Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Wednesday he will move to disband a controversial student fraternity linked to a lawmaker from his government’s coalition partner, whose songbook contained lyrics celebrating the Holocaust.
The Germania zu Wiener Neustadt fraternity, which until recently counted a state lawmaker for the far-right Freedom Party among its leaders, has been in the spotlight since it was revealed on Jan. 23 that its songbook contained neo-Nazi lyrics, including: “Step on the gas, old Germanics, we can make it to 7 million.”
The emergence of the songbook, and lawmaker Udo Landbauer’s links to the fraternity, have caused a major headache for Kurz’s government, in which the Freedom Party serves as the junior coalition partner. Landbauer, a 31-year-old state politician in the province of Lower Austria, has faced repeated calls to step down – including from Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen – but is so far refusing to budge.
Landbauer said that while he’d belonged to the fraternity for 18 years, he had only seen the songbook, which was printed in 1997, with ripped-out pages and blacked-out passages.
“When this book was printed, I was 11 years old,” he said in a statement. “Neither I nor the (Freedom Party) have anything to do with anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or totalitarianism.” He said he had suspended his membership in the fraternity once he learned of the song lyrics.
The scandal has led to increased scrutiny of the student fraternities, known as Burschenschaften, which have their roots in the 19th century. Some of the fraternities, which have a penchant for fencing duels and torchlight processions, hold far-right ideals, including the desire for a greater Germany encompassing Germany and Austria.
Anger over the songbook drew up to 10,000 protesters to gather outside a formal ball in Vienna Friday night that has become known as a major event on the social calendar for the Freedom Party and associated nationalist fraternities.
Many members of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party belong to the fraternities. The party’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, has defended them as a harmless institution, claiming that “anti-Semitism, totalitarianism, (and) racism are the opposite of fraternity thinking.”
The Freedom Party, formed by former Nazis in the 1950s, has tried to distance itself from anti-Semitism. The songbook scandal has also put pressure on Kurz, whose conservative Austrian People’s Party formed a coalition agreement with the Freedom Party in December, handing them responsibility for the interior, foreign and defense portfolios.
Kurz has denounced the songbook as “racist, anti-Semitic, and absolutely repugnant,” and said there should be political repercussions over the issue, but that he is leaving it to the Freedom Party to determine the consequences.
Cover: Udo Landbauer, then part of the market town council of Wiener Neustadt, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, Thursday, March 26, 2017.