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Austria's referendum on Nazism

How many Austrians will back Nazi sympathizer Barbara Rosenkranz?

Candidate for Austrian president, Barbara Rosenkranz of the Freedom Party, addresses a news conference in Vienna on March 18, 2010. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

GRAZ, Austria — Barbara Rozenkranz, the dour, embattled far-right candidate for Austria's presidential election on Sunday, will likely come in a distant second. But she is also on track to show that many Austrians are willing to back a known Nazi sympathizer.

Polls say Rosenkranz, a member of the Freedom Party, will take upward of 13 percent of the vote while Social Democrat incumbent Heinz Fischer will win with about 80 percent. Rosenkranz says her goal is 17 percent, which would top her party's previous presidential best in 1980 and match its share in the 2008 parliamentary elections.

The election will take a census of Austrian attitudes toward Nazism, unlike previous results. Unlike the typically murky views of Rosenkranz's Freedom Party peers, her own opinions on the issue have taken center stage throughout the campaign. Days before it officially started she triggered a media storm by saying anti-Nazi "Verbotsgesetz" laws should be scrapped, a statement she later said she made because her interviewer "treated her like a schoolgirl."

In the same interview she was also less than emphatic when asked if Nazi poison gas chambers existed, saying, "I know everything which was taught in school between 1964 and 1976." Saying no more than required by law sends out the clearest possible signal of Nazi sympathy an Austrian politician can make. Confronted with the same question as she prepared to enter the last week of the campaign, she said, simply, "Of course there were gas chambers."

This is not Rosenkranz's first foray on the campaign trail. Her political career began in 1993 when she became a deputy in the Lower Austrian Parliament, rising to become the region's minister for construction law and animal welfare in 2008.

Earlier in the campaign, she had secured the support of the newspaper Krone Zeitung, whose 89-year-old owner, Hans Dichand, approves of her candidacy mainly because of her virulently anti-European Union stance. In order to retain that support after the debacle over her call to end anti-Nazi laws, Rosenkranz had to send a signed note "distancing herself" from Nazism. The newspaper repaid her concise renunciation by publishing a poem ridiculing her Socialist opponent, Fischer, in the last week of the campaign.