Aus­trian churches slam far-right ‘God’ slo­gan

The Myanmar Times - - World -

AUS­TRIAN church of­fi­cials yes­ter­day de­nounced far-right pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Nor­bert Hofer for “in­stru­men­tal­is­ing” God in a new slo­gan as he seeks to rally sup­port ahead of a scan­dal-plagued elec­tion re-run.

Cam­paign posters un­veiled by Mr Hofer’s anti-im­mi­gra­tion Free­dom Party (FPOe) last week fea­ture the phrase “So help me God” along­side slo­gans like “Nor­bert Hofer. For Aus­tria with heart and soul”.

The party said it chose the re­li­gious ref­er­ence be­cause it re­flected “a strong an­chor­age in Chris­tian and Western val­ues”.

But the coun­try’s three main Protes­tant churches ac­cused of Mr Hofer of “abus­ing” the name of God to push a xeno­pho­bic agenda.

“God can­not be in­stru­men­talised for per­sonal in­ten­tions or po­lit­i­cal pur­poses,” Bishop Michael Buenker said in a joint state­ment with other Protes­tant lead­ers.

“We con­sider that men­tion­ing God ... to in­di­rectly at­tack other re­li­gions and cul­tures amounts to an abuse of his name and re­li­gion in gen­eral.”

They added that the Bi­ble’s God was univer­sal and de­fended the weak, poor and vul­ner­a­ble – “who to­day par­tic­u­larly in­clude refugees and for­eign­ers”.

The FPOe re­jected the crit­i­cism, say­ing the phrase came “di­rectly from the heart” of Mr Hofer, a lapsed Catholic who joined the Protes­tant church.

Like pop­ulist par­ties else­where in Europe, the FPOe is cur­rently lead­ing na­tional polls af­ter stok­ing pub­lic fears

‘Men­tion­ing God ... to in­di­rectly at­tack other re­li­gions and cul­tures amounts to an abuse of his name and re­li­gion in gen­eral.’

Bishop Michael Buenker

Joint Protes­tant state­ment about record im­mi­gra­tion and ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment.

Mr Hofer, of­ten de­scribed as the far­right’s “friendly face”, hopes to be­come the Euro­pean Union’s first far-right head of state in the De­cem­ber 4 re-run poll.

In the May elec­tion, the 45-year-old nar­rowly lost by just 31,000 votes to in­de­pen­dent ecol­o­gist Alexan­der Van der Bellen, 72. But the re­sult was an­nulled af­ter Aus­tria’s high­est court in July up­held the FPOe’s claims of pro­ce­dural ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

In a fur­ther em­bar­rass­ing twist, the gov­ern­ment was last month forced to post­pone Oc­to­ber’s planned re-run af­ter it emerged that the postal vote en­velopes were not sticky enough, mean­ing they could eas­ily be re­opened.

Lat­est polls show the ri­vals run­ning neck-and-neck.

The elec­toral fi­asco has left Aus­tria with­out a pres­i­dent since July 8 when Heinz Fis­cher stepped down. –

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