OVER IN AUSTRIA, Joerg Haider's Freedom Party has won a considerable portion of the vote in a recent election. I have to admit that I can't get as upset about this as the European Parliament has. The bureaucrats in Brussels have put pressure on the Austrian government to prevent the Freedom Party from becoming part of the coalition government. The compromise reached, in the end, was that Haider himself couldn't become part of the government, but his party could. I fail to see what this accomplishes.
The Freedom Party is a right-wing, nationalist party,
with a rather explicitly anti-immigrant policy. Parties like this have
been popping up all over Europe for years now, partly as a reaction to
the creeping growth of the EU's pan-Europeanism, partly as a reaction to
the influx of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the former Soviet bloc.
Every time one of them makes a gain in an election -- Le Pen's National
Front in France, the Italian Northern League and National Alliance parties
-- there erupts a desperate hand-wringing in the press, and the usual re-printing of photos of skinheads sieg-heiling, despite the fact that most of these parties attract no neo-nazi element -- nazi skinheads, like most sociopaths, have appalling voting records, and usually support fringe or write-in candidates if they vote at all.
(Look at it this way -- if 29% of Austrian voters were
Nazi skinheads, I think the European community should probably take more
extreme action. Digging up the country and sinking it in the middle of
the Mediterranean would be a good start.)
As it stands, Haider's party has attracted nearly thirty
percent of the popular vote, which entitles them to participation in the
government. Unhappy as the thought might be, it seems that the Freedom
Party (don't you love the name? Freedom -- but for whom? Freedom,
like love and liberty, is one of those words rendered nearly meaningless
by constant, promiscuous overuse.) has a message that appeals to no small
portion of the Austrian people.
It's no secret that the EU is not universally loved by
every European, many of whom find no joy in losing national sovereignity
to a supra-governmental bureaucracy in the name of some extra-national
union that has no historical precedent. For the average man or woman, more
concerned with food, family, home and savings than with legislating standards
for the exporting of sausage, soft cheese and coal, the European Union
can seem like a meddling abstraction at the best of times, a threat to
a cherished way of life at the worst. Don't forget -- on a continent with
a recent history like Europe, the word fascist can get thrown around indiscriminately. Austrians are already becoming fond of referring to the economic union as an anschluss.
The EU certainly hasn't helped their case by trying to
block or influence the Austrian coalition government, and whoever voted
for the Freedom Party has probably had their worst fears confirmed. Haider
might be a xenophobe with a tendency to voice fond opinions of some of
Hitler's policies, but he was elected democratically in a country whose
democratic tradition is as sacred as that of any European country -- which
is to say that it was bolstered and guaranteed by the victorious Allies
at the end of the last World War.
It is that war, in any case, that still forms the framework
for the many liberals in the media, and the countless politicians who will
do anything -- even countermand democratic processes -- to prevent the
circumstances of the Second World War from repeating themselves. Never
mind that Haider -- an Austrian, yes, with a six-letter name that begins
with "H" -- is no Hitler, and that Austria, prosperous and stable, is no
Weimar Germany. The political, social, and military nightmare that was
the Second World War still dominates the imagination of anyone who lived
through the century just ending, and seems to summon demons that banish
clear thought and demand drastic action.
Of course, there are other explanations that can be found.
Haider's party, while not explicitly devoted to dismantling the EU, is
the thin edge of a wedge that might prevent the flowering of a political,
economic, monetary and military union from Ireland to Estonia, from Finland
to Turkey. The men and women who have devoted their lives to the formation
of this union, for reasons that combine the idealistic with the purely
pragmatic, are likely to react with hostility to anything that might threaten
that union. Imagine a formidable mother-in-law at a wedding, watching her
only daughter marry the richest man in town, suddenly glaring daggers across
the church at the ex-boyfriend or dubious uncle standing up to speak out
when the congregation is asked, "If anyone here knows of any reason why
this union should not take place, let them speak now, or forever hold their
LAST WEEK, AS I LAY drowsing in the early morning, our
big cat, Keebler, decided to curl up against me. As he stretched his 20-lb.
bulk against my chest, our other cat, Nato, decided to join us. Daintily
picking her way over the rumpled sheets, she slowly climbed on top of Keebler
and settled her slight, eight pound frame on top of him. The two of them
began purring, and I whispered to K. that she had to see this. It would
have been an altogether too-cute moment, except that I knew Nato was due
at the vet the next morning to have a large, nasty lump removed from her
Nato, as I've noted before, has a heart murmur that makes
operations touchy. If too much anaesthesia is used, or if she goes into
shock, her heart could malfunction. For that reason, I'd querulously put
off having her fixed, which in turn led to the growth on her belly. Since
either the growth or her heart could eventually kill her, an operation became the only option. All day I kept looking at her as she went about her business -- knocking things over, climbing on top of me when I worked or read, and beating up on Keebler -- and wondered if I'd ever have to deal with this
sweet, troublesome cat again.
Getting her into her travel box was the usual hassle,
but no blood was drawn, and I took a series of back alleys to the vet,
reasoning that this route, not my usual path west to Roncesvalles, would
be unlikely to remind me of the last time I saw her, should the worst happen.
Logic that reeks of bathos, don't you think?
A day later she was back, cranky and exhausted, two huge
sutured incisions down her shaved belly caked with flecks of dried blood.
I fed her Pounce™ as she lolled around on a pair of pillows K. had put
down next to the radiator by her desk. Keebler kept his distance, occasionally
creeping by to sniff the long, matted fur by the stitches.
A day later, she began jumping up on low couches and stools.
Two days later she'd already begun joining us in bed, nestling between
us at night, curling up next to Keebler during the day. Her appetite had
returned full force, and she'd resumed whapping Keebs on his head whenever
the urge came to her. K. recalled a documentary we'd once watched that
described the average cat's incredible resistance to pain. Back to normal
in three days -- I wonder how many humans who'd just had a hysterectomy
and a mastectomy could say that?
IT FEELS, AT LEAST TEMPORARILY, as if I've lost some narrative thread of my life these days. It's probably nothing more than the seasonal blues, the faintly claustrophobic malaise that seems to afflict me in the heart of every winter, but I've been unable to see my way straight to any
particular goal or ambition beyond the most pragmatic or abstract. By pragmatic I mean the brute reality of earning money and keeping body and soul together; by abstract I mean those lofty ideals that exert the faintest pull on us from the future -- in my case owning a house, having a family, being published, being published some more.
In the here and now, however, I'm finding that unless
I impel my self out of the house before noon, or begin work on some substantial project before lunch, I'm quite capable of letting a whole day lapse in desultory reading and wandering the house, staring out the windows at the snow-covered deck with its pile of pots, over the jumble of rooftops and
across the street to the blank windows of our neighbours' houses. By the
time I see the sun fading, I know the day has been well and truly wasted,
and that I have little more to show for it than a few magazine articles
read, a handful of e-mails, and perhaps a sink free of dirty dishes.
Perhaps that's why I've written nothing here in two weeks
-- there isn't much to say that isn't summed up in the above two paragraphs.
Occasional something in the news might get me hatching a political rant,
but the urge passes by dinner; the two that have survived long enough to
end up in today's entry spark close enough to my major obsessions to have
a half life that outlasted a bowl of pasta and a night watching PBS.
I've sent out a few pitches, and as they've been accepted
I've committed myself to real work. Good thing, too -- money still isn't
as thick on the ground as it should be. I'm also working behind the camera
on a rock video for my friends Linda and Franc. Since I've barely touched
a camera once since the year began, I'm feeling a sore need to take pictures
-- any pictures. Without the deck garden and the subjects out there, I'm
sadly dry of inspiration.
It sounds grimmer than it reads, I'm sure -- the depression
that sat on my head most of last winter, after our eviction notice and
before we'd begun moving, was much more draining, and left me producing
much less. Whole afternoons in front of the new colour t.v. watching History
Television -- I shudder at the memory.
I can only think that the spring will restore some of
my energy, and make leaving the house more tempting. I shall, one day,
defeat the winter blues; until then, the struggle continues.