Obituary: Norbert Burger

Norbert Burger, politician, born Kirchberg am Wechsel Austria 1929, died Kirchberg am Wechsel 26 September 1992.

NORBERT BURGER's moment of glory - if that is what it was - was when he scored a 3.2-per-cent vote in the Austrian presidential election on 18 May 1980.

The Socialist winner took 79.9 per cent and the runner-up 17 per cent. Burger stood as the candidate of the National Democratic Party (NDP), which he helped to found in July 1966. His campaign slogan was 'Austria must remain German'. The NDP had been formed to a considerable extent as a breakaway from Austria's third party, the Freiheitliche Partei Oesterreich (FPO) or Freedom Party. The FPO had long suffered an identity crisis attempting to unite genuine Liberals and German nationalists. Partly under the influence of events in Germany, Burger and his colleagues felt the time had come to break with the FPO in order to state more clearly their nationalistic concerns.

Burger's NDP appealed to those who felt the distinction between Germans and Austrians was artificial. Some of them still hope for a new Anschluss or union with Germany. They want everything done to promote German culture and object to the recognition of Slovene culture in Carinthia where a Slovene minority has deep roots. The NDP has consistently opposed the presence of foreign workers and asylum-seekers in Austria. Under Burger it campaigned for the recognition of the heroism of Austrians who fought under the Nazi banner in the Second World War, extolling their fight against Soviet Bolshevism. The NDP attracted those who believed that the gas chambers of Auschwitz were a myth invented by the Allies. Burger also attempted to mobilise those who believed in the 'old values', the family, opposition to abortion and reintroduction of the death penalty. He wanted conscientious objectors to military service to be deprived of their civil rights.

Burger's NDP mirrored closely the National Democratic Party formed in West Germany in 1964. That party did much more than Burger could do to frighten the world about the threat from neo-Nazism in the second half of the 1960s. It climaxed with 4.3 per cent of the vote in the West German elections of 1969, thus failing to break the 5-per-cent barrier necessary to win representation of the Bundestag. It then went into steep decline, although recently it has shown a spark of life again.

Burger sought an active policy to 'aid' the German-speaking people in South Tyrol, a region which was handed over to Italy at the end of the First World War. Early on, he was prepared to get involved in promoting violence there. He was imprisoned for his activities. He was not, however, a native of the area, having been born in Kirchberg am Wechsel near Vienna in 1929. His father served as the loyal mayor.

Like the German National Democratic Party the NDP fell into obscurity in the 1970s. Some of its supporters turned to the FPO, which was always seen itself as the standard-bearer of German, as opposed to Austrian, culture in Austria.

Austria has massive problems with the influx of refugees from Eastern Europe, former Yugoslavia and the Third World and has a good record of helping such unfortunates. It also has an honourable record of sending its troops to support UN peace-keeping operations. However, as elsewhere, far-right politicians seek to exploit this situation. Many fear that the FPO, which gained 33 of the 183 seats in the parliamentary elections of July 1990, the party Burger broke away from, is in danger of carrying on where he left off.