Normalizing Austria’s Far-Right

By Derek Brooks

Derek Brooks is a writer and political risk consultant based in Washington, DC. He was previously a journalist and Fulbright based in Vienna, Austria covering Austrian politics, culture, and society.

Independent Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen has won Austria’s presidential election by the slimmest of margins, preventing Freedom Party (FPÖ) candidate Norbert Hofer from becoming the European Union’s first far-right head of state.

Despite Van der Bellen’s victory, Austrian voters have now normalized the FPÖ, whose previous fringe messages of revisionism and anti-Semitism have been replaced with a popular message of anti-immigration and anti-European integration. Van der Bellen’s win is seen by some as a victory for the Austrian Europeanists, and a relief for many leaders dealing with their own populist movements at home, but it is still indicative of the variety of structural changes sweeping Austria’s – and Europe’s – political establishment. Indeed, the chance that Heinz-Christian Strache, the rhetoric-savvy head of the FPÖ, will become chancellor in 2018 is no smaller today than it was before.

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