Joerg Haider’s death in a car accident this week will no doubt fuel conspiracy theorists in Austria. More ominously, it may help unite Austria’s extreme right wing political parties.
Haider led the anti EU, anti Immigrant, Alliance for Austria’s Future Party to win 11% of last month parliamentary election with a groundswell of support from disaffected young voters. The Freedom party, which Haider split from in 2000, received 18 % of votes tallied, providing the far right parties with almost 30% of the popular vote –startling both the ruling Social Democrat party and Austria’s neighbors who have been anxious over the spread of extremism in central Europe.
Although the ruling parties were able to defend their coalitions grip on power, the exit of Haider from the scene raises the specter of a more united right wing if Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache can lure Haider’s followers back into the fold.
Austria is currently facing slowing GDP growth, rising unemployment, and equity and real estate markets crashing in sympathy with the rest of the world. This provides the right wing with powerful ammunition against their favorite scapegoat -the EU.