Alex, the Yorkshire Ranter, saves me from my "now that I'm getting serious about politics, what should I blog"-phase with one of those glitzy meme things for us that are proud of knowing so many books that we can choose five for a lonely island. So here I go:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

My memory is bad, so a short one: Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho.
Alternatively, Robert Walser, Der Gehülfe, a magic and sensitive portrayal of a simple and fragile man at the beginning of the 20th century.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

No, and I don't talk about such things in my blog.

The last book you bought is:

Juli Zeh, Spieltrieb - a new novel by the young German shooting-star, apparently about the precarious basis of morality "in our time", told at the example of two overwhelmingly intelligent teenagers. Good but I'm still stuck before the middle.

The last book you read:

David K. Shipler, The Working Poor - Invisible in America. Balanced case studies, facts, sad personal accounts. Impressively researched.

Five books you would take to a desert island:

Something by Kafka..Amerika, then. Open, fragmentary, poetic, existential.
That Marcel Proust thing, in French to keep me busy for a long, long time.
A Martin Walser-novel I haven't read - life stories told from unusual, lowly perspectives.
Two collected works to make it five: Hilary Putnam, John Rawls. It might be useful to know about reality, and how to behave in it should I ever return to society.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

sauseschritt, who doesn't like some of the more shallow aspects of blogging ;-)

Austroblogger, because he keeps complaining about having too little work to do

TH of Wos waas a Fremda, because I get the impression that he has read a lot that I should know about


Orange is close to Brown 

The last days have brought events in the second chamber of the Austrian parliament [Bundesrat] that prove the abominable political quality of some deputies there in a way that is breathtaking.

First, last week two deputies of the ÖVP repeatedly tried to hold down the arm of an FPÖ-deputy who voted against the government, and who thereby delivered the first defeat of the government in the chamber since it lost its majority there due to the BZÖ-FPÖ-split. The ÖVP-deputies later claimed they believed the FPÖ-deputy was voting inadvertently against his intentions, a claim that is not really substantiated by the video of the tumultuous scene.

Even worse though is what is hitting the frontpages of the online papers today (Standard, Presse): the new faction leader of the BZÖ in the Bundesrat, Siegfried Kampl, born in 1936, is uttering, and even defending, statements about the opposition to the nazi-regime that are simply gut-wrenching. He said that there was a "brutal persecution of nazis [brutale Naziverfolgung] after 1945", including the imprisonment for two years of his own father by the British army. Asked about the NSDAP-membership of his father, Kampl said that his father was an NSDAP-member like "more than 99%. There were 100% party members." Soldiers who deserted from the German army were "partly murderers of their brothers in arms [Kameradenmörder]". These "murderers" were not "singular cases" but "catastrophic situations".

Believe it or not, this man is even scheduled to become president of the second chamber of parliament in the second half of 2005 by automatic rotation. He has been defended by the BZÖ party-leadership with the argument that he was speaking from his personal traumatic experiences as a child, while his statements do not represent official party-wording. The opposition is calling for Kampl's exit from parliament, whereas the ÖVP has only said that Kampl's comments do not correspond to its own views.

In my opinion it is shocking that someone with such views even managed to get into the Bundesrat, FPÖ-member or not, but after these revelations he must leave immediately. The newly coined word "Naziverfolgung", about which Kampl is unapologetic, is an outrageous reversal of the commonly used compound "Judenverfolgung" [persecution of Jews], and it is apparently aimed at suggesting a structural equivalence between the holocaust and the exceedingly mild investigations against Austrian nazis after the war. Austria, 60 years after its liberation.


[weekend edition] Ostracised Green 

Like every serious weblogger, I spend my days with exciting investigative journalism, aka typing important headlines of the day into the Google search field and then diving right into the middle of the action.

Today, the search for my thoughtful query 'ostracised Green' brought up the column "Adventures of the Green Man" by Vijay Verghese at Smart Travel Asia. Read the whole hilarious thing, which includes the following gems:
Later in Bangkok I deplaned to find myself in the churning vortex of the Terrified-Doctors-At-The-Airport Convention. They were a friendly bunch and were eager to learn everything about me. "Do you have a …a…?" one gentleman asked, pointing to his throat. Of course I have a throat. I nodded my head vigorously. Eager not to waste a free consultation or appear to be dismissive, I went on to narrate to him a string of perplexing ailments – a lower back problem, a bent clavicle, insomnia, migraine, an ingrown toe-nail, recurring nightmares and problems with my inner child. "Okay, okay," he said, "welcome to Bangkok."

But there was one more hurdle. My ear tingled. Nothing happened. Instead I was shown a white line on the floor. On one side was a potential 10-day quarantine with pretty nurses cooing "Khop khun kaa", and on the other, Thailand, with crazed whistle-blowing policemen, fearsome traffic, pollution and… I had to force myself to concentrate. Positioning my feet, I took a deep breath and, at the signal, shot out of the starting block. A thermal imaging camera whirred and my picture flashed on the TV screen. It was green. GREEN as the army’s underwear. And glowing. Suddenly it dawned on me why US immigration terms visitors "aliens". ...

And yet another news item. A couple in China blessed with a bonnie baby boy decided to immortalise two historic events of our time by naming their child Saddam Deng Sars. How this boy is ever going to get into the USA in order, over time, to acquire a deeper appreciation of Freedom Fries (as French fries are now called at Congress) and a respectable nickname like Bob, beats me.

He is not alone. Sars is a solid, hewn-from-oak Norwegian surname. People called Sars have for generations been building ships and arm-wrestling reindeer. Now they find themselves ostracised. Well, I can understand that. Reindeer can smell pretty awful. There is even a Sars Institute. Perhaps Saddam Sars will be accepted by a fine Oslo university after which he can return to his native land and stun his family with his newfound skills. I’ll bet they’ve never arm-wrestled a panda.


Reading tip 

"Kanzler Kuckuck, Dr. Nörgl" [DE] - a detailed and informative article on the relationship between Wolfgang Schüssel and Jörg Haider in weekly Der Falter.


Should you get engaged in a political party? 

Some questions I am asking myself:

1. Do you care enough?
1a. Is that why you want to do this?

2. Do you know your opinions? Can you argue for them?
2a. Do you believe that your opinions have a point?

3. Are you ready to hold your tongue for the sake of unity with your allies?
3a. Do you think holding your tongue would be worth it?
3b. Are you ready to support and defend party policies that you consider wrong, at least up to a certain point?
3c. Take the person in the party about whom you have most reservations. Could you support him/her publically for office? [Actually not, but could I prevent something if I joined?]

4. Are you willing to expose yourself to hostility and power struggles?
4a. From/with your political opponents?
4b. From/with your political allies?

5. Can you spare the time?

6. Are you willing to get engaged in the sometimes banal issues of local politics?

7. Are you ready to be publicly associated with the party?
7a. OK for your private life?
7b. OK for your professional activities?

Any advice or helpful experiences?


Political Hangover 

Although disgusting in their substance, the upheavals in the far right of the Austrian political spectrum this week have also been euphorising for political observers who didn't like the FPÖ. The 'system' of the last 20 years is in turmoil, change seems within reach. The government has understood this and tries to sit out the moment of hope for the forces of change in silence, accepting the burden of having to defend a rather weak position (in which Schüssel is forced to pretend that he really considers Haider a reliable and "constructive" politician). For me as a citizen, it is time to reconsider once again the right format and level of involvement in politics. Have a nice weekend.


ÖVP-BZÖ-FPÖ: Strengthening the Family 

The FPÖ-BZÖ divorce is not so terribly important. We are talking about the political representation of a voter pool of less than 10% in a small European country. One - or both - of these parties happen to be part of the current coalition, but with little influence on the policies of the government.

The established facts at this point: The senior coalition partner ÖVP has decided to proceed with the current coalition, now with the newly formed BZÖ, at least for the time being. The BZÖ manages to secure the government majority in the first chamber of parliament, while the government has lost its majority in the second chamber.

This whole situation is good for the ÖVP. If BZÖ and FPÖ fight each other to death until elections in autumn 2006, the ÖVP will end up owning the entire right of the political spectrum, and thus remain clearly ahead of the SPÖ (socialdemocrats). Alternatively, if the BZÖ (or the FPÖ) manages to stabilise the old FPÖ voter pool, then the ÖVP is again in a position to dictate the terms of any coalition, as it was after the last election, because only the ÖVP has a free choice of coalition partners. An SPÖ-BZÖ, and certainly a SPÖ-FPÖ coalition is almost unimaginable. One can suspect that the ÖVP will lead a different partner to the altar next time round (likely the Greens), but it needs a stable right-wing alternative to be able to act as single author of the marriage contract. A strengthening BZÖ would take votes away from the SPÖ, thus reducing the only threat to ÖVP-rule, an SPÖ-Greens coalition.

The prolongation of the government is also vitally important for BZÖ and FPÖ, who will need all the time they can get to define themselves for the voters. Beyond what I discussed as likely programs of the two in my last post, an interesting document [DE] has surfaced today, of a secret pact between rivals Haider and Strache signed on March 21st. Their last attempt at a compromise, according to which the two rivals would have shared the leadership of the FPÖ almost equally, it spells out their common denominator in terms of thematic priorities. These were: 'strengthening the family', 'securing the homeland for the autochtonous population', law and order, as well as, added in Haider's handwriting, 'a further round of tax reform'. Expect a lot of competition in strengthening the family then.

Chancellor Schüssel has conceded [DE] that he faced a "difficult moment" and a "dramatic situation" when confronted yesterday with the decision whether to dissolve the coalition goverment and head for elections. Yet, "after discussions with party colleagues and also representatives of the business world" one had reached the conclusion to "conform to the general request [allgemeinen Wunsch]" to continue the government's work for Austria. With no further comment on Schüssel's perceptiveness, let me conclude by mentioning an online poll at the website of popular right-wing daily Krone, which showed that 85% of the responses were in favour of early general elections.

FPÖ-BZÖ morning update 


Fact, finally: FPÖ decapitated, leaders form new BZÖ 

After weeks of endless speculation, it has happened, some ten days earlier than expected. At a press conference this afternoon, the leading circle of the notorious Austrian far-right party FPÖ, which was still loyal to former chairman Jörg Haider, made the following announcements:
  1. All government ministers as well as the Carinthian local party organisation (headed by provincial governor Jörg Haider) leave the FPÖ effective immediately and found a new party, cumbersomly dubbed the BZÖ (Bündnis für die Zukunft Österreichs, something like Union for the Future of Austria).
  2. The new party intends to continue the coalition with the conservative ÖVP, theoretically re-colouring the coalition from Schwarz-Blau (Black-Blue) into Schwarz-Orange (Black-Orange) - the BZÖ is copying the colour of the recent revolution in Ukraine.
  3. Jörg Haider becomes chairman of the new party, returning to the top federal function after four years of voluntary consignment to his native Carinthia province. Haider intends to appoint an acting chairman to relieve himself of everyday duties, most likely the loyal Haider-ite and spokesman of the current parliamentary faction, moderate Herbert Scheibner.
  4. The new balance of power in parliament is not entirely clear. Scheibner confirmed to journalists that the coalition would maintain its majority in parliament, which can happen only if very few of the current MPs decide to go with the excluded right-wingers who have the option to stay in charge of the "old" FPÖ.
  5. As I suspected earlier, the BZÖ-gang has declared that the party debts should stay with the old FPÖ. This and other issues of party financing will probably be fought out in the courts.
  6. Haider declared that the BZÖ will not be ideologically focussed on old dogma, but will attempt to find answers to current intellectual challenges.
  7. Apart from the Carinthians, not a single regional branch of the FPÖ has so far come out in support of the BZÖ. In fact, the danger of losing a vote among regional organisations against right-winger H.C. Strache is what forced the group around Haider to leave the party already before the extraordinary party assembly, which they themselves had scheduled for April 23rd.
This is all brand-new information, and several aspects of the situation are not clear:

Will the right-wingers take charge of the existing FPÖ under a chairman Strache and enter into direct competition with the BZÖ under Haider? According to pollsters, this would put both party-branches in danger of failing to clear the 4% hurdle for representation in the next parliament.

Will chancellor Schüssel dissolve the coalition and head for general elections before the summer? Currently this seems likely.


Who are they talking to? 

I know almost nothing about the matters I discuss in my blog. If I did, I would have to write a scientific paper if the issue is a factual one, or attempt to draft a convincing essay if it is a matter of opinion under insufficient information. When I blog, I do so because I lack the time, motivation, or skills for either the scientific or the literary method, and so instead I settle for the frequent semi-valid short text that can serve to fix ideas. Mainly for myself, although it's hugely intriguing that others occasionally read my little texts too. Roughly, then, I know what I'm doing here.

Can the same be said about Austrian parliamentarians when they give speeches in federal or local parliaments? I have recently read session protocols from the Vienna city parliament [DE], and I have watched some live coverage from the federal parliament [DE]. It would make a nice scientific paper (hehe) to analyse who these parliamentarians are addressing with each of their remarks. Some, basically the faction leaders, address the mass media most of the time, whereas backbenchers seem to speak mainly in self-justification towards their constituents, or for their peers in their own party. A speech to celebrate public servants. A speech to celebrate a recent football victory.

How often do parliamentarians address the opposite political opinion, how often do they attempt to develop a novel argument or to defend one against its critics at the level intended by the criticism? Rarely, it seems. Is this deplorable? From the perspective of an observer it certainly is, as one is faced with a mosaic of half-sentences addressed in all sorts of different directions, except those of the argument at stake. But presumably debate occurs elsewhere, not under the scrutiny of the public. If that is so, on the other hand, what do we need the public debates for, except as dogfood for the mass media? Maybe for no other reason, and the parliamentarian of the future will thrive on the qualities of a media star, physically attractive, pleasant voice, entertaining.

Then again, parliament does not seem a very important place. The result of voting is predetermined anyway by elections, for that alone one wouldn't need a building employing hundreds of politicians. Plus, as we saw, convincing the opponent does not seem to be intended. What's more, other channels of political communication are becoming ever more important, and are not contingent on parliamentary debate: coverage in the mass media; advertising campaigns; even the internet. After all, the parliamentarian of the future might be as incompetent and unattractive as today's creed, as long as he or she performs well in some of those other channels. Don't despair, my dumb and ugly friend, just keep on looking for a political medium that suits you.

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