VIENNA – A group representing Austria’s Jewish community announced on Thursday it would boycott an official act in parliament commemorating Holocaust victims in protest against the presence of ultra-nationalist politicians in the current federal government.
The Israelitic Worship Congregation (IKG), which is the country’s main Jewish group, said it would not participate in any event that included members of Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ), a far-right populist and nationalist party founded by former Nazis that currently governs in coalition with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party (ÖVP).
“We don’t want to have anything to do with this kind of people, nor do we want to commemorate those who died during the Holocaust with this kind of people,” IKG President Oskar Deutsch told public broadcaster Oe 1.
Deutsch highlighted the fact that around 40 percent of FPÖ members of parliament belonged to so-called “Burschenschaften,” student fraternities traditionally linked to Pan-Germanism and ultra-nationalism that in some cases have displayed antisemitic tendencies.
Austria’s Jewish community currently includes some 10,000 members, a figure that stands in stark contrast to the more than 200,000 it had until 1938.
Around 65,000 Jewish Austrians were deported and murdered by the Nazis, while the rest managed to flee the country, which was annexed on March 12, 1938, by German dictator Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich via the infamous “Anschluss.”
The president of the National Council – the lower house of Austria’s parliament – Wolfgang Sobotka of the ÖVP, said he understood the IKG’s boycott, though he also expressed regret that “some won’t attend” the tribute to Holocaust victims.
The IKG’s decision came after the eruption of a new antisemitic scandal in the FPÖ’s midst.
The head of the party’s ticket for the upcoming regional elections in the state of Lower Austria, Udo Landbauer, was revealed to have been until now a member of a Burschenschaft that glorified the Holocaust.
In an exclusive, Austrian weekly “Falter” reported that the fraternity, named “Germania,” possessed a songbook containing lyrics that exalted the killing of millions of Jews in the 1930s and ’40s.
Landbauer, 31, said in an interview with public TV network ORF that he never heard that kind of songs at the group’s events and public meetings.
The far-right politician added that he had recently left Germania, which he joined when he was 15 and led as vice-president until now, and rejected calls for his resignation.
Austria’s federal president, Alexander Van der Bellen of The Greens, said on Thursday that he found the fraternity’s songs disturbing and argued that Landbauer, as vice-president, must have been aware of the matter.
FPÖ leader and Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said on Wednesday that he accepted Landbauer’s explanations, meaning the latter would not have to resign.
The FPÖ was founded in the 1950s as a successor to the post-war Federation of Independents (VdU), a group of nationalist liberals opposed to both social democracy and Christian democracy.
Its first leader was a former Nazi agriculture minister and SS officer.
After earning 27 percent of the vote in the 1999 general election, the party entered the Austrian government for the first time in coalition with the ÖVP.
As a result, the other 14 members of the European Union at the time imposed sanctions on the Central European country, as they said the FPÖ’s inclusion into the executive legitimized the extreme right.
Following a huge drop in votes in the 2002 early elections and six changes in leadership, the FPÖ remained on the sidelines of power until 2017, when it gained 11 new seats in parliament and obtained control over six cabinet ministries (interior, foreign affairs, defense, health and labor, transport and civil service).
It had run a campaign predicated on Islamophobia, anti-immigration stances, euroskepticism and the notion of a culturally-German “Heimat” (“homeland”).