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




Anton Pelinka (Innsbruck)
The FPÖ in international comparison - Between right-wing populism, German nationalism and Austrian patriotism

The Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ - Austrian Freedom Party) stands out in the European context because it is the most successful of the parties referred to by the term "right-wing populism." This contribution attempts to explain the electoral successes of the FPÖ in terms of the framing conditions of the Austrian political system and Austrian society.
The Austrian political system, which has been termed "hyper-stable", has undergone significant changes in the last twenty to twenty-five years. The FPÖ's successes are a secondary phenomenon of these changes - neither their cause, nor their trigger. This becomes even clearer when changes in Austria's society and political culture are drawn into the analysis: First, loyalty within the political-ideological camp began to dissolve - and only then did the FPÖ make its rise from a small party struggling for respectability to a protest party flaunting its outsider role.
The particularity of the FPÖ, which was reflected as well by the European reaction to its participation in Austrian government since February 2000, also has to be explained in terms of the prehistory of the Second Republic in general and of the Freedom party in particular. The connection between the development of Austrian identity from a transnational to a German-national to a specifically Austrian national identity is also reflected in this. The cleavages finding expression in this development are explicit in the contradictory nature of the FPÖ: In its German-national roots the FPÖ embodies the rejection of the convergence of state and nation; in its "populist" orientation the party is, however, nationalistically Austrian.
The FPÖ is, finally, also to be understood in terms of its constituency's social structure. The party articulates above all the interests of the losers in modernization. It is "postmodern" insofar as it appeals to people affected by the modernization of politics and society who are deprived of traditional political ties by modernization - and take up a defensive position against the consequences of modernization. This development is directly related to the proletarianization of a party historically classed as "bourgeois." And this situation also explains the party's anti-European, anti-internationalist rhetoric, which is directed against "foreigners" and the "foreign."


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On the author: Anton Pelinka, since 1975 Professor of Political Science, University of Innsbruck. Since 1990 Head of the Institute for Conflict Research, Vienna. Chief areas of interest: Austrian political system, theory of democracy, comparative political systems. Publications, inter alia: Austria: Out of the Shadow of the Past (Boulder: Westview, 1998); "Österreichische Politik" (with Sieglinde Rosenberger,Vienna: Boehlau, 2000).

Address: Institut für Politikwissenschaft, Universität Innsbruck (, Universitätsstraße 15, A 6020 Innsbruck. e-mail: