The past is examined to understand the present and future through an ongoing process of evaluating and re-evaluating newly discovered or long-known evidence.[i] Such a development of new historical theories and interpretations can harbor a broader vision of the past as well as dangers: “Historical revisionism can open the door to manipulation through regional and national political agendas and to reinterpretation of facts to suit this agenda. ”[ii] A recent attempt at historical revisionism was linked to World War II and crimes committed under the Nazi regime: in 2018, Poland attempted to rid itself of any complicity in the Nazi atrocities by criminally convicting those who accused Poles of being Nazis -Collaborators. This violent rewriting of history met with fierce opposition from Holocaust survivors and their supporters, and the criminalization of such allegations has been withdrawn. Another dispute occurred the following year when the streaming platform Netflix portrayed Poland as a unified country rather than occupying and dividing it during World War II. The Polish Prime Minister argued that the documentary would make the audience think, that Poland had no choice, which for Polish reasons happened under Nazi occupation. Within a few days, Netflix promised to change this representation according to the wishes of the Polish Prime Minister.[iii] Regardless of the context, such use of historical revisionism to suit a person’s political agenda exists everywhere.
Two countries in which this is shown interestingly are Austria and Germany. They share similar cultures, languages, and a tangled history when it comes to collaboration between the Nazis and WWII, but they differ particularly in how they handled this story, which makes them interesting case studies. With populist right-wing parties growing across Europe, their rhetoric regarding the WWII past is not only interesting but also important to analyze and compare in order to understand the near simultaneous and global rise of the political right. In line with the rise of the far-right European party, right-wing parties in Germany and Austria have seen significant growth recently. In the recent parliamentary elections in Germany in 2017, the relatively new right-wing extremist party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), reached 12.6% just four years after its official founding.[iv] The established right-wing extremist party in Austria, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) even achieved 17.2% in the last parliamentary elections in 2019.[v]
The FPÖ and AfD have both shown different ways of handling WWII history and used different narratives to fit their political agenda. Upon closer inspection of these narratives, it is immediately apparent that the parties use very different narratives to achieve the same goal: to increase their voter base. Therefore, when comparing the two, it may seem that their stories have nothing in common.
Since the far right is inherently nationalistic, international cooperation is extremely unlikely. Hence, the almost simultaneous rise of the far right around the world must either be accidental or there must be other factors linking the far right together. Identifying common issues in the way the FPÖ and AfD present the story to their electorate may mean pinpointing these linking factors. This article identifies common themes in the narratives used by the FPÖ and AfD on the history of the Second World War in their country to generate support and advance their political agenda. By identifying similarities between the two political parties in terms of their historical formation, a better understanding of the recent rise of the far right can be gained.
To this end, it is necessary to clarify the terminology, the narratives of which are examined here. By and large, the far right is positioned politically to the right of the mainstream right, which is made up of conservatives and liberals / libertarians.[vi] To be completely right, according to Mudde, means to oppose liberal democracy and to be downright hostile towards it.[vii] Here he points out that the extreme right cannot all be grouped together and offers two subdivisions: the extreme right and the radical right.[viii] While the extreme right rejects popular sovereignty and majority rule, ie the “essence of democracy”, the radical right accepts the essence of liberal democracy, but opposes essential features such as minority rights, the rule of law and the separation of powers.[ix]
This article uses qualitative methods to conduct inductive research and answer the research question: How are the various historical revisionist narratives used by the AfD and the FPÖ similar? This analysis is based primarily on the party programs and statements of prominent figures of the parties, which have been documented by the media. In addition, earlier research on the far right in Austria and Germany is used to provide in-depth knowledge and a comprehensive background. The FPÖ in Austria and the AfD in Germany are the subject of two case studies on right-wing populist parties. These two parties were chosen based on two main common characteristics: first, they both show an ethnic understanding of the nation and are dedicated to its defense from external threats, and second, they are populist parties as they oppose the political establishment and often demonize the “other,” ie the immigrant population or the current government, etc. With both parties to the right of the mainstream, more centrist right-wing parties are like Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), the AfD and the FPÖ are classified as right-wing extremist parties. The comparability of the two is ensured by the common history, language and culture of Germany and Austria, the proportional representation of both countries and the relatively high proportion of immigrants in the total population of the countries.
One important difference that affects the comparison needs to be recognized here. The fact that the FPÖ was founded much earlier than the AfD and was therefore a long-established and traditionally conservative party when the AfD was founded in 2013. One could argue that the FPÖ has only evolved into a distant-right party with links to right-wing extremism with Haider’s rise to chairman of the FPÖ in 1986, bringing them closer to the founding of the AfD. After all, the FPÖ was widely viewed as an example by which the AfD models itself. Nevertheless, the AfD was founded more than 20 years later, even according to this view. Therefore, this difference in longevity is recognized here and taken into account in the analysis.
However, this distinction does not mean that the two parties cannot be meaningfully compared. An important factor that certainly enables an academic comparison between the FPÖ and AfD is the fact that the circumstances of the founding of both parties are comparable: During the founding times of the FPÖ and AfD, coalitions between conservatives and socialists in Germany and Austria led to feelings of anti-systemicism that the parties could take advantage of. There is evidence that the unions between the mainstream left and right parties provide a favorable environment for right-wing populist parties to emerge.[x] In Austria, the socialist SPÖ and the conservative ÖVP formed a grand coalition between 1986 and 1999 – when Haider was chairman of the FPÖ – while in Germany from 2005 to today, in 2021, the grand coalition between the socialist SPD and the conservative Die CDU / CSU has formed a federal government. Therefore, the circumstances surrounding the founding of the AfD and the biggest developments (to the right) in the FPÖ seem to be due to a favorable environment brought about by a convergence between the left and right mainstream parties. This shows that, despite the different ideas of the two parties, the circumstances of the rise of each party are similar and definitely comparable.
After a brief discussion of the background, the case studies will follow, and the comparative analysis will show how the FPÖ in Austria and the AfD in Germany use the past for their political gain. It is further identified how similar its usage is to the past and where it differs. The results will reveal common factors that could be transferable to right-wing extremist politics in the rest of Europe.
The Austrian context
In the joint Four Nations Declaration of the USA, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China from 1943 during the Second World War, the comments on Austria were as follows:
The governments of the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States of America agree that Austria, the first free country to fall victim to Hitler’s aggression, should be liberated from German rule. They regard the annexation that Germany imposed on Austria on March 15, 1938, as null and void. You are in no way bound by any fees that have been charged in Austria since that date. They declare that they wish to restore a free and independent Austria and thus pave the way for the Austrian people themselves and the neighboring states, who will be confronted with similar problems, to find the political and economic security that exists only basis for lasting peace. Austria is reminded, however, that it has a responsibility to participate in the war on the side of Hitler’s Germany, which it cannot escape, and that the final settlement will inevitably take into account its own contribution to its liberation.[xi]
Joint Declaration of the Four Nations, Moscow Conference, October 1943.
This declaration recognizes two truths: first, the forced annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, and second, Austria’s participation in World War II on the side of Nazi Germany.
Since the end of World War II, the popular narrative in Austria about his role during the war has shifted. Austria largely subscribed to the victim theory and based itself on the wording of the Moscow Declaration that Austria was the “first free country to be the victim of Hitlerite aggression”, as the founding document of Austria after the Second World War shows. These Proclamation of the Second Republic of Austria was published 14 days after the conquest of Vienna by Soviet troops and describes the country as “helpless” against the invasion of Nazi Germany and the annexation as “forced”.[xii] The wording of the proclamation makes it clear that Austria saw itself and wanted to be seen as a victim rather than a perpetrator of the crimes of World War II.
It was not until 1986, with Kurt Waldheim’s candidacy for the Austrian President and the subsequent debate about his participation in the Second World War as an officer in the National Socialist Wehrmacht, that the victim story was called into question.[xiii] In 1991 Austria’s role in the war was officially recognized for the first time, as the 8th century Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky saidth from July – while his words are not an explicit admission of guilt, he recognizes the “good and the bad”[xiv] and the associated responsibility. Since then, laws to deny the Holocaust and minimize war crimes have been drawn up and / or tightened. Since then, the Documentation Center for Austrian Resistance has included revisionism and right-wing extremism among its priorities in order to take responsibility for the past.
This act of (self) victimization fits perfectly with Manucci and Caramani’s findings on victimization as an important aspect in the collective overhaul of the fascist past in relation to right-wing populism.[xv] While the victim narrative may no longer be as prominent in today’s Austrian society, it has not been eradicated. The FPÖ in particular endorses and perpetuates this story.
The German context
The political situation in Germany was completely different from that in Austria after the end of the Second World War, as there was no mention of Germany’s role in the war. With Coming to terms with the pastSince then, Germany has attached great importance to keeping the history of the Nazi regime as historically correct as possible. While the conservative right-wing party CDU was and is the largest party in Germany, parties politically right-wing CDU have not garnered much support until recently. There was even a mantra that came from the CSU politician Strauss in 1986 and proclaimed that there must never be a democratically legitimized party of political relevance that is directly in front of the CDU / CSU. With the emergence of the AfD, this mantra appears dismantled.
In the parliamentary elections in 2017, the AfD was the third most popular party in Germany and granted it a total of 94 (out of 709) seats in the Bundestag.[xvi] As political movements gain momentum, their constituencies grow. An increasing number of voters seem to prefer the AfD’s vision for the future of the country at least to that of other parties. Since the AfDhaving has grown to its current size, the influence of the party and its voters on German politics and the German future is undeniable. The influence of the AfD on the German political landscape should not be underestimated. The combination of Germany’s past of National Socialism, Fascism and World War II combined with the concept of coping with the past is very unique in Germany. Against this background, it is important to evaluate how the AfD uses historical revisionism and how it could collide with it Coping with the past.
The Austrian case study
The Austrian right
In order to find out how the right-wing Austrian party uses the victim narrative to achieve its goals, it is first necessary to determine who the political right-wing extremist in Austria is. For practical reasons, Mudde’s definition is used in this study to look at the political parties of Austria, as opposed to the entire right-wing extremist party of Austria, which obviously goes beyond the political parties. To the right of Austria’s largest center-right party, the ÖVP, is the FPÖ, which accounts for a little more than 17% of the vote.[xvii] Some party members have expressed views that would be more in the right-wing direction, which also belongs to the right-wing extremist category. Since the FPÖ is actively promoting an “Austria First” agenda in its party program,[xviii] The party can be classified as populist and right-wing radical.
Story about Austria’s role in World War II
Regarding the way the FPÖ dealt with Austria’s past in World War II in view of the insistence on political changes due to xenophobia and ethnocentrism[xix] The party’s preferred narrative appears to be the victim narrative discussed earlier – or rather, a very specific version of it. If you look at the roots of the FPÖ, the connection to former Austrian Nazis is undeniable: the first two party leaders were former SS officers Anton Reinthaller and Friedrich Peter, and the party was founded by former Nazis for former Nazis.[xx] Since its founding in 1956, the party has developed from earlier images of Austrians who belong to the community of German culture (Ger.).German cultural community”).[xxi] One of the most formative figures in the history of the FPÖ was Jörg Haider, who managed to maximize the FPÖ’s electorate by ignoring German nationalism and instead concentrating on right-wing populism.[xxii] Today the FPÖ is less concerned with Austria, which belongs to the German cultural community, than with the power and independence of Austria[xxiii] with a clear “Austria First” approach.[xxiv] Of course, this approach is not new as a contemporary right wing party; It is interesting, however, to note this shift from the party’s roots and subsequent nostalgia for belonging to Nazi Germany to this nationalist, populist view and its relationship to the victim narrative.
Since Austria’s original victim narrative of being the innocent, helpless, first victim of an overwhelming Nazi Germany, doesn’t fit very well with the FPÖ voters’ feeling of nostalgia for precisely this period, the FPÖ originally did not subscribe to the victim’s narrative. The party also does not take part in the debate about the forced annexation of Austria versus a willing unification with Germany by simply focusing on the aftermath of the war. The FPÖ’s use of the victim narrative today is mainly to avoid the discussion about Austria’s active role in World War II, while at the same time emphasizing the victim of post-war Austria under an overwhelming, dominant Germany.
The victim story
When it comes to commemorating World War II and its atrocities, the FPÖ has historically refused to attend memorial ceremonies, usually when they are held for groups of victims.[xxv] Obviously, this is neither a complete rejection of Austria’s participation in the war nor of its involvement in the war crimes between Nazi Germany and Germany. However, the FPÖ takes part in certain memorial ceremonies and even pushes for very specific memorial sites – the common theme of these memorial sites favored by the FPÖ is the emphasis on Austrian war victims. In combination with the refusal to visit or tolerate memorial sites for the persecuted groups of the Second World War such as Jews, homosexuals, Roma etc., the FPÖ clearly focuses on Austria as the most important victim.
This prioritization of a group in the victim narrative could in the interest of the FPÖ at the Rubble women-Monument. The monument was unveiled on private land in Vienna in 2018, as the city of the FPÖ, which had already pushed for this monument in 1986, refused to build it on public city grounds.[xxvi] In its argumentation, the Viennese government referred to concerns about the “right historical lens”, as studies showed that a large number of the women who rebuilt Vienna after the war had been former National Socialists.[xxvii] In order not to support an undifferentiated view of history, the city rejected the application for a memorial site for public reasons.
In disagreement, Heinz-Christian Strache, then Vice Chancellor of the FPÖ, pointed out that women had always been victims of war, so that it was highly unlikely that many women were involved in the acts of the Nazi regime at all.[xxviii] In line with his party’s handling of Austria’s past in World War II, Strache highlighted the Austrian sacrifice, without completely denying it, but in any case minimizing an active role during the war. By welcoming the women who rebuilt Vienna as heroines after 1945, the FPÖ was able to paint itself in a progressive light and highlight the achievements of women, while at the same time maintaining the party’s view of a strictly traditional family in which women are vulnerable victims are .
In terms of cultural and ethnic homogeneity, as clearly preferred by the FPÖ according to its party program, it is a safe strategy for the party to praise the women who rebuilt Vienna. Before 1945, Austria had been purged of those groups that were viewed as undesirable according to National Socialist ideology.[xxix] That is, those who had to be rebuilt from the rubble would have mostly survived ethnic Austrians. Building a Rubble women The memorial therefore only praises those whose victims the FPÖ would like to highlight.
In conclusion, the FPÖ’s victim narrative appears very specific in terms of the issues that are avoided or denied and the ones that are highlighted. A selective look at the past conveys the image of a victim Austria and minimizes the risk of illuminating the Austrians who were actively involved in the war crimes of the Nazis in Germany in an excessively negative way. According to FPÖ voters, this can lead to selective amnesia in relation to the history of the Second World War in Austria.
The German case study
The German right-wing extremist
In order to find out how the German right uses historical narratives, it should first be determined who the German right is. For Germany, the mainstream right is the conservative CDU, and to the right of them is the AfD as the most notable and influential party. The party falls under Mudde’s definition of the radical right.[xxx] Before the AfD, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) was the best-known right-wing extremist party in Germany. In contrast to the AfD, however, the NPD never exceeded 4.3% in general elections and only reached 0.4% in 2017.[xxxi]
The far right is an umbrella term as it applies to both the radical and extremist manifestations of the far right. This case study recognizes that the far right are not just parties or movements: they “mobilize in different types of organizations (e.g. parties, social movement organizations, subcultures) and through different types of activities (e.g., elections , Demonstrations, violence). “[xxxii] It must be mentioned here that right-wing extremist groups can and have been banned in Germany, while radical right-wing groups are not.[xxxiii] An example of this is the wing, a group within the AfD that is classified as extreme rather than radical and was banned by the German constitutional court in 2020 because of its anti-democratic character.[xxxiv]
Story about Germany’s role in World War II
Immediately after the war, the narrative in Germany about World War II was mainly based on the loss of the war. The Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, and other war crimes were not mentioned or publicly discussed until much later.[xxxv] In East Germany, the Third Reich was seen as a national mistake, while in West Germany it was seen as an inexplicable moment of national weakness and an affliction of Hitler as a demon who led the nation astray.[xxxvi]
It was not until the late 1950s that major political changes were made to correct the historical perception of the population: new guidelines for history education were introduced, the concept of rabble-rousing – Inciting the masses, hate speech and promoting sedition – was introduced into the criminal justice system and memorials to the victims of World War II were established.[xxxvii] A public discussion about the crimes of the Nazi regime grew with the public trials against Nazi criminals such as Eichmann and the Auschwitz trial. With Willy Brandt as the new liberal chancellor in 1969, the political opposition of the conservative CDU warned against the liberal concept of coping with the past as if it irreversibly traumatized the German self-esteem.[xxxviii]
Since then, Germany has tried continuous educational reforms to educate students about the Nazi regime, fascism and how it gained a foothold in the Third Reich and the Holocaust. A recent report showed how culture of remembrance is used in schools to instill knowledge and historical awareness in students, in addition to empathy and the ability to spot similar patterns from history.[xxxix] The report criticized the fact that this generally led to an emphasis on the responsibility of today’s generation without specifying how that responsibility should be assumed. Additionally, the report found that the Holocaust was central to all curricula, but racist anti-Semitism was not. Many curricula also did not recognize groups of victims other than German Jews or did not address the role of ordinary Germans in order to focus on Hitler and some influential politicians as the main culprits.[xl]
Nonetheless, with these changes, Germany has made significant strides with the country coping with the past since the end of World War II. In practice it is impossible to achieve absolute historical accuracy, but Germany has made an effort to make its citizens aware of the atrocities of World War II rather than ignoring them or completely changing the narrative.
German patriotism and coming to terms with the past
German patriotism is known to be one of the lowest in the world – before the founding of the AfD it was already low in the former Federal Republic of Germany and even lower in the former GDR.[xli] Like the CDU during Brandt’s reign, the connection between the violent past of World War II and the self-esteem and pride of Germans in their nation was easy to see. By coping with the past The country is confronted with the crimes of the past: Education about the rise of fascism and the Holocaust, monuments to victims under the Nazi regime, are a constant reminder of the German past. In public, expressions of national pride such as the national flag are quickly associated with historical scenes of Germans waving Nazi flags and instantly evoking shame. Far right groups were the ones who waved flags prior to the 2006 World Cup, although it was generally the red, white, and black flag of the Third Reich rather than the modern German flag. To this day, German patriotism and an expression of nationalism, especially the German flag, are more associated with right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis than with pride in the modern German nation.
The AfD uses this little national pride to create a narrative of unjustified shame that was imposed on modern Germans by the culture of remembrance during World War II and World War II coping with the past. It flips the victim narrative, in a way, doubles it by claiming the victimization of modern Germans by the historical victimization of millions of people at the hands of Nazi Germany.
According to one of the AfD’s most famous political figures, Björn Höke, Germans shamed the country’s past and were bullied for grappling with their own WWII past.[xlii] In particular, the general attitude towards this “shame for the past” does not seem to be directly linked to the total rejection of Germany’s wrongdoing in World War II. The extreme right, however, equates the admission of guilt and the restoration of society with the discrediting of the German nation, the German people and identity.[xliii] Hence, the past as such is not denied, but the way of dealing with it, i.e. H. Commemoration and admission of guilt, is presented by the AfD as unjustified and as something from which one can continue. On the subject of shame, it should be noted that this rhetoric of the German victimization is similar to Hitler’s rhetoric about the victimization of the Germans and why the Germans had to stand up and fight during the Third Reich.[xliv] After the loss of World War I, the victorious allies imposed rules and restrictions on Germany, leading to a prevailing sense of hopelessness and lack of perspective among Germans. Hitler argued that Germany was wrongly shamed and therefore did not have to abide by the rules imposed by the victors.
Ähnlich wie die Rhetorik der FPÖ enthält die Rhetorik der AfD zur deutschen Viktimisierung häufig ein performativ feministisches Argument: Das Argument an sich ist eigentlich nicht feministisch, sondern basiert auf „wohlwollendem Sexismus und feindlichem Sexismus“.[xlv] Nach diesem Argument sind deutsche Frauen schutzbedürftig, damit sie nicht Männern anderer Kulturen zum Opfer fallen. Sexismus, Rassismus, Islamophobie und Fremdenfeindlichkeit – alle können durch die Opfererzählung negiert werden, mit der die rechtsextreme Partei ihren Fall argumentiert. Diese Erzählung weist nicht auf Deutsche als Opfer des Zweiten Weltkriegs hin, sondern auf Opfer der Schande, die den Deutschen über auferlegt wurde Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Indem deutsche Frauen als schutzbedürftig vor Männern nichtdeutscher Kulturen dargestellt und mit der Schande der Deutschen für ihre Vergangenheit im Zweiten Weltkrieg kombiniert werden, entsteht eine Erzählung, die es der AfD ermöglicht, sich für mehr kulturelle Homogenität einzusetzen und gleichzeitig ihre Argumentation dagegen fortzusetzen die Schande der Deutschen für die Vergangenheit. Die Geschichte wird genutzt, um bei den Deutschen ein Gefühl des Opfers zu schaffen und sie damit von der Gültigkeit der Vision der AfD für ein homogenes Deutschland zu überzeugen. Die Erzählung präsentiert Vergangenheitsbewältigung als Scham und Schuld auf die heutigen Deutschen für Verbrechen zu schieben, die sie nicht begangen haben, und die Deutschen als Opfer zu malen, die von dieser Unterdrückung befreit werden müssen.
Für den Fall Österreich wurde festgestellt, dass es lange Zeit nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg die Opfererzählung abonnierte, die bequemerweise durch eine Erklärung in der Moskauer Erklärung gemalt wurde, deren letzter Absatz schnell vergessen wurde. In der Zeit, als die Österreicher ihr Land als das erste Opfer von Nazideutschland betrachteten, lehnte die FPÖ diese Erzählung ab und war stattdessen stolz auf die Zusammenarbeit Österreichs mit dem Dritten Reich. Nach der Waldheim-Affäre 1986 wurde die Opfererzählung in Frage gestellt und die Verantwortung Österreichs schließlich anerkannt. Mit der Verlagerung der FPÖ zu einer nationalistischen, populistischen Partei unter Haider könnten ein negatives Bild der Kriegsverbrechen zwischen Nazideutschland und das Eingeständnis von Schuldgefühlen auf österreichischer Seite berücksichtigt werden.
Noch heute schließen sich rund 17% der FPÖ-Wähler dem deutschen Nationalismus an.[xlvi] Aber die überwiegende Mehrheit ihrer Wähler scheint dem Populismus der Partei mit „Austria First“ zu folgen, anstatt sich nach einer Wiedervereinigung mit Deutschland zu sehnen. Die Partei hat die österreichische Vergangenheit deutlicher interpretiert, hauptsächlich durch die Verwendung der einst weit verbreiteten Opfererzählung. Die Verweigerung von Kriegsverbrechen oder die Beteiligung Österreichs an ihnen ist größtenteils nicht das, was der FPÖ vorgeworfen wird. Die konsequente Hervorhebung des Opfers Österreichs durch die Partei, während die Zusammenarbeit Österreichs mit Nazideutschland fast vollständig ignoriert wird, verzerrt jedoch die Sicht auf die Geschichte erheblich. Indem man sich auf die Nöte konzentriert, die Österreich nach 1945 erlitten hat, und die Rolle Österreichs im Zweiten Weltkrieg nicht anerkennt, werden diese Nöte als unangemessen auferlegt für Österreich dargestellt, ohne seine eigene, nicht unbedeutende Rolle bei der Entstehung dieser Nöte anzuerkennen. Dies schafft eine falsche Erzählung eines im Wesentlichen unschuldigen Österreichs, das unter den Auswirkungen eines Krieges leidet, auf den es keinen Einfluss hatte. Heute sind 17,2% der österreichischen Wähler bereit, sich dieser Erzählung anzuschließen, die die FPÖ verwendet, um die österreichische Teilnahme am Zweiten Weltkrieg auf der Seite von Nazi-Deutschland zu minimieren, wenn nicht sogar zu leugnen.[xlvii]
Im Falle Deutschlands ist festzustellen, dass Deutschland nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg einen leicht verzögerten Prozess zur Bewältigung der auf deutscher Seite begangenen Kriegsverbrechen durchlaufen hat. Die Erzählung über die Rolle Deutschlands im Krieg entwickelte sich von den bloßen Verlierern des Krieges zu einer Nation, die von einer rein bösen, teuflischen Figur, Hitler, getäuscht wurde. Die Rolle der deutschen Bevölkerung und ihre problematische Haltung gegenüber ethnischen, sexuellen und Minderheiten im Allgemeinen und Juden im Besonderen zu sehen und anzuerkennen, begann erst ab 1969. Seitdem wurden Anstrengungen unternommen, um die Geschichte nicht vergessen zu lassen. Stattdessen ist der Weg, den die Regierungen seit Brandt eingeschlagen haben, die direkte und kontinuierliche Konfrontation mit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg und den Gräueltaten, die durch sie begangen wurden Vergangenheitsbewältigung.
This confrontation with the deeds and/or complicity of past German generations has led to a remarkably low feeling of national pride among Germans, going so far as to widely associate waving the national flag with the far right and Neo-Nazis. Symbols of Germany as a nation are generally regarded with unease, patriotism in eastern Germany even lower than in the rest of the country. According to David Art, this low pride has helped prevent the rise of the far right in Germany so far, which makes the rise of the AfD even more notable. Notably, support for the AfD is much higher in the eastern federal states of Germany, than in the western ones, suggesting a connection between low national pride and the effectiveness of the AfD’s narrative on German shame.
To sum up, the AfD’s shame narrative invalidates the concept of Vergangenheitsbewältigung and allows the party to completely disregard similarities with Nazi-rhetoric that might be pointed out, by claiming it to be only a tool for shame and not rooted in reality at all. This narrative completely disregards the reason for the reminders of the past: education of new generations in order to be able to spot these same patterns of rising fascism and racism, should they re-emerge, and (hopefully) equip them with the skills to prevent a repeat of history. In the AfD’s view, however, remembering and educating on the past serves only to make Germans ashamed of their heritage and country, when they should take pride in it. With this shame narrative, the AfD deflects any criticism on their proposed goals for Germany’s future: criticising racist remarks made by political leaders of the party can easily be refuted by pointing to the shame narrative – drawing any parallels between today’s Germans, especially the AfD and its electorate, and the German populace under the NS-regime is immediately denied by pointing out that they are different generations and should not be blamed for the crimes of the past. This narrative presents Germans as victims of the past, victims of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. This leads right back to the victimisation noted by Manucci and Caramani, and is directly found in the Austrian victim narrative, too. The shame resulting from Vergangenheitsbewältigung is presented as entirely unsolicited since modern-day Germans are not to blame for the deeds of their ancestors. The AfD has made use of the low national pride by perpetuating the narrative that it is Vergangenheitsbewältigung that serves to make Germans ashamed of their country. While Vergangenheitsbewältigung seems to have succeeded in making an outright denial of Germany’s WWII history nigh impossible, the far right can and does use the past to build its arguments, regardless. Instead of denying the crimes in Germany’s past, the far right uses the prominence of the knowledge about these crimes to substantiate their claim of German victimisation.
This article will address common themes but first, the distinctions between the AfD and FPÖ’s narratives will be pointed out. While Austria initially took the opportunity to declare victimhood and ignore all evidence on its participation in WWII by the side of Germany, Germany itself had no such opportunity. To paint itself as the victim was never an option, being on the losing side was the closest to victimhood Germany could get without outright contradicting and denying historical evidence.
In terms of their far-right parties today, it is interesting to note the electoral success the FPÖ, despite its well-known roots linking it to Nazis and Nazi-sympathizers, has achieved compared to the AfD. Such electoral success likely is linked to the legitimisation the FPÖ has been granted via coalitions with bigger mainstream parties, like the ÖVP – a legitimisation, the AfD has not achieved, yet. In addition to legitimisation through coalition, David Art points out that by opposing right-wing populist parties as soon as they appear, “mainstream political elites, civic activists and the media undermine the far right’s electoral appeal, its ability to recruit capable party members, and weaken its political organisation.”[xlviii] The AfD, as a young right-wing party, faces strong opposition through Germany’s established, mainstream parties’ refusal to coalesce with the far right party, despite the AfD achieving a considerable amount of votes in most federal states. This is a direct contradiction of David Art’s claim of the far right being less likely to succeed in Germany, due to a heavily opposed political environment.[xlix] Of course, this claim was made before the AfD emerged, making the party’s rise all the more notable. The FPÖ, having been in government before and frequent coalition partner of the ÖVP, does not face such opposition as it is an already established, traditional party in Austria. Looking at the electoral support of the AfD it becomes clear that, if the mainstream parties start seriously coalescing with the AfD, it will likely become similarly successful as the FPÖ.
Another distinction can be found in the way the AfD, as a relatively young party puts an emphasis on its disconnect from Nazism. This is not claimed by the FPÖ with its widely known direct roots in Nazism among the party’s founders and first voter base. Further, there is a noticeable contrast between German and Austrian patriotism, since Austria shows one of the highest levels of patriotism in the world.[l] The selective victimhood narrative of the FPÖ feeds into this patriotic attitude among Austrians by emphasising the traditionally weak and helpless role of Austrian women, which does not appear to be particularly offensive to modern-day Austrians, most likely due to the historical context. This narrative allows the FPÖ to use the victimhood of Austrian women after WWII as a sort of alibi-acknowledgement, since the party is technically making sure the past is not forgotten, even though this only pertains to one specific part of history that is being preserved: the victimhood of Austrian women. This gender dynamic is worth looking into for more in-depth research on this topic.
Despite all these differences, there are two main common themes to be found. First, is the focus on victimhood. As identified by Manucci and Caramani among others, victimisation is a core aspect of the political far right’s operational strategy.[li] The FPÖ uses a specific version of the victim narrative to emphasize Austrian victimhood in WWII, while the AfD uses the shame Germans associate with WWII to claim victimhood by Vergangenheitsbewältigung. This common denominator of victimhood perpetuation falls in line with the observed shift in the construction of collective memories: “from heroic martyrdom to innocent victimhood.”[lii] On this shift it is notable that such contested memories of victimhood are often used to feed a particular form of nationalism based on the memory of collective suffering.[liii] The utilisation of the FPÖ and AfD’s narratives to perpetuate specifically a sense of victimhood among susceptible voters, indicates that both parties aim to feed the same sense of nationalism and are doing so by manipulating history into a collective sense of suffering.
The second common theme is the patriotism both parties are aiming to strengthen with their narratives. Through the FPÖ’s selective victim narrative, the Austrian sense of patriotism is left wholly untouched, is even strengthened. The AfD, on the other hand, argues that German shame has overridden German patriotism, and blames Vergangenheitsbewältigung and remembrance culture. With its narrative, the AfD argues for more patriotism by disconnecting from the past in order to escape German shame over its WWII history. Both parties clearly aim for the goal of strengthening nationalism and patriotism among their voters, even if they are using different narratives to pursue this goal.
The overarching commonality between the AfD and the FPÖ in terms of how they use narratives on history to fit their political agenda, is obviously the manipulative and falsifying nature of the narratives. While the utilized narratives are not the same, this commonality of either an inability to grasp the full picture, so to speak, or the purposeful ignorance of aspects that would weaken their argument, is clearly visible. In general (with some exceptions), the FPÖ and the AfD do not outright deny historical facts. However, the way they present history to their voters is so selective, it changes the meaning entirely. The findings indicate that, when it comes to manipulative, historically revisionist narratives, victimhood and patriotism are the two main interests being pursued by these narratives in order to gather electoral support.
The far right in both Germany and Austria use historical revisionism to manipulate the narrative around WWII to advance their political agenda. By presenting their country as having been or still being victimized, the parties spread a sense of collectivism among their electorate. Patriotism is preserved and strengthened similarly through the manipulation of the narratives, either indirectly by omitting certain historical evidence as in the Austrian case, or directly by insisting on complete disconnection from history as in the German case.
Whether the victimhood aspect is linked to the patriotism aspect, i.e. if they affect each other or even result from each other, might be determined in further research. In the German case they are certainly connected, as the AfD claims direct victimisation of German patriotism due to the perpetuation of German shame. In the Austrian case, however, patriotism and victimhood do not immediately appear connected. The FPÖ’s narrative on WWII is rather carefully crafted to create a sense of victimhood and preserve Austrian patriotism. Therefore, it is to be assumed that patriotism and victimhood being causally linked in the AfD’s narrative is specific to Germany, rather than a general rule.
The findings of this research suggest that victimhood and patriotism are common themes in manipulative narratives used by the political far right. As existing literature notes: manipulation of the historical narrative is a widely used tool in today’s populism to gather support for the far right. A practical example of this would be the way, the Dutch far right has been changing the narrative on the Netherlands’ dark history in terms of the slave trade and colonialism to gather support.[liv] This article adds two case studies to the topic of historical revisionism and the far right, but more case studies will have to be conducted to find out if the common themes identified here are consistent across the far right in Europe or perhaps even globally.
Since politically motivated, historically revisionist narratives will always be specific to the country and its history, the narratives will always differ. However, the goals in both cases compared in this article are the same: perpetuation of victimhood and patriotism. This suggests that, when it comes to selective narratives and historical revisionism, the narrative itself is of far less importance than the goal. As history holds transformative power,[lv] it is important to develop ways to assess the manipulative power of such narratives. With the rise of the far right throughout Europe, it is especially important to assess the far right’s narratives.
Overall, the common themes of perpetuating victimhood and patriotism could be markers of a specific, modern kind of far-right party that uses historical revisionism to pursue its political agenda. With further research into this topic, these markers could be solidified and help make parties of the same kind easily recognizable.
All in all, the research has clearly shown how two obviously different narratives, histories, and facts can clearly be used in eerily similar ways. The far right can and does use these narratives as tools, just as much in countries that have been the reason for wars as in countries that were the victims of such wars. The nature of these narratives is extremely manipulative and transferrable, making them all the more dangerous: they can be used in completely different contexts and still achieve the same result, namely that of political, electoral success. The versatility of these tools, (self-)victimisation and patriotism, is what makes them a dangerous threat to democracy.
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[i] Herbert Kitschelt and Anthony J. McGann, Kitschelt, H: The Radical Right in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis, Reprint Edition (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997): 14.
[ii] Kitschelt and McGann, Kitschelt, H: The Radical Right in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis, 15.
[iii] Ben Cohen, ‘Truth Is Not Selective: Poland vs. Netflix’, 20 November 2019, https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/truth-is-not-selective-poland-vs-netflix/.
[iv] ‘2017 Bundestag Election: Final Result – The Federal Returning Officer’.
[v] European Parliament, ‘Nationale Ergebnisse Österreich| Wahlergebnisse 2019 | 2019 Ergebnisse der Europawahl 2019 | Europäisches Parlament’, europarl.europa.eu, 19 June 2019, accessed 28 January 2021, https://europarl.europa.eu/election-results-2019/de/nationale-ergebnisse/osterreich/2019-2024/.
[vi] Cas Mudde, The Far Right Today, 1. Edition (Cambridge, UK ; Medford, MA: Polity, 2019), p. 7.
[vii] Mudde, The Far Right Today, p. 7.
[viii] Mudde, p. 5.
[x] Kitschelt and McGann, Kitschelt, H: The Radical Right in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis: 53.
[xi] “MOSCOW CONFERENCE, October, 1943, JOINT FOUR-NATION DECLARATION“, October 1943, http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1943/431000a.html.
[xii] “RIS – Unabhängigkeitserklärung – Bundesrecht konsolidiert, Fassung vom 30.11.2020“, accessed 30 November 2020, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=10000204.
[xiii] Demokratiezentrum Wien, ‘Waldheim-Debatte’, demokratiezentrum.org, September 2014, accessed 12 January 2021, http://www.demokratiezentrum.org/wissen/wissensstationen/waldheim-debatte.html.
[xiv] Demokratiezentrum Wien, ‘Der Opfermythos in Österreich – Entstehung Und Entwicklung‘, demokratiezentrum.org, April 2015, accessed 30 November 2020, http://www.demokratiezentrum.org/wissen/timelines/der-opfermythos-in-oesterreich-entstehung-und-entwicklung.html.
[xv] Daniele Caramani and Luca Manucci, ‘National Past and Populism: The Re-Elaboration of Fascism and Its Impact on Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe’, West European Politics 42 (29 May 2019): 2, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2019.1596690.
[xvi] ‘2017 Bundestag Election: Final Result – The Federal Returning Officer’.
[xvii] European Parliament, ‘Nationale Ergebnisse Österreich| Wahlergebnisse 2019 | 2019 Ergebnisse der Europawahl 2019 | Europäisches Parlament’.
[xviii] Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), ‘Party Programme of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) – As Resolved by the Party Conference of the Freedom Party of Austria on 18 June 2011 in Graz’, fpoe.at, 18 June 2011, https://www.fpoe.at/en/themen/parteiprogramm/parteiprogramm-englisch/.
[xix] Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), ‘Party Programme of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) – As Resolved by the Party Conference of the Freedom Party of Austria on 18 June 2011 in Graz’.
[xx] Anton Pelinka, ‘FPÖ: Von der Alt-Nazi-Partei zum Prototyp des europäischen Rechtspopulismus | bpb’, bpb.de, accessed 22 September 2020, https://www.bpb.de/politik/extremismus/rechtspopulismus/239915/fpoe-prototyp-des-europaeischen-rechtspopulismus.
[xxi] ‘Arbeitsheft 1: Werte und Grundsätze’, PolAk Politische Akadademie der ÖVP, Grundlagen der Politik, n.d. P. 46.
[xxii] Franz Fallend, Fabian Habersack, Reinhard Heinisch, ‘Rechtspopulismus in Österreich. Zur Entwicklung der Freiheitlichen Partei Österreichs | APuZ’, bpb.de, accessed 30 November 2020, https://www.bpb.de/apuz/274253/rechtspopulismus-in-oesterreich-zur-entwicklung-der-fpoe.
[xxiii] Anton Pelinka, ‘FPÖ: Von der Alt-Nazi-Partei zum Prototyp des europäischen Rechtspopulismus | bpb’.
[xxiv] Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), ‘Party Programme of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) – As Resolved by the Party Conference of the Freedom Party of Austria on 18 June 2011 in Graz’.
[xxv] Maria Sterkl, ‘FPÖ wehrt sich gegen NS-Gedenken’, DER STANDARD, 13 April 2016, https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000034799967/fpoe-wehrt-sich-gegen-ns-gedenken.
[xxvi] „Debatte über Denkmal für ‚Trümmerfrauen‘“, ORF.at, 1. Oktober 2018, https://wien.orf.at/v2/news/stories/2939137/.
[xxviii] Hans Punz, ‘Vizekanzler Strache Enthüllte “Trümmerfrauen”-Denkmal in Wien’, vienna.at, 1 October 2018, https://www.vienna.at/vizekanzler-strache-enthuellte-truemmerfrauen-denkmal-in-wien/5945280.
[xxix] Ariel Muzicant, ‘Österreich ist anders’, DER STANDARD, 3 May 2005, https://www.derstandard.at/story/2035902/oesterreich-ist-anders.
[xxx] Wilhelm Heitmeyer, ‘Autoritär, national, radikal – die AfD zwischen Populismus und Rechtsextremismus’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 14 April 2019, https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/afd-populismus-extremismus-1.4407594.
[xxxi] ‘2017 Bundestag Election: Final Result – The Federal Returning Officer’, accessed 22 January 2021, https://www.bundeswahlleiter.de/en/info/presse/mitteilungen/bundestagswahl-2017/34_17_endgueltiges_ergebnis.html.
[xxxii] Mudde, The Far Right Today, p. 164.
[xxxiii] Mudde, The Far Right Today, p. 5.
[xxxiv] ‘Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz stuft AfD-Teilorganisation „Der Flügel“ als gesichert rechtsextremistische Bestrebung ein’, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, 12 March 2020, https://www.verfassungsschutz.de/de/oeffentlichkeitsarbeit/presse/pm-20200312-bfv-stuft-afd-teilorganisation-der-fluegel-als-gesichert-rechtsextremistische-bestrebung-ein.
[xxxv] Edgar Wolfrum, ‘Geschichte der Erinnerungskultur in der DDR und BRD’, bpb.de, 26 August 2008, https://www.bpb.de/geschichte/zeitgeschichte/geschichte-und-erinnerung/39814/geschichte-der-erinnerungskultur.
[xxxix] Deutscher Bundestag Wissenschaftliche Dienste, ‘Die Verankerung Des Themas Nationalsozialismus Im Schulunterricht in Deutschland, Österreich, Polen Und Frankreich’, Sachstand (Deutscher Bundestag, 18 September 2018), p. 8.
[xl] Ibid., p. 10.
[xli] NORC, ‘In Pictures: World’s Least Patriotic Countries’, Forbes, 2 July 2008, https://www.forbes.com/2008/07/02/world-national-pride-oped-cx_sp_0701patriot_slide2.html.
[xlii] Mely Kiyak, ‘Björn Höcke: Ein total anderes Deutschland’, Die Zeit, 25 January 2017, sec. Kultur, accessed 6 November 2020, http://www.zeit.de/kultur/2017-01/bjoern-hoecke-afd-nationalssozialismus-volk-kiyaks-deutschstunde/komplettansicht.
[xliv] Michael Blain, ‘Fighting Words: What We Can Learn from Hitler’s Hyperbole’, Symbolic Interaction 11, no. 2 (November 1988): 264, https://doi.org/10.1525/si.1922.214.171.1247.
[xlv] Mudde, The Far Right Today, p. 172.
[xlvi] Editors, ‘Österreicher fühlen sich heute als Nation’, DER STANDARD, 12.032008, https://www.derstandard.at/story/3261105/oesterreicher-fuehlen-sich-heute-als-nation.
[xlvii] European Parliament, ‘Nationale Ergebnisse Österreich| Wahlergebnisse 2019 | 2019 Ergebnisse der Europawahl 2019 | Europäisches Parlament’.
[xlviii] David Art, ‘Reacting to the Radical Right: Lessons from Germany and Austria’, Party Politics 13, no. 3 (May 2007): 332, https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068807075939.
[xlix] Art, ‘Reacting to the Radical Right: Lessons from Germany and Austria’: 341.
[l] NORC, ‘In Pictures: World’s Most Patriotic Countries’, Forbes, 2 July 2008, https://www.forbes.com/2008/07/02/world-national-pride-oped-cx_sp_0701patriot_slide.html.
[li] Caramani and Manucci, ‘National Past and Populism: The Re-Elaboration of Fascism and Its Impact on Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe’: 2.
[lii] Jie-Hyun Lim, ‘Victimhood Nationalism in Contested Memories: National Mourning and Global Accountability’, in Memory in a Global Age: Discourses, Practices and Trajectories, ed. Aleida Assmann and Sebastian Conrad, Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies (London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2010): 138, https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230283367_8.
[liii] Lim, ‘Victimhood Nationalism in Contested Memories: National Mourning and Global Accountability’: 139.
[liv] See Stefan Couperus and Pier Domenico Tortola, ‘Right-Wing Populism’s (Ab)Use of the Past in Italy and the Netherlands’, Debats. Journal on Culture, Power and Society 4 (25 December 2019): 105–18, https://doi.org/10.28939/iam.debats-en.2019-9.
[lv] Petri Hakkarainen, ‘When History Meets Policy: Understanding the Past to Shape the Future’ (Geneva Centre for Security Policy, May 2016) p. 4th