Black-Red in 2005 

I know that for several weeks before my latest travel-related break I have deafened you, my respected readers, with nauseating reports from the world of political colours in this country. I hope to take a leave from any further mention of colour-terms for a while and return to real issues, but before I can do that, here is one about that most famous of Austrian political colour-combinations, which almost seemed to have gone out of use: black (conservative) - red (socialdemocrat). Probably most of you are aware that these two parties have peacefully shared power in this country for most of the last 60 years. This delivered social stability, as the natural political divide between the conservative country-side and the socialdemocrat, Vienna-focussed east was laid to rest, and economic policy converged in the center. Yet, for many of my generation whose political socialisation occurred in the 80s and 90s, black-red (at the time, red-black) also represented the stale inflexibility of a power-oriented coalition that had outlived its social usefulness. Red-black as we knew it came to an end in 2000 when the socialdemocrats were kicked out of government for the first time in 30 years, and when the conservatives of ÖVP seemed at the point of establishing a far-reaching hegemony in all branches of the state.

Last night state-broadcaster ORF featured a discussion on the occasion of the 1st of May about labour market policy. The panel included EU-commissioner Günter Verheugen, but in addition there were the leaders of all five organisations that negotiate Austrian labour-market policy among themselves: chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel; the head of the industrialists lobby Veit Sorger; the head of the federal chamber of business Christoph Leitl; the head of the federal union organisation Fritz Verzetnitsch; and the head of the chamber of employees Herbert Tumpel. Of these five men, the first three are ÖVP-conservatives, the latter two SPÖ-socialdemocrats. Although it was a bit weird that ORF hadn't invited any politicians of the opposition, for example SPÖ-leader Alfred Gusenbauer who would have completed a 3-3 match lineup, the old black-red bipolarity with its subtle mechanisms of maintaining a stable core of consensus was there for everybody to see, as if the ÖVP-FPÖ coalitions since 2000 had never happened. It was interesting to observe how these five men neatly fitted every cliche that one could have about their respective positions: the tanned, robust industrialist who wanted to convince us to be positive and to love capital; the wheeler-dealer head of the chamber of business, a master of NLP; the brutally simplifying head of the chamber of employees; the conciliatory unionist (a relatively positive figure); the chancellor who added a spark of intellectual brilliance and eagerness for political campaigning. Yes, but would anything unexpected ever leave their five mouths? Would we encounter individuals who trade in ideas and flexible belief systems? Don't expect anything of the kind from any black-red lineup. 'The party', whichever of the two it is, is far too powerful, far too immobile, to allow for any significant creativity to unfold. Recently, calls for a revival of the ÖVP-SPÖ coalitions of the past have been heard emanating from the graveyards. Fresh ideas will have to come from somewhere else.


Without wishing to blow your cover, I think we can all work out the colour of the party with which you seem to be flirting. ;)

I agree with you.

If I could engage in wishful thinking for a second: I find it fascinating that the party of conservative thought is proving itself to be more intellectually rigorous than the traditional home of the progressives. I really could wish that the ÖVP could radicalise itself a little in a process similar to that which Blair achieved with the labour party in Britain.

I guess that the power brokers within the ÖVP are too moribund to allow that to happen soon, but there IS a potential there.

I dont think that Black is your colour though, and for these reasons increasingly not mine.

I do have a suspicion, and actually a hope, that Mr Vanderbellen will be a busy man after the next elections.

For me it is an open issue which is the harder task. A radicalisation of the ÖVP or a reality check for the Greens. Both would be a worthwhile exercise. I fear the reds are the ones who are too immobile to help.

Goodness, an opinion stated openly. This will probably come back to haunt me.

I'm training to become a propagandist after all ;-). My current preference would be a coalition between the Greens and the WIFO. Unlikely.

I personally would not hold out much hope for a black-green coalition. Conservatives generally don't see green issues in anything like the same way as Greens - it's all about keeping the landscape pretty, not changing anything in the economy. And the culture clash between the OVP and the Greens would be something to behold.

I recall the mayor of Hietzing (I think) speaking of how "sogar junge Leute aus gutem schwarzen Haus, ja keine Leute mit langem Haar oder sowas" were voting Green - and this in 2002!

"sogar junge Leute aus gutem schwarzen Haus, ja keine Leute mit langem Haar oder sowas"

The point is though that some fathers of those good homes are starting on the path from black to green. Not nearly enough, I ll agree. And certainly the greens would need to undergo a change to be even remotely acceptable to the mass of conservative opinion. But imagine the empowerment if it could be achieved! My point is that there IS an element of intellectual vigor within the ÖVP that could be mobilised.

I doubt though if the practicalities of political life would allow that process the time it needs.
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