Austria's right dismays academics

February 11, 2000

As Austria faces economic sanctions after the inclusion of Jorg Haider's Freedom Party in the ruling coalition, academic contacts are already suffering in the international reaction.

Canada and the United States have followed Israel and several European Union member states in condemning Austria. Overseas academics have cancelled engagements and Georg Winckler, president of the vice-chancellors' association, fears that research funding and student exchanges could be in jeopardy.

The prestigious Society for the Social Studies of Science, due to hold its annual conference at the University of Vienna in September, is under pressure to cancel. But the Austrian organisers say it is an opportunity to discuss the rise of right-wing populism and how social science has helped, or failed, to respond. "We also plan to discuss the ways in which Austrians have faced their past, or failed to do so, in the postwar era and especially since the Waldheim affair in 1986."

Andrew Barker, professor of Austrian studies at Edinburgh University, said:

"International opinion has backed the Austrian people into a corner and even those who are politically opposed to Haider are showing solidarity with him."

The Allies absolved Austria of responsibility for national socialism because it was invaded by Nazi Germany, which meant that the country did not go through the same process of denazification.

"Psychologically, many Austrians take refuge in the idea that, as victims, they cannot be perpetrators and are unwilling to face up to Austria's complicity in the birth of national socialism," Professor Barker said.

He added that "dismayed and despondent" academic contacts feared the coalition would target the arts and humanities as it axed "luxury" public spending.

Austrian universities have eagerly engaged in EU higher education programmes and taken a leading role in establishing academic links with Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Rectors said that Austria's increasing isolation would be "detrimental to its universities".

Additional reporting by Michael Gardner and Melanie Sully

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