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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Recoils at Right-Wing Gains in Austria

VIENNA -- As right-wing nationalist Joerg Haider basked in his triumph in weekend elections, Austria's once-proud Social Democratic party tried Monday to analyze how it lost voters' trust and turned in its worst result since 1918.

The hardline nationalist's triumph also sent shock waves through Europe, with some likening his seemingly inexorable rise to power to that of Adolf Hitler, who likewise stirred economic uncertainty and racist rhetoric into a potent brew of political power.

Haider's Freedom Party posted its best election result ever this weekend, recording 27.62 percent of nationwide votes for 21 Austrian lawmakers in the European Parliament. In traditionally socialist Vienna, it added seven seats to hold 30 out of the 100 places in the city parliament.

The result was a triumph for Haider, a right-wing lawyer whose blend of folksy oratory, anti-foreigner policies and attacks on bloated bureaucracy have shaken the bipartisan structure governing neutral Austria for 50 years.

While attracting some Austrians, Haider repels many others. Both his parents were dedicated Nazis, and he insists that generation cannot be held responsible for Nazi atrocities. Last year, Haider incurred anger by lauding the decency of veterans of Adolf Hitler's Waffen SS, units notorious for their wartime cruelty.

Austrian commentators were nearly unanimous that Sunday marked a watershed in domestic politics.

Above all, Haider replaced the Social Democrats -- one of Europe's oldest and most successful labor movements -- as the party of the proletariat.

At 4.1 percent, unemployment in Austria is far lower than in many other European Union countries. But workers used to cradle-to-grave security fear job loss and especially recent purchases of Austrian firms by cost-cutting foreign companies.

Social Democratic Chancellor Franz Vranitzky also has come under fire for an austerity package that slashed family allowances. Haider, by contrast, has blamed job losses on European integration and sounded a nationalist "Austria first'' message.

European reaction to the vote was overwhelmingly negative.

"The Austrian election result is a shock for all Europeans," said Helmut Hausmann, European policy spokesman for Germany's Free Democrats, part of the ruling coalition.

Under the headline "Racist winds in Austria," Italy's Corriere della Sera wrote, "Haider's victory, obtained on an openly anti-Europe and racist platform, opens very serious questions about Austria's future."

Germany's Dresden-based Saechsische Zeitung wrote, "It is true that Haider is no Hitler but it is also true that he has the capacity to become one. Hitler only became what he was because of his success. The less resistance Haider encounters, the further he can go."

(Reuters, AP)

The Il Messagero daily went one step further. "A new specter is roaming Europe. It is the nationalist right of Joerg Haider, voted by a third of Austrians yesterday."

France's extreme-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen was alone in welcoming the Freedom Party's "breakthrough."