The Wide World of Demagogues
Contributors to the Painful Truth have made many comparisons of Herbert Armstrong to Adolf Hitler, of the Worldwide Church of God to the Nazi regime, of the "hireling" ministers to Gestapo members, and of the church members themselves to blind political followers of a morally bankrupt system of belief. These comparisons accurately reflect the submission of humans to totalitarian forms of rule. Whether under the guise of a missionary political savior or a modern day apostle of God's "true church," demagogues were at the helm.
All of us ex-Worldwide Church of God members experienced denial of personal liberties that people in most democracies can enjoy. We had a taste of (voluntarily, for most of us) living under harsh and arbitrary forms of rules and regulations. Minions that had neither the qualifications nor moral composition suitable for holding positions of authority led us. We are now all keenly aware the evil these types of public "servants" can inflict upon us if we turn a blind eye to what they are preaching and doing, before and after coming into positions of authority.
A demagogue, according to Webster's Dictionary, is a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power. Herbert Armstrong was an example of a religious or cultic demagogue. Demagogues come in all colors, shapes and sizes and are not a thing of the past. Rather, they will always be a menace to society.
New manifestations of demagoguery abound. In a recent article entitled "666," John O predicted that many Worldwide Church of God+ ministers will start giving "Europe in Prophecy" sermons with renewed fervor as a result of the formation of a new Austrian coalition government that includes the right wing FP(tm), or Freedom Party. We've all heard various renditions of prophetic sermons in which the Beast Power, a German-led United States of Europe will take Americans captive at the "End Time." Ministers have given such sermons traditionally to exploit the fears of members and to solidify their power and authority in their respective churches. They have claimed that members who submit to church authority will be blessed. HWA and other cult leaders have made false promises of eternal salvation, protection during the Tribulation, or other material blessings as rewards to members who did not question church leadership.
Straight from a Demagogue's Mouth . . . Quotable Quotes of Joerg Haider
The phenomenon of the rise of Joerg Haider, former leader of the radical populist Austrian Freedom Party, to international prominence deserves careful examination. Even though Austria is a relatively small country (slightly smaller than the state of Maine), populated by only slightly more than 8 million people (9% of which are foreigners), any rise of a political demagogue is a potential threat to humanity. The fact that Haider just resigned from being head of the party does not mean that the party or its right-wing populism is any less vile.
Haider has not been shy in expressing his strong beliefs, in public, with regard to foreigners, economic policy, slave labor, extermination of bad traits within a population, imperial destiny of the German-speaking people, etc. He has consistently defended many of the economic and social policies of the Nazi regime and the war activities of the German and Austrian armed forces. Most alarmingly, he has used political terminology in his modern day political ads, banners, and posters reminiscent of that which had been used pre-WWII by the Nazis.
Below is a sampling of comments Haider has made over the past 14 years in public. The quotes were collected and translated from the articles in the German S?deutsche Zeitung, der Spiegel, and the February, '00 update to the Anti-Defamation League website:
"The Freedom Party is not the descendant of the National Socialist Party. If it were, we would have an absolute majority." (Upon gaining leadership of the Freedom Party in 1986)
"You know it as well as I that the Austrian nation is a ideological freak [monstrosity] of nature. Our ethnic composition and alliance does not mesh with our political system and geographical boundaries." (In the Inlandsreport, 8/13/88)
"For those who have never learned to work, they will never in the future be able to build up a zone of prosperity. This must also be told to the eastern Europeans themselves." (In Zeit im Bild, 5/1/91)
"If I've said something once, then I meant exactly what I said." (In Zeit im Bild, 5/14/91. This comment is especially ironic due to Haider's more recent retractions of statements in the past which have been widely labeled as racist or sympathetic to Nazism.)
"What we really need is a clear and honest reflection upon our historical values and strengths that have been lost during the frenzy of extreme materialism and simultaneous building of the welfare state in Austria. I'm referring to the values of industriousness, the creative spirit, the work ethic, discipline and order. I mean traits like modesty, humility, frugality, and above all else, decency." (In Zeit im Bild II, 9/5/94)
"The disenchantment with our once respectable political society and the democratic masquerade of our current parliamentary system are issues for us today." (In Freiheitlichen Pressedienst, 9/5/94)
"With the right/center party [Austrian People's Party] we have a real problem. Even if they have the majority in parliament, they get nothing done. In their instance it's a case where all hope is lost." (In Zeit im Bild, 3/1/95)
"We spend money on terrorists. We spend money for newspapers that promote violence. We spend money for vermin that is afraid of working. And we have no money to spend on decent people." (In a speech in front of Waffen-SS veterans on 9/30/95 in Krumpendorf)
"We take the right stand at the right time to save Austria against the dangers coming from outside." (In March 1997, Haider stated that he wanted one third of all foreigners working in Austria to be sent home over the next two years)
"The Africans who come here are drug dealers and they seduce our youth. We've got the Poles who concentrate on car theft. We've got the people from the former Yugoslavia who are burglary experts. We've got the Turks who are superbly organized in the heroin trade. And we've got the Russians who are experts in blackmail and mugging." (Anti-immigrant statements made in 1997)
"It has been repeatedly alleged that the political climate is dangerous for our fellow Jewish citizens. There is no endangerment." (In the Abendjournal,10/8/99)
"We have put together a demanding reform project which will also mobilize a new patriotism in Austria. The more global the world becomes, the greater people's need for a strong link to their home. It is no disgrace to act on behalf of your own country." (CNN website, 2/2/00)
"All this apologizing for the past leads only to an emotional stirring of the population. They begin to ask themselves why, after so many decades, is the past still relevant. At some point one has to be able to part with the past." (In die Zeit, 2/3/00)
Fears of Haider justified?
Is the strong right wing showing in Austria in the October '99 parliamentary election (27.7% of the vote) something to fear? Most of the world thinks it could be.
Joerg Haider, who on February 28th resigned as chairman of the Freedom Party (FP(tm)), has never held a position in the federal government but is widely viewed as the most charismatic leader in the modern Austrian political landscape. Moreover, he has repeatedly expressed ambitions of becoming Austria's chancellor, and his Freedom Party stands a chance of winning the largest percentage of votes in the next Federal election should his popularity continue at current levels. A full 43% of Austrians approve of the composition of the new government and the inclusion of Haider's Party. For now, Haider shall remain governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia, waiting to make his next politically expedient move.
In the October elections, Joerg Haider's party offered voters an alternative to the commonly perceived political stalemate and excessive cronyism in Austria's politics. For 13 years, the Social Democrats (SP(tm)) and the People's Party ((tm)VP) had ruled together in coalition governments. Socialist Chancellors had led Austria for the past 30 years. Voters responded to Haider's anti-immigration and anti-EU expansion messages, as his party now enjoys the second largest number of seats in parliament and has filled six of the twelve cabinet positions in the new government (including defense, finance, social affairs, infrastructure, and justice ministries).
A United Europe?
For those of us who are habituated to following political events in Europe, (i.e. "prophecy") due to our training in the Worldwide Church of God to "watch and pray always that you will be counted worthy" of escaping the Tribulation, let's take a look at the effects of the Haider phenomenon on Europe.
The ripples emanating from the new and unprecedented "black and blue" Austrian government may both strengthen and weaken the EU simultaneously. (The "black" party represents the People's Party, and "blue" represents the Freedom Party-use of colors is similar to the Republican "elephant" and Democratic "donkey" symbolism in the U.S.)
Rarely have the leaders of the 14 European Union nations been able to agree on something so unanimously as they have in freezing relations with the new Austrian government. The EU has, until now, been much more successful in unifying itself on economic issues than in harmonizing its political agenda. The "crisis" of having a radical anti-EU party present in the coalition government of one of its members has pulled the EU together politically. Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister, has recently defended the sanctions placed on Austria, arguing that there is no room in the EU for a government with ambiguous loyalty to democratic values. "Each member of the EU gave up a piece of its sovereignty by accepting principles of common good in the EU charter," said Fischer in a 2/3/00 Berlin interview with S?ddeutsche Zeitung. Countries outside the EU generally support its steps to thwart the spread of anything that resembles virulent extremism. Israel and the U.S. have already either frozen or scaled back their diplomatic ties with the Austrian government.
But Haider's rightist conservatism is feared to spread throughout other European nations, undermining the expansion of the EU to the east and the deepening of the EU's political initiatives. Other rightist conservative parties are feared to gain strength as a result of the Freedom Party's success in Austria such as the National Front in France, the Flemish Block in Belgium, and the German People's Party. Such parties are typically nationalistic, anti-EU, anti-immigration and protectionist.
But popular wisdom has it that the presence of a right-wing party in a European coalition government is a bad thing, but foreign meddling in the internal political process of a democratic neighbor is an even worse thing. Austrians themselves tend to resent foreign criticism of their internal politics. Austrian President Thomas Klestil rebuffed calls for a new election from within and outside Austria because the Freedom Party's popularity had increased since it has been sworn in as part of the new government. "Redoing" the election would have certainly increased the Freedom Party's number of seats in parliament. Prominent politicians such as former German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel and Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of former Italian leader Benito Mussolini, have recommended that democratically elected governments be allowed to rule, despite inclusion of right wing parties in their coalitions. They argue that communist and other leftist parties have traditionally enjoyed more tolerance by the political establishment than have parties of the "right."
For now, the world hopes that Haider's influence is ephemeral and localized. The Freedom Party will either dispel or confirm the legitimate worries of the EU by the kind of influence it leverages in the ruling coalition.
Spotting Demagoguery a Mile Away
One of our "gifts" from having been in the Worldwide Church of God should be the ability to spot and avoid demagogues. We had had first-hand exposure to the art of demagoguery. Even though Haider is thousands of miles away from most of us in the U.S., his rhetoric is capable of moving the masses. He addresses common European fears in the present age-dizzying economic and social change, American economic and political dominance, and incoming streams of refugees and immigrants.
HWA successfully started influencing people in the 1940's and 1950's, during the post-WWII era. Experiencing horrors of war first-hand or through accounts of family members led many people to suspect that God might really be dead. Existentionalist theories were in vogue, as morality became increasingly relativistic. Strong religious leaders such as HWA gained followings in the 1950's during the McCarthy era, in which atheistic communists were one of the nation's biggest fears. HWA's slogan of "recapturing true values" struck a cord with those who feared the nation was in moral decline.
Dogmatic, authoritarian religions can serve as a source of hope and stability in people's lives. So can the political ideology of the Joerg Haiders of the world. Promises of economic certainty, restored national pride, ethnic or racial purity, etc. appeal to people's desire for security. The world has learned the lesson of Hitler left unchecked in prior to WWII. Let's hope that the world's eyes remain riveted to the disturbing contemporary political currents in Europe.
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