Riding the Waves of Crisis Migration to Electoral Success: An Austrian-German Comparison

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 19:45
Oral Presentation
Sandra KOSTNER, University of Education Schwaebisch Gmuend, Germany
On 4 September 2015, the chancellors of Austria and Germany jointly decided to open their borders to refugees stranded at Budapest’s Keleti train station. Although the border opening was a response to an escalating crisis and was envisaged by both governments as being of an exceptional nature, it turned into an open-border period that lasted until March 2016, when the Balkan corridor was declared shut and the EU-Turkey deal came into effect. This six-month open-border period has thrown competing narratives on refugees into sharp relief and provided a powerful campaign issue for right-wing populists.

In my paper, I explore how the Austrian right-wing populist party FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs/Austrian Freedom Party) and its German counterpart the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany) have used and exploited emotive images of crisis migration to advance their nationalist-collectivist agendas. To ascertain the commonalities and differences in the parties’ usage of emotive images at key stages of crisis migration to Europe, I compare and contrast campaign material produced by the FPÖ and the AfD between early 2015 and late 2017. My analysis focuses on: (1) the strategies employed by the FPÖ and AfD to tap into migration-related anxieties among the Austrian and German electorates to gain traction with them; (2) whether, how and why the two parties’ usage of images has changed over time, e.g. from simple reproductions of crisis images to gross distortions of them; and (3) the narratives that have underpinned the parties’ representation of refugees in general and regarding specific developments in particular.