Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Wolfgang Weber (2000) 'Germanness in One Country: Austria, Joerg Haider and Nationalist Legacy'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 1, <>

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Received: 3/5/2000      Accepted: 24/5/2000      Published: 31/5/2000


This article looks at the possible links between auto/biography and right wing nationalism. It is based on extensive archival and oral history research carried out during the 1990s. The recent shift to the right of Austrian governmental politics is examined by looking at biographical aspects of a key player of that process, the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party Joerg Haider. His current political views should be read as being embedded within the wider historical and political biography of Austria as a nation state. A life story is constructed in exchange with ones own and other people's actions. This construct is constantly in flux. This is true for authors of academic research as much as for their objects of investigation. Consequently, the authors' experiences as an Austrian national, both at home and abroad, form a part of this study. The paper concludes by debating how auto/biographical experiences from the past become a constituting element of a person's present and future.

Austria; Auto/biography; Home/Abroad; Identity; National Socialism; Nationalism; Self; Sport


Austria does not make it onto the cover pages of international news agencies very often. If it does, headlines are generally linked to two controversial images. It is either presented as a country rooted in traditional institutions like the Viennese Boys' Choir, the White Horses at the Hofburg or Hot Chocolate and Cake. Or, in contrast, it is presented as a country of old and new Nazis, incapable of facing its National Socialist past. The latter image has dominated international news in recent weeks. On February 4 2000 the conservative Austrian People's Party (OeVP) formed a coalition government with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPOe). These two parties were in second (FPOe) and third (OeVP) place in the last Austrian general election on October 3 1999. Before these elections the OeVP had been the minor partner in a coalition government with the Social democrats (SPOe) since 1986. In February 2000, the start of the new Austrian centre right government, which is lead by the OeVP, saw heavy protests, nationally and internationally. The European Union member states, for example, declared a ban on all bilateral relations between Austria and the EU states. The main targets of the protests were the participation of the FPOe in the federal government and the politics of its leader Joerg Haider. In part the protests were successful. On February 28 2000 Mr Haider resigned as FPOe leader. He is still in office as the governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia. The centre right federal government of Austria remains in power. Both the FPOe and Mr Haider are characterised by a strong right wing populist ideology. Since February 2000, the content of this ideology, its historical roots and its sociological and political consequencies have been discussed in detail by countless commentators. What has been missing from all criticisms are the possible bridges between Mr Haider's personal and political biography. So far, the auto/biographical dimension of the FPOe/Haider phenomena has been a neglected issue in the political debate concerning Austria's contemporary policy.

The goal of my contribution is to look at one aspect of Mr Haider's personal biography and to embed the stories connected with it into the wider historical and political biography of Austria as a nation state. The one aspect I would like to investigate in more detail is Mr Haider's position on national identity. In the course of this discussion I will briefly look at the main definitions of nationalism and nation. A deeper discussion of the structures of nationalism can be found in P. Treanor's article in Sociological Research Online ( I argue that the most influential theorists of nationalism in the last 10 years have neglected the auto/biographical dimension of the topic. One field of society where the links between self, life and nationalism becomes obvious is sport. Sport itself is a vital vehicle in the construction of a nation, be it imagined or invented. It symbolizes the prowess and success of the nation (Cronin and Mayall 1998, 2). For the purpose of this essay I have investigated the history of the German gymnastics movement in Austria. It is one among many examples of how political sport can be. This political dimension of sport and its relation to life stories is illustrated by the biographical account of two Austrian gymnasts and their view of national identity. Breda Gray has argued how an auto/biographical approach to national identity may deconstruct the homogenous unitary model upon which national theories are based (Gray 1997, 152). In fact, the biographies of the two Austrian gymnasts presented here show the ever changing nature of subjectivity. If biographies are unstable then ideologies can not be stable and fixed. Ways of life and ways of thinking are constructed by people. People change - consequently, so do ideologies. We change in inter-relation with others. Accounts of other people's lives influence my way of reconstructing my own life and vice versa (Stanley 1994, 1). Therefore, an interpretation of the current political situation in Austria demands a deconstruction of the personal experiences of the people involved. Joerg Haider is one of these key characters. My role is also relevant. As a teenager I joined a gymnastics club in my home town. Some of my trainers were members of the Freedom Party of Joerg Haider and had been members of the NSDAP in the 1930s. I was unaware of this at the time, but it came to light during the research for my PhD. The PhD dealt with the history of the German gymnastics movement and its collaboration with the NSDAP in Austria. Following Liz Stanley's arguments concerning the necessity of research in fields where the object of research inter-links with the subject of research, this revelation set in motion an on-going autobiographical process, where I am trying to re-structure my teenage past (Stanley 1996). Ronit Lentin called such a process a split subjectivity and stressed the multiple voices with which we all tell our stories (Lentin 1997, 3). This is a claim with which I originally had difficulties. I am a trained historian and I work as an archivist. During my professional training for both subjects the emphasis was placed upon the linear nature of history, and upon the belief that there is only one voice of the past which comes to us by written tradition. In fact, there are many voices in the past and the present. Narrating them is a continuous process of interpreting the past in the present (Koleva 1999, 32).

Setting off

I was sweet sixteen when I was first confronted with Austria's controversial image abroad. In 1980, two male friends and I had saved money for an organised coach trip to France. We quickly recognised that the French people we met changed their behaviour towards us dramatically once we made it clear to them that we are Austrians, not Germans. In those days Germany was still identified with Nazi World War II crimes in France, Austria with classical music. In Marseille our coach was robbed, most of our personal belongings were stolen, including our passports. As we had to pass at least two borders on our way back home to Austria we had to report the robbery to the local police. The Algerian born French taxi driver who drove us to the nearest police station asked us if we are 'les boches'. We protested and told him that we are Austrians assuming that this would produce a similar response to previously. But he did not fall for it. On the contrary, he gave us a long speech about Adolf Hitler, who was Austrian, recent Austrian and German history and the involvement of these two countries in World War II crimes and concluded: 'Les autrichiens sont les boches.' The white French police officer who interviewed us at the police station behaved differently. He told us how lovely Austria was, and how different the people there were to the ones in Germany. I was extremely confused and this confusion remained with me for years. It was there when I lived in Berlin for a few months in 1993. It increased when I lived in Essex, in Durham, in London during the 1990s. This confusion is one that I share with several non-Austrians, too. The following example illustrates this.

During the international debate on German re- unification in 1989/90 commentators also looked at Austria's prospective role in this political process. In an article entitled 'Remember: Austrians are Germans too' in the Sunday Telegraph (26.11.1989) Geoffrey Wheatcroft mentioned that there are not only two German states but three: the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic and the Republic of Austria. In his opinion the Austrian state is an artificial product of the post-1918 and post-1945 political world order and Austria as an ethnic nation state does not exist. By saying this Wheatcroft follows a theoretical concept which is also held by professional academics such as the West-German historian Karl Dietrich Erdmann. In an essay entitled 'Three States - Two Nations - One People?' Erdmann argued that German history since 1945 is the history of three German states, Austria, FRG and GDR; two nations, the Austrian and the German respectively; and one people (Erdmann 1985).

The Austrian Ambassador in London, Walter Magrutsch, responded to Wheatcroft in a letter to the editor (Sunday Telegraph, 24.12.1989). Magrutsch referred to the independent development Austria has made as a state through the centuries. He stressed that it established itself internationally as a European but not as a German state after 1945. He argued that just because the majority of the Austrian population speak German and German is its official language, Austria could not be defined as part of the German nation. Switzerland and Liechtenstein also have German as an official language but are not counted as part of the German nation.

Travelling the Seven Seas of National Identity

This little journalistic interlude illustrates two divergent approaches to thinking about nationality. Where Erdmann and Wheatcroft define a nation through common language, culture and descent, official Austria sees the creation of a nation as a free decision of the inhabitants of a state. It assumes that people can commit themselves to a nation regardless of their language or ethnic descent but by a daily plebiscite of their will. In doing so, the Austrian state follows the French theorist Ernest Renan. Renan defined a nation in the late 19th century as 'a large-scale solidarity constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future' (Renan 1996, 52). In the preface to the millennium exhibition catalogue '996-1996. Ostarrichi-Austria. Men-Myth-Milestones' the Austrian president Thomas Klestil wrote:

'A 'nation' not only confirms itself by the running up of flags or by playing anthems - 'nation' is rather a feeling of agreement, which grows out of the awareness of being a community that shares a common fate.' (Bruckmueller and Urbanitsch 1996, VII)

Such a community spirit demands a subjective boundedness to function, as Richard Handler has stressed (Handler 1988, 6). The individual must possess a minimum of attributes or characteristics which enable him or her to join the national collective. In the words of Miroslav Hroch these are 'a memory of a common past, a density of linguistic or cultural ties and a conception of the equality of all members of the group' (Hroch 1996, 79). There are additional ties which contribute to nation- building, but these three are essential. Consequently, a group of individuals become a nation if and when all members share mutual rights and duties to each other (Gellner 1983, 7). On an auto/biographical level such ties may become manifest when the individual is present in another nation. I was in France when I was first confronted by my own Austrian nationality. In my case, it was the distance from 'home' in terms of geography and citizenship which made such an ethnic definition of myself necessary (Gray 1997, 146). The definition was produced heteronomously, not autonomously.

In the latest survey of Austrian public opinion in 1993 about two thirds of Austrians shared a voluntaristic definition of a nation. Even so, 27% believed in a cultural definition of a nation. Such a cultural nation is identified by a system of common associations, ideas and signs. The majority of this group supports the Freedom Party of Austria (Bruckmueller 1996, 66f) which polled 26,91% in the last Austrian general election in October 1999. According to the Handbook of Austrian Right Wing Extremism the ideology of the Freedom Party is right wing extremist (Handbuch 1994, 462). The Austrian Freedom Party was founded in 1956. Its main task at that time was to be a reservoir for all Ex-NSDAP members and German nationalist Austrians, who were not allowed to organise in a party between 1945 and 1949[1] as a result of the criminal past of the Nazi-movement. Its first two party leaders were Ex-Nazis: Anton Reinthaller, who led the party from 1956-1958, was a member of the Austrian NSDAP executive board in the 1930s, secretary of state in the Nazi-government of Austria in 1938 and was promoted to the rank of a SS- Brigadefuehrer. Friedrich Peter, leader from 1958-1978, served during World War II in the 1st SS- Infantry-Brigade, which was convicted after the war of murdering partisans, their supporters and Jewish people in the Soviet Union in 1941/42 (Handbuch 1994, 359).

The Freedom Party of Austria and Nationalist Waves

In an interview with the liberal-nationalist magazine Aula the leader of the Freedom Party Joerg Haider said:

'The German re-unification in the smallest version as it appears at the moment is a logical consequence of developments which began to emerge earlier. (...) It is in our interest not to make the other European nations nervous due to the unification movement which is just happening between the FRG and Central Germany but to understand it as a normal European process which does not cause a new Greater Germany but enables the re-unification of one people (...).' (Aula 9/1990, 11)

For Haider the German re-unification of 1989/90 was a unification 'in the smallest version' because it only included West- and Central Germany. A few weeks after he was elected leader of the Freedom Party in 1986 he hinted at what in his opinion could be a greater German unification:

'The vast majority of Austrians belong to the German ethnic and cultural community. (...) Of course we want Austria to autonomously contribute to the future and development of the German nation. We are convinced that a declaration for its own people is a requirement for the preservation and progress of cultural values and the historic-cultural self-definition of each ethnic community, and also for us Austrians which belong to the German people.' (Bailer-Galanda 1995, 49)

Haider does not deny the existence of an independent Austrian nation, but he argues in a way similar to the historian K. D. Erdmann that there is only one German people. In doing this Erdmann and Haider follow the definition of a nation which Liah Greenfeld calls the collectivistic and ethnic type of nationalism: common language, culture and descent are the lines along which a nation is founded, regardless, for example, if all German speaking people live in one or more states. Nationality is determined genetically, it can not be acquired if one is not born with it (Greenfeld 1995 <> ; ). This model is also stated in the programme of the Austrian Freedom Party. It says:

'Family and the people are organically grown facts, which have to be considered in politics. The people as a natural community linked through descent and historical development, formed common language and culture and have common characteristics. (...) The majority of Austrians are part of the German ethnic and cultural community. These facts last although they are repressed due to a fatal chapter of German history in Austria.' (Bailer-Galanda 1995, 46)

For the Liberals the occupation of Austria by Hitler-Germany between 1938 and 1945 was not an event of Austrian history, but a 'fatal chapter of German history in Austria'. The definition of Austria as being part of the German ethnic and cultural community is a constant factor in the politics of the Freedom Party. In a TV-Discussion in 1988 Joerg Haider declared:

'You know as well as I do that the Austrian nation has been a miscarriage, an ideological miscarriage. Being committed to one's people is one thing, being committed to a state another. After 1945 one tried to invent this Austrian nation to keep a certain distance from the past and by that executed a break with history which lasted for centuries. The fundamental question is what Austria contributed to universal German history.' (Bailer-Galanda 1995, 50)

In 1993 Haider published a book about contemporary Austria sub-titled 'The Third Republic'. In it he made clear who these people were who tried to invent the Austrian nation after 1945. He argued that it was the communists and the Soviet-Union which were interested in keeping the German nation small. This is why they were keen on creating Austria and the former GDR as independent states (Bailer-Galanda 1995, 51). Historically this is just half of the truth. In 1943, the Allied Forces passed the so-called Moscow Declaration in which they declared their War objectives. Amongst these was the re-establishing of an independent Austrian state, because in the Allied view Austria was the first state which was a victim of the aggressive foreign policy of Nazi-Germany. This declaration was the starting point for post-war Austrian politics after 1945 (Fellner 1972). The crucial point here is that the Allies wanted to see Austria established as a state. The nation for this state had to be invented. All political parties of interwar Austria strived for an Anschluss of Austria to Germany, including the Austromarxist SPOe. They all saw the Austrian people as part of the German nation. It was only the Austrofascist state of 1934 to 1938 that embarked upon the building of an Austrian national identity as a second German nation. They failed. In a plebiscite after the Anschluss on April 10 1938 98% of the Austrian electorate voted for an Anschluss. (for a detailed discussion see Botz 1972)

In Haider's case it can be shown that his German jingoism is strongly autobiographical. He was born into an Austrian German nationalist family in 1950. His father Robert joined the Hitler-Youth in 1929, the Nazi SA (Sturm-Abteilung) in 1930 and fled to Germany in 1933 when the NSDAP in Austria was banned. In Nazi-Germany Haider's father joined the so-called Austrian Legion, a paramilitary troop which was recruited by the German Nazis and trained for an invasion of Austria. In 1934 Robert Haider was involved in a putsch of Austrian Nazis against the Austrian Government. After the Anschluss in 1938 he became leader of the Nazi-Youth- Organisation in the province of Upper-Austria and served in the German Army during World War II. Haider's mother Dorothy was a functionary of the female Nazi-Youth-Organisation BDM (Bailer-Galanda and Neugebauer 1996, 10-11).

As a teenager Joerg Haider joined the Austrian Gymnastics Association. This association was founded in 1952 and its goals were the cultivation of German tradition and German heritage (Handbuch 1994, 307). Its historical roots lie in the first Austrian Republic.

Aged 16 Joerg Haider won the annual rhetoric competition of the Gymnastics Association. His speech was entitled 'Are we Austrians Germans?' In his paper Haider embedded Austrian history into universal German history, refused to call Austria's population Austrians but named them 'the Germans in Austria' and concluded with the remark that the task of politics should be to cultivate the German heritage in Austria and to ensure that the link to the greater German culture was not lost. His speech was so well received in right wing circles that the revisionist 'German National Newspaper' published it on its cover page on 29 July 1966 under the heading 'Austria stays German! Yes to the Austrian State and the German Nation'. This was the starting point of his political career. Two years later he became leader of the Freedom Party Youth Organisation in the province of Upper-Austria. From 1970-1974 he led the Austrian Freedom Party Youth Organisation. In 1979 he was elected into the Austrian national parliament. In 1986 he took over the presidency of the Freedom Party and from 1989 to 1991 he was governor of the province of Carinthia. He was forced to leave this post because of his praise for Nazi labour policy in the local Carinthian parliament. In 1999 his party won the elections to local Carinthian parliament. He was elected governor by FPOe and OeVP Carinthian MPs a second time.

I am arguing that in addition to his family background Haider's German jingoism was founded in his time as a gymnast. His and his party's fight for a German Austria can additionally be explained historically, not simply biographically.

Oceans of Nationalist Body Culture: Austrian Gymnastics in Historical Perspective

In German we use the term gymnastics to describe a specific form of body culture, which was introduced at the beginning of the 19th century by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in Prussia (Eisenberg 1996). Jahn's sport is characterised by a very strong emphasis on the ideological benefits of sport. He demanded from his pupils not just the training of the body, but also the training of the mind. In his opinion the task of gymnastics was to prepare the German people both physically and mentally for a rebellion against the French occupation troops in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century and to unify the various German states at this time into one large nation state under the leadership of the Prussian king. His training sessions were organised along para-military lines: gymnasts had to exercise in disciplines such as walking, marching, swimming, riding, shooting, fencing etc. At the end of the training Jahn assembled the gymnasts at a place which he called after an old Germanic word Thing-square. There he read from a book which he published in 1810 entitled 'Deutsches Volkstum' (German national character). This piece of work is full of racist remarks and nationalist intolerance. For example, Jahn declared: 'The more pure a nation is the better; the more mixed it is the worse. Mixed nations have to be exterminated.' (Ueberhorst 1969, 23)

This political impact of Jahn's sport is fundamental to understanding it (Weber and Black 2000). It was passed on through the decades and after 1952 it formed the ideological basis on which the Austrian Gymnastics Association built its activities.

The forerunner of the Austrian Gymnastics Association was the German Gymnastics Federation in Austria (sic). It was founded in 1919 as an umbrella organisation of all German nationalist gymnastics clubs in Austria and in the Weimar Republic. In its constitution it declared the so-called Aryan wisdoms Purity-of-Race, Unity-of-the- People and Freedom-of-Thought as the binding principles of its work. Its clubs were obliged to represent these principles in their activities. To guarantee the so-called 'purity of race' these gymnastics clubs passed a regulation in their statutes which forbade Jewish people from joining a German gymnastics club. They also prohibited their members from taking part in festivals and competitions where non-germanic persons were attending. To preserve the 'freedom of thought' the German Gymnastics Federation created the position of a Dietwart. This was an ideological secretary who gave regular lectures at club meetings in which Austrian and German history was taught along nationalist lines. Finally, for the goal 'unity of the people' the clubs made sure that the common German ties between Austria and Germany were reflected at their central festivals.

At the district of Tyrol-Vorarlberg gymnastics festival in 1924 the mayor of the host town Bregenz, Dr Ferdinand Kinz, reminded the gymnasts in his address that their task was 'to clear the path through which our separated national comrades in the North and in the South, in the East and in the West are able to move in the great common parental home.' (Turnen und Sport 1924, 104)

The common home was supposed to be a united Germany, including all German speaking people in Europe. A couple of years later, in June 1933, the nationalist clubs of the Austrian town Bregenz, amongst them the local gymnastics club, organised a midsummer night celebration. In the opening speech the Dietwart of the gymnastics club, Hermann Schmid, stated in front of approx. 2,000 visitors:
'Our fatherland is only the great German fatherland. This earth on which we stand is German and has to stay German. We will remain loyal to our German brothers who have been fighting with us shoulder to shoulder in the World War. Heil Alldeutschland!' (Weber 1995, 123)

His message was so well received by the crowd that the local SS-leader Franz Rathmoser who was amongst the participants felt encouraged to take a chance. He approached the lectern and chanted Nazi-slogans such as 'Heil Hitler' or 'German Austria awake' to which the people responded enthusiastically (Weber 1995, 124). German nationalist thought such as the one demonstrated in these two examples and the three so-called Aryan wisdoms Purity-of-Race, Unity-of-the-People and Freedom-of-Thought brought the Austrian gymnasts very close to Nazi ideology. In a commemorative volume in 1929 the German Gymnastics Federation declared:

'We are carrying out a fearless fight against all enemies of the German people, against Marxism and Bolshevism, against Liberals and freemasons, against Judaism, but also against that International, which is trying to oppress the German people under the yoke of Rome.' (Zur Abwehr 1929, 9)

With this statement the German Gymnastics Federation anticipated the later pillars of Nazi policy: Antimarxism, Antiliberalism, Antisemitism, Anticlericalism. In fact a close collaboration between NSDAP-members and gymnasts occurred in Interwar Austria. In the twenties gymnasts were involved in the foundation of local NSDAP-branches and in the early thirties they helped to reorganise the Hitler-Party in Austria. Gymnasts held important positions. In the most Western Austrian province, Vorarlberg, the leader of the NSDAP, Anton Plankensteiner, was a gymnast as well as the boss of the SA. The Hitler-Youth was led by a gymnast. One of the two NSDAP-MPs to the local parliament was a gymnast, too. In 1933 the NSDAP was banned in Austria as a criminal organisation. Its members and with them the Nazi-gymnasts went underground. There they went on to fight for an Anschluss of Austria to Hitler-Germany. About a fifth of Vorarlberg gymnasts were prosecuted for their illegal engagement in Nazi-Policy. They carried out bomb attacks against Austrian politicians and Austrian State property; they distributed Nazi-leaflets; they kept the NSDAP-structures alive; they founded new illegal branches of the NSDAP and its organisations such as the Hitler-Youth and the SS (Weber 1995, 270-272).

This strongly political content of Austrian gymnastics is not seen as such by some former gymnasts. In a radio broadcast in 1991 the former Dietwart of a Vorarlberg gymnastics club, Kuno Fend, claimed:

'In my opinion there was no link to politics. I never joined any political party. I joined a gymnastics club exclusively because I wanted to train my body. There were no political motives in gymnastics, even in the training sessions we just practised on the apparatus. Yes, we sang (some nationalist songs) at the beginning of the sessions, but these are not political motives.' (Radio Vorarlberg 1.6.1991)

In Fend's perception gymnastics in Interwar Austria were not political, because he and his comrades just sang German nationalist songs, they never joined a political party and they only stood by the unity of German people. As I have shown above this is not true for many of them. Even Mr Fend, who never joined a political party, was a member of a political organisation. In 1934 he was the co-founder of an illegal SS-branch in his home village and in 1939 he held the rank of an SS-Stabsscharfuehrer (Bundesarchiv Koblenz, Außenstelle Berlin- Zehlendorf. RS 6010009145). Nevertheless he argues that gymnasts could not be political because they were taking the point of view of the whole German nation. For Fend politics therefore is only connected to party-politics. Consequently, Fend argued in the radio program:

'It is wrong if one characterises the term Germanness as political. If somebody is a German, he is a German. Because of this he is not member of a political party. He is just a German and that's all. I am an Austrian citizen of German language therefore I am German. I am not speaking English nor French, but German.' (Radio Vorarlberg 1.6.1991)

Here the circle to the present day politics of the Austrian Freedom Party closes. Despite their wide age-difference Fend as well as Haider believe that it is the common interests in language and culture which determine the commitment of the individual to one's people. This is possible because in post-1945 Austrian society persons like Kuno Fend maintained their influence within the nationalist stratum of the population. They were officials and managers of sports clubs, for example. There they were free to indoctrinate teenagers such as Haider into their 'apolitical' belief in the German mission of Austria.

Land Ahead - Résumé

It is not only the German nationalist stratum of Austrian society represented by the FPOe that believes in a cultural definition of a nation. When Austria joined the European Union in 1994 its then SPOe-OeVP led government insisted on an amendment to the declaration of membership. In this amendment 23 words were to be declared as typically Austrian German and the EU guaranteed that these words would be treated equally to the federal German expressions in all official EU-documents. All 23 so-called Austrian German expressions are food terms, most of them are only used in East-Austria, several are derivations of Slavic. In my opinion the political impact of this decision is problematic. I can see at least two reasons why:

First,. when I applied for a place in the Austrian- British exchange program for University lecturers in 1994 I was interviewed by a commissioner at the ministry of education in Vienna. The chairman of the commission doubted that I would be able to fulfil the tasks of the exchange program - which is to be a 'cultural ambassador' for Austria. He was very suspicious of whether I, as a West-Austrian, would teach these 23 Austrian German words to my students as typically Austrian, because in my province we do not use these words but the German equivalent. To give an English example: In the English West-Midlands locals say dinner for lunch, in the evening they have tea but not dinner.

Second,. so far there are two internationally accepted German languages: Swiss German and German. Swiss German actually differs from the ordinary German in syntax and vocabulary. Since 1945 Austrian Germanists have been trying to introduce an internationally accepted Austrian German language diploma, assuming that Austrian is like Swiss, a language on its own. These activities failed to gain any international acceptance after 1945. One year after Austria joined the EU and the acceptance of these 23 words as typical Austrian German, an international Austrian German language diploma was initiated. Since 1996 German students all over the world have the opportunity to learn that Austrians do not call potatoes potatoes as the Germans do but 'earth-apples'. Unfortunately, this is only true for East-Austria. West-Austrians call potatoes 'earth-pears'.

Eric Hobsbawm stressed that 'national consciousness' does not develop evenly among the classes and regions of one state (Hobsbawm 1990). It is rather the structural, economic, geographical, sociological conditions and the discourse within my peer group that forms my political thinking. There are no binding principles such as an obligatory Austrian language which constitute my declaration for being Austrian. It is the personal assumptions, hopes, emotional, intellectual and material needs and individual interests that form and predict an individual's dedication to a nation. Modernist theorists of nationalism such as Gellner, Handler or Hroch neglected such 'subjective' categories. So did primordialists like Anthony D. Smith. Smith argued that nations and nation states were not an invention of modernism, but that equivalents of nations existed before modernity (Smith 1994). My criticism of these four authors is that they approach the phenomena of nationalism from above, by investigating the ideologies of states, movements and their officials, but not from below, through the lens of the ordinary citizen or supporter. The example of the German nationalist Austrians which I have discussed here shows that this individual way of thinking can be completely different to the officially decreed one, nevertheless it may include a strong commitment to the Austrian nation. My own biography also illustrates this point. Only when I left my geographically defined Austrian 'normality' did I become visibly different. It was in England, in France or in Germany where people confronted me with my being different to them. This heteronomously produced split in my perception of myself as being white and male made it necessary to add an additional category to my biography: that of being Austrian. The reconstruction of myself as being white, male and Austrian took place in exchange with others. As much as I had to fit into their image of an Austrian they had to fit into my image of being English, for example. And we both had to fit into a collectively derived image of how Austrians and English treat each other, based on historical experience. The contents for this creative work were derived from personal experiences as well as collective ones. Such work not only occurs between different nationalities, but between different regions in one state, different classes and different sexes.

With reference to the on-going political crisis in Austria, I believe that if commentators and critics reflected more on the auto/biographical setting of Mr Haider, his party officials and his electorate then they would open the doors for qualitative interpretations of the turn to right wing policy which has taken place in Austria in recent months. This would be to the benefit of all. Our individual and social acting/performing is primarily based on subjective experiences and less on idealist so-called objective facts such as linguistic or cultural common interests.


1The forerunner of the Freedom Party was the VdU (Verband der Unabhaengigen), Association of Independent People. The VdU was founded in 1949 with the tasks mentioned above. Out of the VdU the Freedom Party was founded in 1956.


I would like to thank Dr Paula Black, University of Manchester, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and stimulating comments about this article. Frank Zeller MA, Austrian Embassy in London, for newspaper-details on the debate Magrutsch-Wheatcroft.


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