Draining the ‘Kellernazi’ Swamp

Author Hans-Henning Scharsach, one of the most outspoken critics of the late FPÖ party leader Jörg Haider, takes on the far right in a new book, drawing fire on himself

Top Stories | Werner Reisinger | October 2012

The Presseclub Concordia was packed when Hans-Henning Scharsach presented his new book Strache: Im braunen Sumpf (Strache: In the Brown-Shirt Swamp). Members of the Green Party were present, as well as many NGO representatives and civil society activists, as he talked about the roots of the now-popular FPÖ party leader. In 14 chapters, written over the past two years, the former journalist at the Austrian daily Kurier and the monthly magazine News meticulously detailed facts about Heinz-Christian Strache’s involvement in right-wing extremist activities.

The revelations weren’t exactly news: Most had already been published elsewhere, principally in the books Strache: Sein Aufstieg, seine Hintermänner, seine Feinde (Strache, his Ascent, his Co-Conspirators, his Enemies) by Falter’s Nina Horaczek and Claudia Reiterer, and in Heribert Schiedel’s Der rechte Rand (The Right Fringe) and Extreme Rechte in Europa (The Extreme Right in Europe).

But never all in one place. And they were well worth reviewing: Around 1990, Strache participated in paramilitary (Wehrsport) training camps, which he later tried to sell to the media as harmless "paintball games". Until 2005 at least, he had stayed in touch with one of his Wehrsport-acquaintances: Jürgen H., who helped Gerd Honsik to establish his "National Front" in Carinthia. Also around 1990, he attended meetings of the so-called "Wikingjugend", a neo-Nazi organization in Germany.

After Jörg Haider’s BZÖ broke off from the Freedom Party in 2005, the new FPÖ head Strache reorganized the then-drifting party with the help of far right fraternity members: MPs Martin Graf and Harald Stefan as well as the head of the FPÖ club in parliament, Norbert Nemeth, are known members of the right-wing fraternity "Olympia". In the interview, Scharsach stated that Strache "sold the FPÖ to the fraternities" and called it a "denial of justice", as the "Olympias" repeated contact to the neo-Nazi scene is still not being investigated by the public prosecutor.


A compendium for activists

Yet Scharsach doesn’t want to be labelled a typical antifascist, he considers himself a chronologist and also a human rights activist. His work is a compendium, intended to provide essential background to activists and civil society initiatives fighting against Strache’s FPÖ. "Neither journalists nor activists had the background I gathered in my book when the scandals were in the media. Now it’s time to see the whole picture," he told The Vienna Review. "Also, I’d like to redirect the risk of FPÖ legal action to myself."

Indeed, Scharsach has proven to be very persistent when it comes to lawsuits against his person, and has prevailed against the FPÖ in court several times. It was he who cited FPÖs former presidential candidate Barbara Rosenkranz as an example of a "cellar Nazi" (Kellernazi) in NEWS, and successfully appealed to the European Court for Human Rights after first losing in an Austrian court.

The book presentation also provided an opportunity for Viennese filmmaker Kurt Brazda to inform the press about his initiative, Fire Wall (feuermauer.org). His main goal: Fighting against the decline of political culture, for which he primarily blames Strache’s "dirty-politics" style of campaigning. Brazda is finding support from intellectuals like historian Peter Huemer and the Greens’ Freda Meissner-Blau, and wants to build a board of artists, politicians and celebrities in support of his cause.


Just another initiative? 

With the upcoming elections in 2013, feuermauer.org hopes to keep the expected vote gains for Strache as low as possible. "The most important thing is to reach younger voters," Brazda explained the next day on the phone. "We need to broaden our efforts, to improve their awareness of the background, aims and tactics of the FPÖ."

So why is Strache still successful? Scharsach believes the FPÖ gets the votes of underprivileged and disappointed people because of a shift in the socio-political agendas of the leading political parties.

"The social democrats have given up on their traditional concept of solidarity, as the conservatives have done with Christian social ethics," he said. "In comes Strache, blaming migrants and asylum seekers for the difficulties people face finding employment and social security. So Strache can’t be stopped by the mainstream political parties. In fact, they have nothing to bring up against him." The mass media reflects this: Xenophobic and nationalist articles in Austria’s most-read daily Kronenzeitung opened the field for Strache’s political success a long time ago, he argues.

Yet both Brazda and Scharsach believe that activism and civil society initiatives can help to feed voter disenchantment with the FPÖ and its leader. While Strache very successfully uses the web and especially social media to attract young voters, most of the other parties fail to do so. The author and the activist think modern forms of political activism must be at least part of the answer. "Who would have thought that flash mobs would be a serious instrument of a vigilant civil society a few years ago?" Scharsach pointed out.

Feuermauer.org wants to collaborate with other initiatives in order to keep up the pressure during the upcoming election campaign.

"What’s most dangerous for a democratic society is not the agitation of a small, aggressive minority, but the idleness of a silent majority," Kurt Brazda stressed. "If we manage to take just 5% away of him, we’d call it a success."

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