VIENNA — Nobody does victimhood fairly like Austria.
Over the previous century, the Central European nation has introduced itself to the surface world as an harmless bystander on an island of gemütlichkeit, doing what it could to get by in a treacherous international surroundings.
“Austria was at all times apolitical,” insists Herr Karl, the archetypal Austrian opportunist, dropped at life in 1961 by Helmut Qualtinger, the nation’s best satirist. “We have been by no means political folks.”
Recalling Austria’s collaboration with the Nazis, Herr Karl, a portly stockist who speaks in a working-class Viennese dialect, was filled with self pity: “We scraped a bit of money collectively — we needed to make a residing…How we struggled to outlive!”
Russia’s warfare on Ukraine affords a bitter reminder that Austria stays a rustic of Herr Karls, enjoying all sides, professing devotion to Western beliefs, at the same time as they quietly search for methods to proceed to revenue from the nation’s pleasant relations with Moscow.
Probably the most obvious instance of this hypocrisy is Austria’s continued reliance on Russian pure gasoline, which accounts for about 55 % of the nation’s general consumption. Although that’s down from 80 % firstly of 2022, Austria, in distinction to most different EU nations, stays depending on Russia.
Confront an Austrian authorities official with this truth and also you’ll be met with a prolonged bitch over how the nation, one of many world’s richest, is struggling to deal with the financial crosswinds triggered by the warfare. That will likely be adopted by a litany of examples of how a bunch of different EU nations is responsible of way more egregious habits vis a vis Moscow.
The unstated, if inevitable, conclusion: the actual sufferer right here is Austria.
The parable of Austrian victimhood has lengthy been a leitmotif of the nation’s bilious tabloids, which serve readers common helpings of all of the methods by which the surface world, particularly Brussels and Washington, undermines them.
Earlier this month, the EU’s consultant in Austria, Martin Selmayr, ended up within the sights of the tabloids — and the federal government — for uttering the inconvenient reality that the thousands and thousands Vienna pays to Russia for gasoline each month amounted to “blood cash.”
“He’s performing like a colonial military officer,” fumed Andreas Mölzer, a right-wing commentator for the Kronen Zeitung, Austria’s best-selling tabloid, noting with delight that each of Selmayr’s grandfathers have been German generals within the warfare.
“The Eurocrats have this perspective that they will simply inform Austrians what to do,” Mölzer concluded.
But if Austria’s historical past for the reason that collapse of the Habsburg empire in 1918 has proven something, it’s that the nation wants outdoors supervision. Left to their very own gadgets, Austrians’ worst instincts take maintain.
One needn’t look additional than 1938 to know the implications. However there’s no scarcity of different examples: voters’ enthusiastic assist for former United Nations Secretary-Normal Kurt Waldheim as president in 1986, regardless of credible proof that he had lied about his wartime service as an intelligence officer for the Nazis; the state’s foot-dragging on paying reparations to slave laborers utilized by Austrian firms in the course of the warfare; the resistance to return useful artworks looted from Jews by the Nazis to their rightful homeowners.
Not that Austrians be taught from their errors. To this present day, Austrians not often heed the higher angels of their nature until the surface world forces them to, both by shaming them into submission or brute pressure.
That mentioned, the West is nearly as a lot responsible for Austria’s ethical shortcomings because the Austrians themselves.
The Magna Carta for Austria’s cult of victimhood might be discovered within the so-called Moscow Declarations of 1943, by which the allied powers declared the nation “the primary free nation to fall a sufferer to Hitlerite aggression.” Although the textual content additionally stresses that Austria bears a accountability — “which she can not evade” — for collaborating with the Nazis, the Austrians latched onto the “sufferer” label after the warfare and didn’t look again.
Within the many years that adopted, the nation relied on its gorgeous pure magnificence and light imperial attraction to rework its worldwide picture into that of an alpine Shangri-La, a snow-globe stuffed with prancing Lipizzaners and jolly folks having fun with Wiener schnitzel and Sachertorte.
A key ingredient of that gauzy fantasy was the nation’s neutrality, imposed on it in 1955 by the Soviet Union as a situation for ending Austria’s postwar allied occupation. On the time, Austrians considered neutrality as a mandatory evil in the direction of regaining full sovereignty.
In the course of the course of the Chilly Conflict, nonetheless, neutrality took on an virtually non secular high quality. Within the well-liked creativeness, it was neutrality, coupled with Austrians’ deft dealing with of Soviet leaders, that allowed the nation to flee the destiny of its Warsaw Pact neighbors (whereas additionally doing enterprise with the Japanese Bloc).
At present, Austrian neutrality is little greater than a handy excuse to keep away from accountability.
Austria’s center-right-led authorities insists that on Ukraine it is just impartial when it comes to army motion, not on political precept. In different phrases, it received’t ship weapons to Kyiv, however it does assist the EU’s sanctions and permits arms shipments destined for Ukraine to go by Austrian territory.
On the identical time, many Austrian firms proceed to conduct brisk enterprise with Russia for which they face little criticism at residence.
Within the Austrian inhabitants as a complete, many years of fetishizing neutrality has left many satisfied that it’s their birthright to not take sides. Most are blissfully unaware of the EU’s mutual protection clause, underneath which member states agree to come back to 1 one other’s support within the occasion of “armed aggression.”
That mentality explains why Austria’s political events — with the notable exception of the liberal Neos — refuse to the touch, and even debate, the nation’s neutrality and its safety implications.
In March, simply as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy started an tackle through video to Austria’s parliament, Freedom Celebration MPs positioned indicators stamped with “Neutrality” and “Peace” on their desks earlier than standing up in unison and leaving the chamber.
The far proper wasn’t alone in its disapproval of Zelenskyy. Greater than half of the Social Democratic MPs additionally boycotted the occasion to keep away from upsetting Russia.
Andreas Babler, who took over as chief of the Social Democrats in June, has a protracted historical past of opposing not simply NATO, however Austrian participation in any EU protection initiatives.
In 2020, he characterised the EU as “probably the most aggressive army alliance that has ever existed,” including that it “was worse than NATO.”
It’s a unprecedented assertion on condition that NATO is the one factor that saved the Soviet Union from swallowing Austria in the course of the Chilly Conflict. The protection alliance, which Austrian leaders briefly entertained becoming a member of within the Nineteen Nineties, stays the linchpin of the nation’s safety for a easy motive: Austria’s solely non-NATO neighbor is Switzerland.
Austria’s neutrality and geographic success have led it to spend subsequent to nothing on protection. Final yr, for instance, spending fell to only 0.8 % of GDP from 0.9 %, placing it close to the underside of the EU league desk with the likes of Luxembourg, Eire and Malta.
A number of years in the past, the nation’s protection minister even proposed eliminating “nationwide protection” altogether in order that the military may consider challenges comparable to pure catastrophe reduction and combatting cyber threats. The concept was in the end rejected, however that it was proposed in any respect — by the one who oversees the army no much less — illustrates how severely Austria takes its safety wants.
Over the previous yr, the federal government has pledged to extend protection spending, but these plans are nonetheless nicely beneath what the nation can be obligated to pay have been it in NATO.
Put merely, Austria is freeloading on its neighbors and the US and can proceed to take action till it’s pressured to vary course.
That’s why it wants extra straight speak from folks like Selmayr, not much less.
A number of weeks earlier than his “blood cash” remarks, the diplomat informed a Vienna newspaper that “the European military is NATO,” noting that the accession of Sweden and Finland to the alliance would depart solely Austria and some small island states outdoors the tent.
The fact examine dashed Austria’s hope that it may keep away from paying its share for EU protection by ready for Brussels to create its personal pressure.
Even so, rhetoric alone will not be going to persuade Austria to shift course. Almost 80 % of Austrians assist neutrality as a result of it’s so comfy. The EU and the U.S. must make it uncomfortable.
In the meanwhile, most Austrians solely see the upsides to neutrality; but that’s solely as a result of the West has refused to impose any prices on the nation for freeriding. That should change.
Critics of a extra aggressive strategy in the direction of Vienna argue that it’ll solely harden the inhabitants’s resolve to maintain neutrality and bolster the far proper. Which may be true within the brief time period, however the historical past of overseas strain on Austria, particularly from Washington — be it the isolation it confronted in the course of the Waldheim affair or the push to compensate slave laborers from the warfare — reveals that the interventions in the end work.
If compelled to decide on between remaining within the Western fold or dealing with isolation, Austrians will at all times selected the previous.
Although virtually no Austrian safety officers will say so publicly, few have any illusions in regards to the necessity of a sea change. Multiple-third acknowledge that the nation’s neutrality is now not credible, in accordance with a examine printed this month by the Austrian Institute for European and Safety Coverage. An extra third say the nation’s participation within the EU’s widespread overseas and safety coverage has a “sturdy affect” on the credibility of its neutrality declare (presumably not in a great way).
And practically 60 % say the nation wants to enhance its interoperability with NATO with the intention to battle alongside its EU allies within the occasion of an armed battle.
The issue is that nobody is forcing them.
If Austria’s companions proceed to keep away from a confrontation, the nation is prone to proceed its slide in the direction of Orbánism.
The Freedom Celebration, which desires to droop EU support for Ukraine and raise sanctions in opposition to Russia, leads the polls by a widening margin with only a yr till the subsequent nationwide election. With neighboring Slovakia on an analogous trajectory, Russian President Vladimir Putin could quickly have a significant foothold within the coronary heart of the EU.
To this point, the EU and Washington have been silent on the Freedom Celebration’s worrying rise, relying on Austrians to snap out of it.
Barring overseas strain, they received’t. Why would they? With its populist prescriptions and beer corridor rhetoric, the Freedom Celebration encourages Austrians to see themselves as what they most wish to be: victims.
Or as Herr Karl famously put it: “Nothing that they accused us of was true.”