VIENNA, Austria — The far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) announced Tuesday a bid to clean up its pro-Nazi image by appointing a committee of historians to look into its history.
The move comes two months after the party, launched by former Nazis, joined the government and follows a series of scrapes involving its members.
In late January a regional official caught up in a scandal over a 1997 student fraternity songbook with lyrics glorifying Nazis was forced to resign.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the FPOe, much of it unjustified, some, we have to say, justified,” parliamentary group leader Walter Rosenkranz told a press conference.
“We face the latent criticism that within the FPOe Nazi and neo-Nazi ideas are tolerated.
“No, they are not tolerated and those who think they can impose such ideas on us have nothing to do in the party,” Rosenkranz said.
The announcement came on the same day that Israeli lawmaker Yehudah Glick (Likud) met in Vienna with deputy chancellor and FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache and Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, despite an Israeli Foreign Ministry ban on Israeli politicians meeting with FPOe ministers.
Glick who has met with Strache before, has urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to follow suit, and has derided criticism against his visit.
Former FPOe MP and retired university professor Wilhelm Brauneder will chair the committee of researchers and representatives of independent bodies.
These will include the DOW resistance archive center which specializes in Nazism and neo-Nazism and has been a powerful critic of the FPOe
The party issued a statement Tuesday saying it “recognizes without reserve the Republic of Austria, democracy, parliamentarianism and the rule of law.”
The FPOe’s position on the Austrian state has long been perceived as ambiguous, with one faction still considering the country annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a German province.
“As members of the government, we have a special responsibility,” said FPOe general secretary Harald Vilimsky, adding that the party “clearly rejects Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism.”
Strache pledged creation of the new committee of historians last month. The committee is to produce a first report in the Fall.
Strache, who flirted with neo-Nazism in his youth, has toned down the hardline rhetoric and expelled party members for overstepping the mark since taking over from Joerg Haider in 2005.
The FPOe, which has 51 MPs and ministers, is still viewed with suspicion by Austria’s main Jewish organization, as well as by Israel, which boycotts official contact with the party.