Guests at Austrian right-wing ball have reasons to celebrate

AP News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2017 4:05 PM

VIENNA (AP) — Guests at Austria's annual right-wing ball had particular reasons to celebrate this year — the White House victory of Donald Trump and the strength of like-minded populists elsewhere.

They again were outnumbered by some 3,000 protesters on the street Friday who marched through downtown Vienna, but the crowd was smaller and more peaceful than usual.

After decades of being marginalized, those attending the Akademikerball can argue this year that their views are now being supported by a large number of Austrians as well as a sizable number of voters elsewhere in Europe.

With tensions high in Vienna, police barriers were up and 2,700 officers were mobilized to ensure that attacks on taxis carrying ball-goers, the trashing of storefronts near the ball and similar past violence will not be repeated.

Past ball participants have included French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Belgium's Filip Dewinter, and Russia's Alexander Dugin. But while no prominent non-Austrian populist was known to be attending this year, guests preparing for the white-tie event at Vienna's ornate Hofburg palace were heartened.

Austrian Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer — one of those attending Friday — lost the December election for the Austrian presidency but his anti-Muslim immigration and Euroskeptic messages reverberated with a sizable segment of voters.

Nearly 50 percent of those who cast ballots supported him, and his party is riding high, consistently outpolling not only other opposition parties but also the mainstream government coalition as the country's most popular political force.

"We are totally normal patriots like the three million Austrians" who support the Freedom Party, said ball guest Alexander Markovics of the Generation Identity movement. Like the Freedom Party, which is organizing Friday's ball, movement members advocate a European "dominant culture" that they claim is threatened by Muslim immigration and favor strong nations instead of a centralistic European Union.

For decades, these were considered minority views and those attending the Akademikerball portrayed themselves as victims, the targets of street mobs, hostile media and the political establishment.

But Europe's right is on a roll. Ahead of key elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, prominent populists hailed Trump's victory as a sign of the times for their own coming triumphs that have been already bolstered by Britain's decision to leave the EU.

An upbeat Markovics described Trump's victory as important not only "because an American patriot has gained power but also because he is an American president who wants to pull back from the affairs of other countries."

"We support that, because Europe and European countries will gain more sovereignty and the freedom to act."