10. Red and blue for the first time

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

In Carinthian regional politics everything now seemed possible: after Haider’s departure the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) – backed by the SPÖ (Social Democratic Party) - was the smallest party in the state from 1991 to 1999, with Christof Zernatto as state governor. The SPÖ and ÖVP’s fear of a comeback by Haider predetermined this odd set-up, which constitutes another Carinthian „special case“. Following the impact of a failed short-term pact between the ÖVP and the SPÖ, and after the state elections of 1994, the SPÖ was ready to extend the tenure of Zernatto. Together with the ÖVP - which had rendered possible the election of Haider to state governor in 1999 - the SPÖ, following further FPÖ election successes, also increasingly lost its fears of contact with Haider. As early as 1994 a part time solution between the SPÖ and the FPÖ at the time of the election of the state governor would have come about if certain people on social democratic party committees had not opposed and thwarted these plans. In 2004 „Blue“ and „Red“ agreed upon a political collaboration, which, owing to the preferred make of wine at negotiations, was called a „Chianti-coalition“. With the backing of the SPÖ Haider was re-elected as state governor. To what extent the trend towards political self-abandonment at that time in Carinthia had already thrived was meanwhile demonstrated by the ÖVP, to all intents and purposes destined for the opposition role. Its new chairman Josef Martinz said in the Carinthian state parliament that „the state governor we have together elected is in fact our representative in the coaltion“. The minutes of the meeting referred at this point to „Merriment in the FPÖ contingent“ . . . . .

Inside the SPÖ criticism of the „pact“ with members of the freedom party intensified straight away, resulting in Autumn 2005 with the replacement of party leader Ambrozy by Gaby Schaunig, who steered a consistently anti-Haider course. In February 2006 the social democrats dissolved this political misalliance. Constant quarrels with Haider, who pointedly refused to shake hands with Ms. Schaunig, poor popularity ratings for the SPÖ in Carinthia and insufficient support in her own party caused her in July 2008 to demonstratively turn her back on politics. This was after Elisabeth Scheucher, the unlucky ÖVP front runner in the State election of 2004 and second woman in Carinthian politics, came to grief against Jörg Haider. It became apparent that an emphatic anti-Haider policy was not enough to defy the state governor, when it was devoid of public proximity to ordinary people and charisma. The first collaboration of „blue“ and „red“ at state level from 2004 – 2006 in Carinthia remains a „special case“ in Austrian politics, however. Other Carinthian specialities are as follows. The freedom party members established in 1989 in Carinthia with Haider the first FPÖ state governor in Austria. And in 1999 the Carinthian FPÖ moved up from being the first national committee to being the strongest party.

The FPÖ (and subsequently BZÖ) politician had presented himself as an ambassador of „the true people’s interests“ and had challenged the existing political set-up. With his style of politics – black and white depictions, making conflicts personal, extreme simplification and a questionable vision of history etc. – Haider put himself on a footing with former Austrian right-wing populists such as Georg Schönere and Karl Lueger. In the phase before the state election of 1989 the freedom party members profited from the torpor of the political system following decade-long SPÖ domination. The failed restoration of the ramshackle Magdalen pulp mill in Villach, which the SPÖ had campaigned for, shook the economic competence of the party. Meanwhile a radical reform of the „Ancien Régime“ had been noticeably wanting since the handover of power. Leopold Wagner called Haider straight away his „best pupil“ and referred to cross-party continuity in Carinthian politics. Moreover, for the former state governor to be seen as offering an invitation to the electorate, Wagner’s „pupil“ had to be given a voice.

In some respects Haider – in the words of Peter Turrini – was less of an old-style reformer and more an emulator of the politics of his predecessor: when one considers the way in which he dealt with personnel decisions in public service, the stance towards the Slovenian ethnic group and the handling of the past, especially the time of the Nazi regime . . . . .

Haider benefited from the fact that in the period of collaboration between the SPÖ and the ÖVP from 1991 onwards, regional politics appeared paralysed for long periods. The state governor Zernatto, who loved his term in office, showed little initiative and inadvertently facilitated the comeback. The promise of the FPÖ chairman to bring new momentum into Carinthian politics often found expression in facilely doing things for the sake of it, and in less than  ambitious events. A certain unwillingness by the Carinthian people to embrace the entertainment opportunities of the group matches of the European football championship in Klagenfurt in June 2008 betrayed a distinct lack of enthusiasm towards such large-scale events. The lasting impact of this major event - which the state governor in particular had campaigned for - has frequently been questioned, as about a hundred million Euros were spent it, including the building of a new football stadium. Carinthia should have been desperate for this economic stimulus: in June 2008 the most southerly federal state’s insolvency statistics were the highest in Austria for both the commencement of bankruptcy proceedings and the actual total number of bankruptcies. In terms of level-of-debt-per-head Carinthia also claimed first place. By contrast, with regard to spending power Carinthia was in the bottom third of the ranking of federal states. A study published by the Economic Research Institute of Basel in September brought to light the fact that Carinthia lay in the large middle band in western Europe in the matter of quality of life and local living conditions for businesses; however, in Austria  it was in the final place of the nine federal states. The unemployment rate likewise went up – compared to September 2007 – to more than seven per cent. Given the general financial and economic crisis, unemployment is calculated to increase further. The considerable Carinthian showcase of achievements such as guaranteed minimum income, free half-day child care, welfare benefit on starting school and super-cheap petrol stations can do little to change the joyless overall image of the state.

11. The never-ending discussion on place-name signs