conflict & communication online, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2002
ISSN 1618-0747




Wilhelm Kempf (Konstanz)
The construction of national identity in the Austrian press since 1945

The research results presented in the present work are part of an international research project which is studying the construction of national identities by the European media in the postwar period (1945-1996). By means of a unified research design the mainstream press in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, as well as in Finland and Estonia, is being content-analytically evaluated. The findings reported on here touch on the Austrian, German and Swiss component studies, on a comparative analysis of Austrian, German and Swiss print media, as well as on a secondary analysis of the data collected in these studies and on a comparative analysis of xenophobic versus multicultural aspects of the construction of identity in the Austrian, Swiss, German, Finnish and Estonian press.
The chief focus is less on what Austrian identity is than on how this identity has been constructed by the Austrian mainstream press. The core of the study centers on the topic complexes

  • Interpretations of history and patriotism,

  • Democratic culture,

  • Neutrality and

  • Xenophobia and racism.
The results of the study show how the Austrian press has encouraged the intellectual climate which enabled Haider to make use of an originally leftist system critique in order to convert it in a mixture with xenophobia and an appeal to vulgar populist instincts into a recipe for right-wing populist success. The rise of this climate of opinion is above all also the fault of the populism of the Austrian media, which for decades avoided any critical analysis and instead, competing for high sales quotas, exploited a vague dissatisfaction in the population for its purposes. A symbiotic alienation of the population from the nation has found expression in the construction of national identity on the part of the Austrian print media. This is as apparent in the avoidance of any serious analysis of national history as in the absence of a democratic discourse on controversial current and topical political issues, in the harmonization of conflicts by looking away, as well as in the trivializing self righteousness which is linked with growing dissatisfaction. Not least of all, as well the - coinciding with the initial rise of the FPÖ - increasing tendency to open expressions of xenophobia in the Austrian press toward the end of the period under study shows clearly how the populism of the Austrian media contributed to its rise.
At the same time, the participation of the FPÖ in the government represents a caesura in Austrian postwar history which raises the question of Austria's national identity in a completely new way. The Principle of Austria, which was constituted after 1945 as a sophisticated self-deception maneuver and was actually successfully realized over long periods, has become obsolete.


  full text in German  
On the author: Wilhelm Kempf, since 1977 Professor for Psychological Methodology and Director of the Project Group on Peace Research at the University of Konstanz, Germany. Special areas of interest: nonviolent conflict solutions, the construction of social reality by the mass media. Publications, inter alia: "Krieg, Nationalismus, Rassismus und die Medien" (with Irena Schmidt-Regener, Münster: Lit, 1998); "Konflikt und Gewalt" (Münster: agenda, 2000); "Los Medios y la Cultura de Paz" (with Sonia Gutiérrez Villalobos, Berlin: regener, 2001).

Address: Fachbereich Psychologie, Universität Konstanz (, D-78457 Konstanz. e-mail: