Friedrich Peter (1921–2005)
Founding member of the FPÖ
FPÖ Federal Party Chairman from 1958 to 1978
Member of the National Council from 1966 to 1986
Chairman of the FPÖ Parliamentary Party in the National Council from 1970 to 1986 (in 1979, briefly Executive Chairman of the FPÖ Parliamentary Party in the National Council)
Friedrich Peter belongs to the “founding generation” of the FPÖ and from 1958 until 1978, was the FPÖ’s federal party chairman. This makes him the longest-serving federal party chairman in the history of the Freedom Party of Austria. Friedrich Peter led the party out of domestic political isolation and was a member of the National Council for six legislative periods. Moreover, Peter was also a long-serving chairman of the FPÖ parliamentary party in the National Council, as well as provincial party chairman of the FPÖ Upper Austria and a member of the Board of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, or ORF.
Friedrich Peter was born in Attnang-Puchheim, Upper Austria, on 13 July 1921. His mother came from the middle-class home of a master baker. His father was a locomotive driver and member of the Austrian Social Democrats’ Republican Protection League. The impressions which Peter formed during his youth were thus also strongly influenced by the events of the Austrian civil war of that time. As an adolescent, he experienced Austria’s annexation ("Anschluss") to Hitler's Germany and was subsequently a soldier in the Second World War. From 1941 to 1945, Peter was deployed on both the Western Front and the Eastern Front. After the war, Peter became an elementary school teacher, having received his teacher training at the Bishop of Linz Teacher Training College. Peter had passed an examination that qualified him to teach in primary, secondary and special schools, worked as a teacher until 1968. From 1968 onwards, he was provincial school inspector for general compulsory schools in Upper Austria, and in recognition of that was awarded the title of Hofrat, an honorary title that can be awarded to civil servants.
It was in February 1955, when the “Freiheitspartei” was founded, that Friedrich Peter made his first appearance as a politician. The Freiheitspartei had been set up under the chairmanship of the Upper Austrian, Anton Reinthaller, who was later to become the FPÖ’s chairman, The other leading exponents of the Freiheitspartei were Friedrich Peter and Emil van Tongel. Friedrich Peter in particular was very close to Reinthaller. The Freiheitspartei was intended to serve as a rallying point to re-build Austria’s German-national camp and to offer national-liberals an alternative to the League of Independents (Verband der Unabhängigen, or VdU). The VdU had been represented in the National Council since its foundation in 1949. Following disputes within the VdU about the political direction it should take, there was an agreement between the VdU, which was led by Max Stendebach, and Anton Reinthaller's Freedom Party that their parties would merge to form the FPÖ. The foundation stone for the emergence of the FPÖ was laid by the conclusion of an agreement on 17 October 1955. Accordingly, both Friedrich Peter and Anton Reinthaller were instrumental in the founding of the FPÖ. In addition, Peter served as the founding chairman of the Upper Austrian FPÖ, which he led from 1955 to 1971. In the autumn of 1955, Friedrich Peter also became a member of the Upper Austrian parliament - initially on the ticket of the “Freiheitliche Wahlgemeinschaft”, a Freedom Party, VdU and non-partisan electoral alliance that had been formed to contest the Upper Austrian parliamentary elections. He remained a member until 1966.
Following the death of Anton Reinthaller, Friedrich Peter was elected FPÖ federal party chairman in September 1958. He was just 37 years old when he took over the party leadership. Also unusual, in the first phase of his chairmanship, was that Friedrich Peter was not a member of the National Council, but instead was only a member of the Upper Austrian parliament. Nevertheless, Peter was able to consolidate the FPÖ and worked closely with the FPÖ provincial party chairmen to build up the party’s organisation.
Friedrich Peter's first appearance as the FPÖ's lead candidate, in the May 1959 National Council election, was accompanied by a modest electoral success for the party. The Freedom Party achieved 7.70 per cent of the vote, an increase of 1.18 percentage points. With over 330,000 votes, the FPÖ obtained eight seats in the National Council, which constituted an increase of two. One of Peter’s most important goals was to make the FPÖ acceptable as a coalition partner and thus able to participate in government. He pursued a strategy of liberalising his party, which later saw the founding, with his support, of the Attersee Circle, a think tank for young intellectuals within the party. This did enable the Freedom Party to move closer to the Socialists during the 1960s. At the same time, the FPÖ established itself as the party of control and scrutiny in the Austrian Parliament. Among other things, during the Habsburg crisis centred on the entry into Austria of former Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg, it was able for the first time to play a key role in the political decision-making process. In the March 1966 National Council election, however, the FPÖ was only able to win 5.35 per cent of the vote and it lost two seats. This meant that the FPÖ was now represented in the National Council by only six MPs. Yet on 30 March 1966, Friedrich Peter joined the National Council and four years later assumed the position of chairman of the FPÖ parliamentary party there. Another of his National Council roles was as FPÖ school spokesman.
Friedrich Peter also led the FPÖ in the campaign for the March 1970 National Council election, at which the Freedom Party was able (after a partial repeat election conducted in October 1970) to retain its six National Council seats. However, the Socialists achieved a relative majority at the 1970 election and SPÖ leader Bruno Kreisky was keen to establish a Socialist minority government that would be tolerated by a partner in the National Council. Given the circumstances, Friedrich Peter decided that the FPÖ’s MPs would provide parliamentary support for an SPÖ minority government led by Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky. The socialist minority government lasted for about one and a half years, until the 1971 National Council election. In return for the support provided by the Freedom Party, the SPÖ was prepared to undertake an electoral law reform that would benefit the small opposition party. The October 1971 National Council election was held on the basis of the new electoral regulations. The FPÖ was able to increase from six to 10 the number of seats it held in the National Council, the total membership of which had been enlarged from 165 to 183. During the years of the SPÖ single-party governments, Peter maintained a positive relationship with the Social Democrats and also had a good personal understanding with Bruno Kreisky.
The National Council election of October 1975 was the last at which Friedrich Peter stood as the FPÖ's lead candidate. The Freedom Party achieved around 5.41 per cent of the vote and continued to have 10 National Council seats. Friedrich Peter subsequently stated that he would not be standing again for the leadership of the FPÖ. In 1978, Peter finally handed over the FPÖ chairmanship to the mayor of Graz, Alexander Götz. However, with the exception of the few months during 1979, when Alexander Götz took over that role, Friedrich Peter remained chairman of the FPÖ parliamentary party in the National Council. After the 1983 National Council election, at which the SPÖ lost its absolute majority, Peter's tactic of rapprochement with the Social Democrats paid off. The long-serving leader of the Freedom Party’s parliamentary party negotiated with Bruno Kreisky, the modalities of what became known as the “small coalition” (Kleine Koalition). The result was an SPÖ-FPÖ federal government under Fred Sinowatz as Federal Chancellor and FPÖ leader Norbert Steger as Vice-Chancellor.
Friedrich Peter left the National Council in spring 1986. His successor as chairman of the FPÖ parliamentary party was the former Federal Defence Minister, Friedhelm Frischenschlager. Even after his retirement, Friedrich Peter spoke out in favour of continuing the “small coalition” with the SPÖ and called on the Freedom Party to take advantage of the "historic opportunity" of participating in government for the first time. However, the September 1986 election in Innsbruck of Jörg Haider as the new FPÖ federal party chairman not only put an end to the SPÖ-FPÖ federal government, but also led to ill feeling between Friedrich Peter and the party. Friedrich Peter resigned from all his FPÖ functions and thereafter characterised himself as but a lowly party member. He was later to express regret over the termination of the SPÖ-FPÖ coalition, which he referred to as a "failed experiment" at a social-liberal coalition. In 1992, Friedrich Peter finally resigned from the FPÖ because of the Freedom Party's European policy. Even after his resignation, Peter's relationship with his former party remained tense. Friedrich Peter died in Vienna on 25 September 2005.
Main political positions
1955–1966 Provincial Member of Parliament, Upper Austria
1958–1978 FPÖ Federal Party Chairman
1966–1986 Member of the National Council
1970–1986 Chairman of the FPÖ Parliamentary Party in the National Council
Friedrich Peter on the web pages of the Austrian Parliament:
Friedrich Peter on the web pages of the Upper Austrian government: