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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Austrian election - Post 1

I'm going to spread my reaction to the Austrian election over two or three posts. It really is all far more complex and nuanced that UK commentators are indicating. You'll hear the term 'Nazis' bandied about a lot over the next week, so let's start with that. 

Ulrichsberg, a short drive away, is a small ruined roofless chapel perched on a small peak above the village; on its walls are the regimental plaques of long-gone army units - mostly of the Austrian army as it was absorbed into the German forces after Anschluss. In particular, this was the recruiting ground for the Gebirgsj├Ąger, the mountain warfare troops with the little Edelweiss on their sleeve, the local regiment of which scuppered a much more powerful British force at Narvik and spent the rest of the war in Lapland fighting Russians. Each year the old veterans with their Iron Crosses, their close combat infantry badges and wound badges, all made legal to wear after the war as long as the Swastika was ground off, met for a flag and prayer service of a type familiar all over Europe.

It enjoyed a semi-official approval; each year the Austrian army would lay on vehicles to take the old soldiers up the steep mountain and would maintain the forest track; they would provide a scratch oompah band and a couple of senior officers in uniform, and the local gemeinde would sanction the attendance of the Fire Brigade and use of local resources. All was well until a journalist identified ex-members of the Waffen SS (the ones who fought, but hardly honourably, rather than the ones who operated the extermination camps). Of course there was a stink, the army was ordered to withdraw help, the gemeinde said 'nothing to do with us, guv' and for the past two years the old boys have met in a tent down in the village - unable to get up to their ruined chapel. It was an official move to suffocate the thing - though long known about and tolerated - because of bad publicity. A very Austrian reaction - they are great hiders of unpleasant things.

The point is that these old boys are people's fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, loved and esteemed family members, who were conscripted into the Reich's forces and like soldiers everywhere who have fought, remembered this as the most intensely lived part of their lives. If they shared anything, it was a rather old fashioned belief in service, obedience, discipline, comradeship, self-sacrifice, domestic economy and a loyalty to their family, clan and province. Values still prevalent here in homes of all political persuasions.

In a simplistic Twitter world the shorthand for this sort of treffen is a 'Nazi Rally'. When an FPOe politician said recently that Austrians who served in the Reich forces should stop being ashamed of it, he of course raised a 'Nazi Spectre' storm from Der Spiegel to Guardian Towers. The reality is really far more nuanced than that. We'll hear a lot about Austrian Nazis over the next week.  
Values often skip a generation or two. So it seems sometimes with the Millennials, who can seem priggish, over-serious, politically unrealistic and far, far too didactic to we boozy, bloated, fortunate Gen-Xers. Ulrichsberg too was attractive to the old and the young, to the veterans and to their grandchildren and great grandchildren. It's about tradition and culture rather than fascist values, as far as I can see. I could be wrong, but I can see little evil in it. This lieder has had over a million views on You Tube - is it a fascist anthem or a folk song?


Thud said...

I am proud of our history and of our armed forces and happy for Austrians to feel likewise about theirs....all of theirs.

anon 2 said...

Back in the early '60s I worked at BOAC with pilots who were ex-WWII RAF. The gist of what they told me is: "We didn't like what we had to do. We knew that the people down below were people just like us, and they suffered from the air war just as our own did. We knew what it was like to be on the receiving end. However, we also knew we must help to stop the war, and so we did what we had to do."

Thus I understood that our men respected the enemy, hated hurting them, and were glad when the battle was over. Part of that mindset would include the recognition that 'Germans are not our natural enemy' - they share the ancestral 'Viking-part' of our heritage. So it wasn't a case of beating individuals, or a race, into submission, but of forging a situation from which peace, freedom, and identity, could be salvaged for both sides.

I needs must add that, during the same decade, Germans I met in Germany were not necessarily appreciative of the aforesaid view. They were quite unpleasant with l'il English me when I had to stay a couple of days on my own . . . . Perhaps they may have later realized that they were free to do so?

Balanchine said...

Reminds me of a World War 2 R.A.F.veteran I worked with in my first job, on asking him if he had ever been to Germany, he replied, 'Only at night!'

Span Ows said...

A good post Raedwald, a human side. many will disagree and shout 'NAZI' anyway but war has always thrown normal people into unbelievably difficult situations. Admittedly some take to it with new found relish but a massive majority were as you say conscripted and just doing their bit. Many of the allied troops too, caught up in the rage, would do unspeakable things.