These are the last days of the Austrian presidential campaign, whose outcome is far from certain. The polls show a contest down to the wire between diametrically opposed candidates: the former leader of the Greens, Alexander Van der Bellen, who had won the first runoff on May 22 by 31,000 votes, and the candidate of the xenophobic FPOe Norbert Hofer, who appealed the result and forced a do-over.
Many workers had voted for the right-wing candidate, as had happened in the American Rust Belt. In an attempt to understand the reasons behind it, we went to Kapfenberg, deep in Austria’s industrial Upper Styria region, south of Vienna.
It is a town of 23,000 inhabitants, an old blue collar stronghold and one of the most historically left-wing seats of the country. You can tell from the street names: Koloman Wallisch Platz, the central square dedicated to the Schutzbund commander who led a Socialist armed uprising on Feb. 12, 1934, against fascism. Some roads are dedicated to the communist fighters, who, after Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, formed the clandestine “anti-fascist front.” Here Hofer, the Austrian Trump, won 60 percent of the votes in May, an unprecedented swing to the right.
The area grew around the Boehler Uddeholm steel mill, a global brand, transforming itself from a provincial Austrian rust belt into an expanding industrial hub. It is more a story of success than of decline.