It used to be said that Adolf Hitler was kind to dogs. Maybe he was, but having read Alan Bullock’s landmark work Hitler: A Study in Tyranny more than a quarter of a century ago, it is hard to believe that the kindness was anything more than an attempt to dominate as he dominated all who were close to him.
But what about those who voted for him? Not those who were intimidated and bullied into support for his ghastly corrupt group of thugs, but those who willingly did so? What about those who lined the streets and thronged the squares for the rallies? They can’t all have been evil people. Amongst them, there must have been very many ordinary people just as there must have been very many ordinary people who rallied to the support of the Communists in Russia and across the whole of Europe. There must be circumstances that drive ordinary people into supporting political parties that are anything but ordinary in their politics.
Coming to Austria a few moths after one in every three of their voters cast their ballots for the extreme Right, there would be the temptation to look around for large numbers of skinheads and characters that might have come from the American film Deliverance, but the people are the people that you might find anywhere in the Western World.
This little village reflected the national trend – one person in three voted for the neo-Fascists yet, standing on the hotel balcony looking down on the village church and the streets around it is hard to imagine the place as a hotbed of extremism. Traditional they may be, the men and women even sit on different sides in church, but the idea of them as anything more than conservative country people would be hard to sustain.
So where do the one in three come from?
Perhaps from simple fear of their country being overwhelmed by external forces. Standing at the top of the mountain, Italy is visible to the south and Germany to the north. Neighbours in a Europe that has become centralised and where small countries have only marginal influence. The loss of political independence to the authority of the European Union has been accompanied by a wave of immigration from the East, taking jobs and depressing wages.
Thirty years ago, our history teacher would survey Nineteenth Century European history and explain how Austria was always the most vulnerable of countries as armies swept this way and that. Nineteenth century military vulnerability finds its counterpart in Twenty-First Century political vulnerability.
The people of this village are no more fascists than the people of a small village anywhere in England or Ireland. They are people who are like people in any rural community, suspicious of decisions in far away places over which they have no control and resentful of the erosion of their traditional culture. Anyone concerned at the rise of the Far Right needs to learn some Austrian lessons.