Spectre of Joerg Haider returns to haunt Czech-Austrian relations

Joerg Haider, photo: CTK

The collapse of the ruling coalition in Austria has made headlines throughout Europe, and developments in the country will certainly be watched closely here in the Czech Republic. The far-right Freedom Party - which caused the collapse of the coalition - have for years exploited tensions in Czech-Austrian relations, over issues such as safety at the Temelin nuclear power plant and the post-war Benes decrees. The return to the fore of Joerg Haider - by far the party's most outspoken critic of the Czech Republic - could exacerbate those tensions still further. My colleague Rob Cameron spoke to Bethany Bell from Radio Austria International.

Joerg Haider, photo: CTK
"This has all happened more quickly than a lot of people expected, although people have known for some time that the Freedom Party was being torn apart by this internal power struggle between Mr Haider and the Vice-Chancellor. But many people here seem to think that new elections are the best way forward."

Joerg Haider was certainly rattling his sabre on Monday, saying the Czech Republic must abolish the Benes decrees before it joins the European Union. Of course he's said that before, but how much mischief can he cause the Czech Republic on the road to the EU?

"It very much depends on how well his party now does in the elections. At the moment the party is not that high in the polls, it's around 20 percent. However, if he does manage to a certain latent anti-EU and also anti-Czech feeling in the Austrian population, then he might be able to cause mischief. On the other hand, his party has not had a particularly good track record in government, and they are now seen to be the people responsible for bringing down the coalition, so in a way there may not be the same sympathy for the Freedom Party as there was before."

I saw one headline earlier - "Austria closes far-right chapter" - is that a bit optimistic do you think?

"At the moment the polls are still putting the Freedom Party at around 20 percent, which is a good deal less than what they gathered at the last election. However it's still 20 percent of the population, despite the ructions in the party of the last few weeks. So I think it's a little bit too early to say that, and also Mr Haider himself is an extremely charismatic figure, probably one of the most charismatic figures in the whole of Austrian politics, and he enjoys trying to engineer surprises."

So he won't be going away any time soon you think.

"He's still around."