Across Europe, the post-World War II consensus is breaking down as evidence of the European Union’s ineffectual coalition leads to the public’s increasingly clear and growing rejection of globalism. Yet the efforts of Europe’s political leaders to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic wars of the twentieth century are exactly what may cause conflict to return.
In 2017, the Austrian government came to power in the wake of the illegal migrant crisis. Despite being part of the previous government, the pro-EU Sebastian Kurz presented himself during the election as an engine of change for voters disenchanted with the political status quo. Mr. Kurz and his right-wing People’s Party (ÖVP), as well as his coalition government partner the conservative Freedom Party (FPÖ), were elected on a platform of defending Europe's outer borders, tougher immigration controls, quickly deporting asylum-seekers whose requests are denied, and cracking down on radical Islam. The ÖVP received 31.4 percent of the vote, a gain of more than 7 percentage points from the 2013 election, which Mr. Kurz described as the biggest jump in support in the party’s history.
At the informal Salzburg summit of European Union leaders in September 2018, Brexit and migration dominated the discussion. Austria emerged as one of the hard-line voices, rejecting a continental solution to migration as dictated by Brussels. Along with the Visegrád group and several other countries, Austria refused to sign the United Nations’ Global Migrant Compact last year in Marrakesh, which creates open borders and lack of immigration controls among signatory states.
Now, Chancellor Kurz is courting dangerous consequences with his authoritarian response and conflation of a donation made from the New Zealand terrorist to a pan-European, pro-European, and non-violent youth movement Generation Identity (GI). The Identitarian Movement is concerned with the rapid demographic replacement of ethnic Europeans in European nations by Islamic migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Chancellor Kurz doubled down after his public condemnation and a legally questionable search of the home and belongings of the leader of GI’s Austrian branch, Martin Sellner, when he demanded his Freedom Party coalition partners cut all ties they may have with GI and then announced any member or supporter of the Identitarian Movement is prohibited from employment with the civil service, including the military.
If his proposal is successful, entire occupational fields for supporters of the patriotic group would be impossible. For example, a career path in the public teaching profession, as a medical doctor, or in the government’s administration would be denied. Additionally, associations that are suspected of supporting or hosting the Identitarian Movement would receive no funding from the government. A reporting obligation of the state police to the state government is considered a guarantee. Previously, liberal federal Ministers had announced the creation of so-called blocking notices in security-related occupations. A few days ago, Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) announced he wants a closer look at the police to determine whether any members are sympathizers of the Identitarian Movement.
In a letter, Defense Minister Mario Kunasek (FPÖ) wrote that "political and religious extremism, no matter which side" has no place in the army, thus painting the patriotic Identitarian Movement without evidence or justification into the extremist corner. Yet beforehand, federal spokesman Michael Bauer said, "If someone belongs to a criminal organization, criminal offenses sets, then you can set measures. If this is not the case, then there is no legal basis."
President Alexander van der Bellen, who hails from Austria’s Green Party, said a ban on the Identitarian Movement would not do much if it were even possible and one could only challenge Identitarians through political discussion. Mayor of Graz Mario Eustacchio (FPÖ) said he will only distance himself from the Identitarians "if criminally relevant facts exist". Upon Chancellor Kurz’s insistence, high-ranking FPÖ politicians distanced themselves from the movement and its activists, but Mayor Eustacchio emphasized that he saw "no reason to distance himself" and that the current accusations have "no basis" and therefore he rejects the ubiquitous "hysteria". In particular, he notes, there are no convictions against the group and the "basis of the rule of law" should be respected. The Identitarians were acquitted by the Court of Appeal of Graz in January of the charge of "formation of a criminal organization" so the "legal basis has been eliminated. No reason to distance yourself from something,” said Mr. Bauer.
For years Chancellor Kurz has openly expressed his views that Islam is incompatible with European civilization and his concerns regarding the demographic impact of mass illegal immigration from vastly differing societies in European nations. His latest attacks on a patriotic youth movement that is solely concerned with the preservation of its heritage and culture is a cheap tactic to gain easy favour from a collapsing and undemocratic European Union bureaucracy while ignoring the legitimate concerns of the citizens who elected him.
Chancellor Kurz has wrongly pointed to Identitarians as the villain responsible for the consequences of bad government policy and it has strategically backfired on him. By drawing attention to the Identitarians and their concerns, Generation Identity has now become well-known across Europe and beyond and garnered increased support. Identitarians should be the Chancellor’s natural allies on the migration issue and by attempting to unjustifiably criminalize and marginalize those who voice valid criticisms will only sow further frustration and discontent among Austrians. A conservative politician who showed great promise upon his election should know better than to play the failing censorship games of the left.