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Sebastian Kurz; Jörg Haider

Austria’s Freedom Party swap cornflowers for edelweiss

Members of Austria's Freedom Party on Thursday did not display their usual blue cornflowers which matches the party's colours. Leftists have maintained that the blue flower is associated with Nazism.

Published: November 10, 2017, 6:59 am

    The anti-immigration party’s 51 MPs instead each had an edelweiss, a white-and-yellow Alpine flower, pinned to their lapels at the opening session of parliament following last month’s elections.

    The edelweiss stands for “courage, bravery and love,” FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, said on Wednesday.

    The edelweiss is actually more famous outside Austria, featuring as a song in the 1965 hit musical “The Sound of Music” starring Julie Andrews about the Von Trapp family’s escape from Nazis during World War II.

    Strache, who is set to become deputy premier in a likely coalition currently being negotiated with the conservatives, said he rejected all forms of extremism and racism.

    Traditionally, with the opening of parliament after elections as in 2013, FPÖ lawmakers have worn cornflowers, which it said symbolises the ideals of the 1848 liberal revolutions in Europe.

    But critics claim that the cornflower had been worn by Austrian Nazis as a secret way of signalling party affiliation when they were banned in the 1930s.

    The decision by the FPÖ to abandon the cornflower appears to be an attempt to soften its image as junior partners to incoming chancellor Sebastian Kurz, 31, of the centre-right. Kurz, leader of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), may announce his new government by Christmas.

    “The cornflower played a certain role, also in the early day of the Nazi-era. The edelweiss, instead, is a symbol of Austria, as opposed to the cornflower,” political analyst Thomas Hofer told AFP. Strache wanted to avoid another “media frenzy,” Hofer added.

    In 2000, the FPÖ entered government under the leadership of Jörg Haider, resulting in massive demonstrations and Austria being ostracised within the European Union for some time.

    Haider was killed in a suspicious car crash in 2008. His widow said the Austrian politician’s death may not have been an accident.

    Senior members of Haider’s party confirmed that his widow Claudia had doubts about the official explanation of her husband’s death and wanted a further examination by a coroner, possibly in Italy.

    The Austrian daily Heute reported before the funeral that Haider’s body was abruptly withdrawn from a planned cremation because of suspicions that Haider may have been drugged.

    Party sources pointed to the fact that there were no tyre skid marks as evidence Haider was unconscious when he crashed, according to Heute. Haider died just days after his new party more than doubled its vote in Austria’s national election.

    On Thursday some 50 lonely anti-fascist protestors staged a demonstration in central Vienna carrying placards with slogans reading: “Don’t let Nazis govern” and “Fascism wears many colours”.

    Austria has meanwhile sent a powerful political message to the EU by appointing an anti-European candidate as foreign minister.

    Norbert Hofer, virulent critic of the EU’s immigration, economic and security policies, and member of the Freedom Party, has also repeatedly expressed his worries over the superstate and Eurocrats.

    The FPÖ pressured Kurz to appoint either a finance minister or a foreign minister from their party for coalition talks to go ahead.

    Hofer had caused an uproar earlier when he said that carrying guns was a “natural consequence” of immigration.

    Hofer’s appointment is a direct slap in the face for European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker who has tried to isolate and sanction EU-wide voter anger against migration.

    When Hofer stood to be President of Austria in 2016, Juncker threatened to freeze him out of EU decision-making, and said at the time: “There is no debate or dialogue with the far-right.”

    Austria’s new foreign minister could scupper Juncker’s plan to impose a single tax system and single finance president.

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