Is Austria becoming a country of beer addicted communists? The rise of two fringe parties might suggest so – but disillusionment with the mainstream Left is a better explanation

Marco Pogo, singer of Austrian punk rock band Turbobier and leader of the BIER - Bierpartei Oesterreich (Beer Party Austria), poses next to an election poster for BIER EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA


It is often forgotten, but when it comes to populist politics, the small country of Austria is a bellwether.

Almost everything we hear nowadays from politicians like Trump, LePen, Orban and others was already said in the early 1990s by the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Between 1992 and 1993 the party initiated a petition supported by almost half a million people that demanded a more restrictive immigration policy, stricter citizenship laws, and more money for the police. The name of said petition was – unsurprisingly – “Austria First.” 

It is therefore worthwhile taking a fresh look at what is going on in Austria, for it might offer us a glimpse of what is to be expected in future elections throughout Europe.

In recent months, two new parties have begun to mix up the political scene in Vienna.

One is a satirical project by the physician and musician Dominik Wlazny – who campaigns under the name Marco Pogo – that runs as “The Beer Party,” borrowed from the name of Pogo’s rock band, “Turbo Beer.”

It is already a well-known voice in local Vienna politics with slogans like “make Vienna drunk again” and the promise to build fountains dispensing beer instead of water. Mr Pogo managed to get a respectable 8.3 per cent in the 2022 presidential elections, coming in third place after the two main party candidates. 

The second “new” party that has begun to make waves is the reformed Communist party (KPÖ), calling itself “Communist Party Plus.” The plus stands for the Young Greens, a radical wing of the Green Party that has been ejected from the mother party and now forms a unity bloc together with the communists.

The Communists had a major electoral victory in Austria’s second largest city, Graz, where they won mayoral elections in 2021. In March 2024, the party’s candidate made it into the run-off election for mayor of Salzburg, another urban centre and the country’s fourth largest city.

All of these successes have to be taken with a grain of salt. Austria has not all of a sudden become a country of beer addicted communists, and the fact that new parties did well in local elections is due to the charisma of the party leaders and often very specific regional issues like housing or welfare.

Whether any of this can be translated into a bigger role in national politics remains to be seen, and according to the most recent polls it does not seem particularly likely.

The Communists are at three per cent (below the required 4 per cent threshold for parliamentary representation) and the Beer Party at 6 per cent, cannibalising votes of each other.

Furthermore, both parties lack a nationwide infrastructure and reliable candidates – something that will be difficult to address before the next federal elections this fall.

The Austrians favorite protest party of choice remains the FPÖ, which continues to lead the polls with almost 30 per cent.

The significance of the Beer and Communist parties is less their programme but the fact that they reflect a dissatisfaction with existing options not just on the Right, but also on the Left.

The Greens (currently polling at eight per cent) have been neutered as a protest party due to their junior membership in the coalition government with the conservatives (the ÖVP). The Social Democrats are a party without a programme or identity, continuing their march into irrelevance like their sister party in Germany.  

The main take away reflects the broader political sentiment we can observe all over the West: People are dissatisfied with the existing parties, allowing newcomers a realistic chance to gain seats in national and regional elections.

We saw this too with the limited success of the Pirate Party in Germany or the more impactful Five Star Movement of Giuseppe “Beppe” Grillo in Italy.

What all these parties share in common is that they are less defined by a cohesive party programme or a clear-cut ideology, but their quality as protest parties.

If, as in the past, Austria is a first mover when it comes to populist movements and their chances for success, the elections in the autumn should be watched carefully all over Europe.