A couple of weeks ago the Burqa ban came into effect in Austria, banning all clothing that covered the face. The first (and so far only) fine issued by the police under the law was to a performer wearing a shark costume whilst promoting the McShark computer chain. Austria's estimated 150 (yes, 150) Burqa wearers stayed indoors. Of course there's no Burqa problem now, say Austrian friends, but look at France, where the Burqa is used as an outward expression of Islamism to say 'FU' to the Fifth Republic. They don't want that to happen here.
The election has been a single issue business, all about migration. On everything else there's an easy consensus between the parties; Austria is a protectionist, social-democratic republic with a socialist economy and conservative values. This has enabled the conservative OeVP and the socialist SPOe to govern in coalition for most of the years since the war. But it was Germany's stupidity in opening Europe's borders last year that provoked the backlash; until the young Sebastian Kurz took the initiative in co-ordinating the closure of the Serbian migrant route with steel fences, the tsunami of economic migrants all came through Austria, many staying.
The Austrian Federal government went over the heads of the Länder in dispersing migrants as thinly as possible across the country. They didn't want to create ghettoes in Vienna. Here in my gemeinde we were allocated 74, though fewer than half that number are actually billeted here. The owner of a closed and tired small hotel, last refurbed in the '70s, volunteered his asset to the Vienna government with alacrity. He houses and feeds the migrants twice a day on boiled pasta and rakes in more money than he's made in the past decade. The Afghans shrug off the -20 winter cold and the snow, the Africans shiver in misery under their bedclothes. CAFOD have donated some bicycles (migrants can't drive in Austria) and volunteers now coach ex-Iraqi tank drivers, Afghan helo pilots and Sudanese taxi operators as they wobble uncertainly around the car park like children.
Muslim migrants in particular have found an immovable cultural barrier. Not only do the valleys tintabulate to the sound of church bells three times a day, not only can you not travel more than 100m without meeting a crucifix or a Marian roadside shrine, only pork and beef can be bought in the shop, and there are no halal foods, but the locals insist on greeting them in public with a cheery smile and "Grüß Gott!". They know damn well that the God being asked to bless them is the Holy Trinity of the Christian Diety and not the sterile Allah of their own death cult. You can see them wince almost imperceptibly at the greeting. They do not respond.
In dispersing the migrants so widely the Federal government scored a home goal. In those provinces in which most gemeindes had never seen a black face before the dispersal, the SPOe and Green vote has collapsed and the OeVP and FPOe have benefited. The message is very clear; thus far and no further. The migrants here themselves want to leave the rather bleak and isolated Austrian rural areas for German cities, and the Austrian authorities are complicit in turning a blind eye to their leaving; the whole mess was, after all, Germany's fault. In return, Germany is keeping the Austrian border closed - to intercept both migrants and Balkans cigarettes.
All this has put Sebastian Kurz in the Ballhausplatz.
I was in the local pub yesterday evening with a couple of young German friends and the place was fairly packed with folk watching the election results. I'd worked out that the full tables in front of us were SPOe until young Katz nudged me to point out an FPOe 'Strache' scarf draped over a chair on the table behind. This is how rural Austria works. There's only one pub, so Labour and UKIP share, and get on politely enough, greeting eachother in the toilet and enquiring about children. They're likely to be related, after all, in an Austria in which extended families have largely stayed in place on the same land their ancestors inhabited centuries ago. And community and cultural identity are always more important than party politics.