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November 21, 2019
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Disgraced Austrian leader who backed Czech MP was a neo-Nazi for years, according to new evidence

10.6.2019 13:51
Leader of the
Leader of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy - Tomio Okamura" movement in the Czech Republic (on the far left) and the then-Vice Chancellor of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache (third from the left) (2019). (PHOTO: Twitter)

Political figures from Austria were busy in the Czech Republic one year ago, helping the Czech politician Tomio Okamura campaign for his "Freedom and Direct Democracy" movement (SPD) during the local elections. SPD posters featured Heinz-Christian Strache, who until recently was the Vice-Chancellor of Austria and boss of the Freedom Party there, which is the SPD's European ally.

Newly-publicized documents from Strache's youth have now revealed his neo-Nazi past. That he was once an active sympathizer of the neo-Nazi movement in Austria and that he participated in its events is a fact that was already known about the man who has led the Freedom Party for years.

Strache has called that work "sins of youth and curiosity". Now, however, new evidence has surfaced demonstrating that he was not just momentarily lost.

The Austrian magazine Falter has published a photograph from 1990 capturing a 21-year-old Strache standing with another man in front of a map of Germany with its borders as they existed in 1939, i.e, the Hitler era. The map clearly shows the annexed so-called Sudetenland and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia marked in black.

Strache has responded by denying the map had anything to do with Nazism. In his view, it depicts "areas of German settlement before the war".

Sieg Heil from Heinrich

Falter magazine has also published the image of a postcard sent during that same time on which Strache and others sign their names beneath the greeting "Heil", expressing respect for a Nazi military officer. He signed using his nickname, "Heinrich", which he used in his Burschenschaft club. [Translator's Note: Something like a college fraternity in German-speaking countries.]

From all these indications, the magazine infers that Strache was active on the Austrian extremist scene at the beginning of the 1990s for a minimum of five years. Czech news server HlídacíPes.org has repeatedly reported on why the Freedom Party in particular is so close to the ultra-right.

A significant portion of that party's leadership are members of these Burschenschaft clubs, some of which have previously been monitored by counter-intelligence services for their extremist tendencies. The Austrian Burschen - who are closely connected with those in Germany - have become "famous" in recent years for scandals involving songbooks referring to Nazism.

Members of the Freedom Party also have made many statements bordering on promoting hatred of minorities - such as Muslims or refugees in particular - or on propaganda for Nazism. They have continued to do this during last year and a half, when they were part of the Austrian Government.

With the Okamura followers in Brussels?

In May, Strache was removed from all of his party posts and political offices by the scandal of a secretly-obtained audiovisual recording made on the island of Ibiza in which he bragged to somebody claiming to be a relative of a Russian oligarch (but actually an actress) that if she aids the Freedom Party coming to victory, he can pave the way for her to receive Austrian state commissions. To his voters, however, Strache had profiled himself as somebody combating corruption and advocating for the logic of "Austria First".

When, therefore, video footage came out of him behaving as if he is willing to sell his country for Russian money, he quickly stepped down. His ties to extremists have not lost their currency, though.

Due to the high number of preferential votes Strache received during the May EP elections, he is now entitled to become an MEP. He has not yet announced whether he will fill the seat.

If he does, he will become a fellow-traveler of the two candidates elected from the Czech Republic for the SPD: Hynek Blaško and Ivan David. The SPD movement, just like the Freedom Party, is part of the Europe of Nations and Freedom faction in the EP, where France's Marine Le Pen and Italy's Matteo Salvini will both be playing crucial roles.

This article was written for the Institute for Independent Journalism in the Czech Republic, an independent, nonprofit organization and registered institute involved in publishing information, journalism and news reporting. Its analyses, articles and data outputs are offered to all equally for use under certain conditions.

Vojtěch Berger, Hlídacipes.org, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Austria, Neo-Nazism, Svoboda a přímá demokracie (SPD), Tomio Okamura



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