Post-War Nostalgia, Anti-EU Populism and EU-Skepticism in Austria

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - G466 (University of Glasgow)
Christian Karner , University of Nottingham
Across the continent, the centrifugal forces of anti-EU populism and neo-nationalism derive considerable discursive momentum from a highly selective and highly nostalgic ‘re-telling’ of particular pasts in present circumstances of crisis. This paper examines prominent examples of these widely observable patterns of public sense-making and mobilization in Austria, whose relevance to the issue at hand is underscored by the success and wide-spread appeal of the far-right FPÖ and the prominence of questions of national and European identities in the context of the (currently still ongoing) presidential election.

Based on a critical discourse analysis of a large corpus of relevant data, which includes political statements, diverse media coverage and readers’ letters in Austria’s most widely read, EU-skeptical newspaper, this contribution reveals the discursive prominence and recurrence over time of a highly selective interpretative frame: i.e. a discursive position that constructs Austria’s post-war- and pre-EU-membership periods nostalgically and in clear opposition to present crises. The latter are thereby (mis)attributed to the European Union, and a populist retreat to the nation, and the nation’s recent past, is presented as the purported answer to a range of contemporary ‘ills’.

Such discursive patterns – blaming the European Union for present challenges, uncertainties and anxieties and thereby also fanning the flames of neo-nationalist populism – is revealed in Austrian debates of the Greek debt-/austerity crisis, the refugee crisis, international trade agreements, Brexit etc. Crucially, however, the political positions advocated thereby differ and range from cautious re-assertions to rejections of EU-membership.