11. The never-ending discussion on place-name signs
by Dr. Hellwig Valentin. From the book: "Der Sonderfall. Kärntner Zeitgeschichte 1918-2004/08", 2009, 2nd edition, Klagenfurt/Laibach-Ljubljana/Wien (Hermagoras-Verlag).
Translation by Liz Finney
From the beginning, Haider used the subject of minority ethnic communities in Carinthia as the driving force for his political advancement. He came on to the stage as the vehement representative concerns of the majority population, and used every opportunity for confrontation. This predisposition stood out all the more clearly since the Constitutional Court in 2001 – having a knowledge of minority sympathisers - had catered for recent agitation regarding the subject of place-name signs in Carinthia. When a „historical compromise“ between home alliance groups and Slovenian organisations might have been achieved, Haider fortified – whilst not reflecting on his election campaign strategy - his defensive attitude towards new bilingual place-name signs. It was announced on posters that Carinthia was monolingual. With such spectacular actions as „place-name sign redeployments“, the politician, insouciant of Supreme Court judgements, made his position totally unambiguous. On the subject of minority ethnic communities Haider retained a presence in federal politics; whereas his scope of responsiblities in Carinthia was reduced, especially after the break-away of the BZÖ from the FPÖ which he provoked in April 2005. To start with, Haider’s BZÖ was depicted as a „liberal“ alternative to the „German nationalistic“ FPÖ, but soon many points of agreement came to light as well as some startling personal twists.
When in 2008 the topicality of the Slovenian question waned, Haider took up a position in a different area with corresponding emphases: he allowed (allegedly) criminal asylum seekers to leave Carinthia and began in October to take them to a screened „special establishment„ in the „Saualpe“ area.
Harsh protests about these shady goings-on proved ineffective. Meanwhile the chairperson of the Klagenfurt SPÖ emphatically welcomed the setting up of the „special establishment“ and went on to document the progressive erosion of social democratic core values in the party. Not least as part of a „general mobilization campaign“ for the Carinthian regional elections in 2009, Haider put himself forward as the top candidate in the general election campaign of September 2008. He succeeded in getting his party over thirty-eight per cent of votes in Carinthia by clearly alienating the SPÖ and the ÖVP. Throughout Austria the BZÖ made considerable gains, obtaining a vote share of nearly eleven per cent. The SPÖ and ÖVP had to accept heavier losses. The FPÖ, which – as the whole of Austria witnessed – beat the BZÖ nationally in the general election, could not succeed In Carinthia because of its rivalry with the BZÖ.
Amid preparations for a fortified entrance into federal politics and with good prospects for the federal state election of 2009, Haider befell a fatal accident in October 2008. With this, Carinthia lost one of Austria’s most remarkable and at the same time most controversial political personae. Although Haider had succeeded in bringing about some major changes in certain areas by dint of provocative violations, he was in the end denied the challenge to re-organize in his own way the social system he challenged („a Third Republic“). A Carinthian „free state“ in Haider’s style also remains a long way off. His volatile, divisive and essentially destructive character inhibited sustainable developments and the forming of lasting alternatives. An inability to pull off his final triumph ended Haider, a politician who failed in his most ardent concern. The forming of an SPÖ-ÖVP coalition government on a national level at the end of November 2008 and the strengthening of industrial relations which accompanied it posthumously signified Haider’s final defeat, although he will remain idealized in many people’s minds. His Carinthian successor in office Gerhard Dörfler of the BZÖ was voted in as state governor in the state parliament with the backing of the ÖVP and FPÖ. In the new BZÖ regional chairman Uwe Scheuch, who is descended from a traiditional national-freedom family from Upper Carinthia, Dörfler could accrue an internal rival. To what extent the close cooperation between „Orange“ and „Black“ will endure after the state parliament election, and whether or nor the state governor is well prepared for disputes within his own party, only time will tell.