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Floral code on Austria's far-right?

November 9, 2017

A different lapel flower worn by the far-right at the opening of Austria’s new parliament hasn't gone unnoticed. FPÖ members wore edelweiss while denying that their past displays of blue cornflowers had Nazi overtones.

Österreich Eröffnung des Parlaments
Image: Reuters/L. Foeger

Flowers worn traditionally in jacket lapels at Austrian parliamentary openings got special attention Thursday when the Freedom Party of Austria's (FPÖ) 51 deputies — enlarged from 38 — sported edelweiss, the national flower featured in the 1965 hit movie "The Sound of Music."

Outside, 200 protesters carried placards warning "Fascism wears many colors,” alluding to the FPÖ's displays of cornflowers at previous events, such as at parliament's opening in 2013.

The edelweiss stood for "bravery and love" said FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who told parliament Thursday that it was time to "fill trenches and build bridges."

Europe's cornflower, Centaurea cyanusImage: Imago/

The conciliatory gestures from the strident anti-immigration party came as Strache was tipped to become deputy premier alongside a future chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who leads 62 Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) conservatives in the new assembly.

Simply botantics?

Strache's botanical explanation had previously drawn a riposte from University of Vienna historian Oliver Rathkolb, an expert on Nazi crimes, who told Austria's Kurier newspaper in May last year that the FPÖ's benign claim was simply false.

Österreich Heinz Christian Strache mit Kornblume
Strache in 2013 when he wore a blue cornflowerImage: picture-alliance/picturedesk.com/G. Hochmuth

"The cornflower was quite clearly a symbol of the anti-Semitic Schönerer Movement and served in the 30s among outlawed Nazis as a sign of recognition," said Rathkolb, referring to a ban on Nazis applied in Austria until it was annexed by Hitler in 1938.

Hitler's 'intellectual father'

Georg von Schönerer was an Austrian squire who was described by German-born American theorist Hannah Arendt as Austrian-born Hitler's "intellectual father" in her 1951 publication "The Origins of Totalitarianism."

Schönerer, an Austrian pan-German nationalist who died in 1921 and is buried near Hamburg, is still listed as a "radical anti-Semite" by Hamburg city-state which keeps watch on present-day adherents in Germany's ultraconservative fraternities or Burschenschaften.

Rathkolb also dismissed past FPÖ explanations that the cornflower dated back to revolutionary European freedom movements of the mid-19th century, telling the Kurier that the wearing of Centaurea cyanus had for the far-right long been a provocative semantic code for "greater German, anti-Semitic, anti-clerical and anti-liberal" rhetoric.

Carnations and cacti

Red carnations were Thursday's buttonhole attire for the Social Democrats (SPÖ), whose lineup was reduced to 52 deputies in Austria's October 15 election.

The ÖVP's Kurz wore a white rose. Liberals of the Neos party put cacti on their lecterns, signaling their intention to be a "thorn in the side" of bigger parties.

Newcomer becomes speaker

Österreich Wien Elisabeth Köstinger
First-timer Elisabeth KöstingerImage: picture-alliance/apa/H. Neubauer

Elected as the lower parliamentary chamber's youngest-ever president or speaker was Elisabeth Köstinger, 38, the ÖVP's executive manager. She received only 117 of 175 valid votes.

Her nomination was criticized by the SPÖ, other leftists and liberals on the grounds that she has never served in parliament and the ÖVP had not ruled out that she might soon switch to a ministerial cabinet post.

Almost half of Austria's 183 parliamentarians are new to parliament.

Kurz, who is currently Austria's foreign minister, and the far-right's Strache, plan to complete their coalition negotiations by December.

ipj/sms (dpa, AFP)