will invite contributions from researchers and representatives of independent bodies.
These will include the DOW resistance archive center, which specializes in Nazism and neo-Nazism and has been a powerful critic of the FPOe.
The party issued a statement Tuesday saying it “recognizes without reserve the Republic of Austria, democracy, parliamentarianism and the rule of law.”
The FPOe’s position on the Austrian state has long been perceived as ambiguous, with one faction still considering the country annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a German province.
“As members of the government, we have a special responsibility,” said FPOe general secretary Harald Vilimsky, adding that the party “clearly rejects Nazism, racism and anti-semitism.”
The new committee of historians, who are to produce a first report in the autumn, was promised last month by deputy chancellor and FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache.
Strache, who flirted with neo-Nazism in his youth, has toned down the hard-line rhetoric and expelled party members for overstepping the mark since taking over from Joerg Haider in 2005.
The FPOe, which has 51 MPs and ministers, is still viewed with suspicion by Austria’s main Jewish organization as well as Israel which boycotts official contact with the party.
Some have reacted with skepticism to the setting up of the commission.
The human rights group SOS Mitmensch pointed to the fact that Brauneder has had work published in a far-right Austrian magazine, along with another member of the commission, Andreas Moelzer.
Moelzer had to resign as an FPOe candidate for the European Parliament in 2014 after he reportedly told an event that the EU was in danger of becoming a “conglomerate of niggers, where everything is chaos.”
The DOW has said it will collaborate with the commission if it undertook “serious work,” in particular concerning the Burschenschaften student fraternities, some of which have ultra-nationalist leanings and which count many FPOe activists among their former members.
Rosenkranz said on Tuesday the fraternities were private organizations and couldn’t be forced to co-operate but DOW head Gerhard Baumgartner warned that the commission risked being reduced to an “attempt to whitewash the party’s image” if they weren’t included.


Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

Updated 18 August 2018
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Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

  • Pakistan’s Foreign Office says Afghanistan has not shared any evidence to support its recent allegations against Pakistan
  • Imran Khan’s idea of a soft border between Pakistan and Afghanistan may have suffered a big setback in the wake of the Ghazni attack

PESHAWAR: In the backdrop of the Taliban’s brazen assault on the southern city of Ghazni in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani alleged that the bodies of the perpetrators had arrived in Pakistan, though Islamabad maintained that Kabul had not officially shared any information or evidence in this regard.
Soon after that, the Afghan president said in a fiery speech to a jirga in Ghazni: “I have a message for Pakistan. Dead bodies (of the Taliban) have arrived in (Pakistan). Peace cannot be forcefully imposed on Afghanistan. Where did they (Taliban) come from and why are they being treated in (Pakistani) hospitals?”
But Pakistan strongly rejected reports claiming that some Taliban fighters involved in the Ghazni attack had been offered medical treatment in its hospitals.
In the absence of any official communication through regular channels established bilaterally, such reports cannot be given any credence, said Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday.
Haq Nawaz, a senior Peshawar-based security analyst, told Arab News that the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan faced a string of daunting challenges, such as economic revival, political stability, tackling corruption, and improving relations with his country’s immediate neighbors.
However, he added that recent developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have stepped up violent activities, will probably constitute a much bigger predicament for the new political administration.
He recalled that Khan had mentioned in his victory speech that he wanted a European Union-style soft border with Afghanistan, claiming that the idea had seemingly received a setback after the Ghazni attack.
“The latest bout of allegations will have a negative impact on the process of reviving good relations between the two neighboring countries,” Nawaz noted.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa also expressed “deep concern” over the recent surge in violence in Afghanistan and lamented in a statement released by the military’s media wing the loss of precious lives.
Bajwa reiterated that Pakistan was not supporting terrorist activities inside Afghanistan. He added that the allegation about the movement of injured or dead terrorists from Ghazni to Pakistan was incorrect.
However, the army chief noted that there were scores of Pakistanis working in Afghanistan, and that some of them periodically fell victim to acts of terrorism along with their Afghan brothers inside Afghanistan. “Terming such victims as terrorists is unfortunate,” he maintained.
Yet, the Afghan president sought an explanation from Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership on the Ghazni attack.
“Imran Khan, you are the son of Pashtun parents. Investigate this and give me an answer. General Bajwa, you have repeatedly given me assurances over phone calls that special attention would be given to the issue of peace in Afghanistan once elections took place in Pakistan. Now give me an answer,” Ghani said while addressing a group of tribal elders attending the jirga.
Bajwa said that different factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan hiding in their sanctuaries in Afghanistan after assuming Afghan identities, were transported to Pakistan for medical help after receiving injuries.
Nawaz said the Afghan government should share relevant evidence with Pakistan in this case, arguing that using the media or social media to deal with such serious and sensitive developments can worsen the situation.
He said it was not just a statement or allegation from an ordinary official since the claim was made by a head of state, adding that both countries should settle such teething issues through dialogue and diplomatic channels.
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in its statement: “Such reports can only be viewed as malicious propaganda to vitiate the existing cooperation between the two countries.”