Austria: A mother of 10 galvanizes the far right

Prominent Austrians are appalled at the views of Barbara Rosenkranz, the far right Freedom Party candidate who will challenge incumbent Heinz Fischer in April's presidential election.

Austria’s far right has a new star, said Herbert Lackner in Austria’s Profil. Barbara Rosenkranz, 51, says she’s on a mission to restore ancient Germanic values to modern-day Austria. For the past two decades, she and her neo-Nazi husband have been “issuing solemn warnings: Stop immigration, protect yourself from Muslims, ban minarets, save the family, don’t trust gays, expel feminists, and stay German!” Now, the far-right Freedom Party has selected Rosenkranz as its candidate in the April presidential election, challenging incumbent Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat. She’s not expected to win, but since she’s the only candidate opposing Fischer so far, her pet issues could dominate the campaign. And that’s disturbing. Rosenkranz, who has 10 children, all named after German epic heroes such as Hildrun and Volker, believes that Austria’s law banning the glorification of the Nazis is a violation of free speech. She defends Holocaust deniers, though she’s always careful to use “coded expressions,” so she “can’t be pinned down as a Holocaust denier” herself. But when asked whether Jews were killed in the gas chambers, she avoids giving a direct answer.

Prominent Austrians are appalled, said Charles Ritterband in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Leaders of the mainstream parties, along with the archbishop of Vienna, have spoken out against Rosenkranz, calling her views abhorrent. The head of the opposition Greens, Eva Glawischnig, recently accused her of “criminal denial of reality” and called for her to quit the race. But these other parties haven’t put forward their own candidates for president. So while nobody thinks that a majority of Austrians agree with Rosenkranz, she could easily gather the votes of people who aren’t necessarily far-right but who want to lodge a protest vote against the incumbent.

Don’t take Rosenkranz so seriously, said Martin Fritzl in Austria’s Die Presse. Portraying her as “the greatest danger to the democratic system,” as some commentators are doing, is a hysterical overreaction. Such coverage actually benefits Rosenkranz, by making her appear to be a powerful, revolutionary figure. Besides, a “sober assessment” of her candidacy shows that she is no neo-Nazi. While her husband was once a member of a banned extremist party, she was not. And she has actually brought up some legitimate points: Nationalists “aren’t the only ones to criticize Austria’s laws on free speech.”

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The good news, said Lukas Kapeller in Austria’s Der Standard, is that Rosenkranz is doing Austria’s far right more harm than good. The Freedom Party does best when it remains in the realm of “populism,” appealing to people’s fear of foreigners and talking about family values. But Rosenkranz is going off-message, saying what she really thinks. And what she thinks is anathema to most Austrians—doubting the existence of the Nazis’ gas chambers, for example, is simply ignorant. So her outbursts merely serve to marginalize her sponsors. “In a word, Rosenkranz is a right-wing extremist” who lacks the self-discipline to portray herself as a populist. The more she talks, “the more she sabotages her chances.”

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