Thursday, June 16, 2011

Right-Wing, Left-Wing Politics in Vienna

Communist Student Group Campaign Poster

Vienna's ethnic and racial composition has been changing year by year.  When I was living in Vienna in 1967-1968 and 1971-1972, the city had a homogeneous population, and the landscape was dominated -- at least it appeared to me -- by older women walking their dogs. The city had few "ethnic" restaurants; you could hardly find Chinese food, for example. Rules were obeyed (no crossing when the light was red). Behavior was kept proper (an old lady ordered me to take my hands out of my pockets as I stood inside Am Hof Kirche looking round.) Patrons dressed nicely for concerts and the opera, or else weren't admitted. Strict regulation of business hours meant that the city closed shop early (literally), and there was little excitement after dark. My university-aged friends complained that Vienna was a "dead city."

That has all changed (except Viennese still like their dogs and allow them everywhere, even on public transportation). The ethnic diversity of Vienna cannot be missed.  The diversification started when Vienna hired large numbers of workers from Turkey and other countries to build its excellent subway. When I left in June 1972, that massive project was still in its early stages with a huge hole dug in front of Karlskirche.  When I returned in 1989, the subway was complete, and Vienna had some districts that were identifiable as largely Turkish.  

Now in Vienna it is common to see women in head scarves, Asians, and blacks. The city has become, like other major cities in Europe and the U.S., cosmopolitan.  It also has a much more youthful look and energetic feel. Immigrants have opened restaurants, offering food from throughout the world. The regulation of business operations has been relaxed. The city does not close at night.   
Another Communist Student Election Poster

Of course this change has stirred resentment among some of the older Vienna natives, who liked things the old way, and others with nationalist leanings.  It also stirs the hatreds of the remnants of the far right, the people who still want Austria to be part of a greater Germany, who remember the "good" things about Hitler (who was, after all, an Austria by birth), who do not lament the 200,000 Viennese Jews who were murdered or fled the county after the Anschluss, or who remain Nazi sympathizers (I remember one old man who told me  in a Viennese restaurant with a smile, "Ich war ein Verbrecher.")  


For all of its great cultural and historical treasures, Vienna does have its dark elements, and included among those are the far right elements who reject modernity, internationalization, liberality, and democracy.  Most of these far rightist are part of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPOe). It was led for years by Joerg Haider, a charismatic politician who used anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner, populist, subtly anti-Semitic (some say), and resentment politics to achieve unprecedented electoral success. In 2000, to the dismay of its European neighbors, the Freedom Party became part of the Austrian government in a coalition with the Austria People's Party OeVP).  Haider died in an automobile accident in 2008.

The present head of the Freedom Party is HC Strache, a Viennese.  With him leading the campaign, the Freedom Party had surprising success in the 2010 election of the Vienna city council, which has long had a Social Party (SPOe) majority. The FPOe received 25.8% of the vote, second to the SPOe's 44.3%. The OeVP got only 14.0% of the vote.  (The SPOe and OeVP have ruled the country since 2007 through a "Grand Coalition.")

According to Wikipedia, the FPOe campaign slogans in 2010 included these:

·         Zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut. (Too many foreigners [or more literally: Too much foreign] does no one good)

·         Wir bewahren unsere Heimatstadt. Die SPÖ macht sie uns fremd. (We maintain our homeland. The SPÖ makes it a stranger.

·         Wir glauben an unsere Jugend. Die SPÖ an Zuwanderung. (We believe in our youth. The SPÖ in immigration.)

·         Wir schützen freie Frauen. Die SPÖ den Kopftuchzwang (We protect women's rights. The SPÖ protects the compulsory headscarf.

·         Mehr Mut für unsere Wiener Blut (More strength for our Viennese blood.)

·         Uns, geht's um die Wiener (To us, it's about the Viennese)

The flavor of this right-wing leader was evident in a recent article (June 6, 2011) in the Austrian Independent ( ).  
[Strache] called off his attendance of a disputed gathering of far-right student fraternities in Vienna last May at which hundreds come together year after year to deplore the death of German WWII soldiers. The meeting has been under scrutiny as many student fraternity members claim that the German Reich did not start the war. Numerous people have held street marches each year to protest against their get-together as some of the right-wingers dream of a reunion of Austria and Germany amid fears of an ‘Islamisation’ of the continent.

Strache was due to hold a speech at the meeting. However, he cancelled his appearance hours before he was expected to take to the stage. Reports have it that local police were asked to ensure his personal protection before being told at short notice that such measures were not needed. The FPÖ boss claimed a top secret meeting with high-profile politicians abroad made it impossible for him to speak at the commemoration – which always takes place at the same time concentration camp survivors meet to remember their torments.

Strache – who is a member of a far-right student fraternity called Vandalia – has been attending night clubs in cities and music festivals in the countryside for years. Research has shown that one in five Austrians younger than 30 want him as the country’s next chancellor.
The most distributing thing about the rise of the right wing is that surveys show that its support is the greatest among young (under 30) voters.  This support makes salient the fact that university students in Austria were among the most fervent Nazi supporters in Austria during the 1930s, and German nationalism has had strong support among some groups of students since the end of World War I. 


In contrast to the support of far right politics, the far left -- communists, Maoists, etc. -- has gained little support in Vienna, or Austria as a whole.  The Soviet Union's leaders were shocked to find out how few votes the Communist Party (KPOe) received in occupied Austria in the first parliamentary elections after WWII (5.4%).  Since 1959, the Communist Party has not received enough votes to be represented in the Austria parliament, and in the 2008 national elections, it got less than 1 percent of the votes. In the 2010 Vienna elections, it received 1.2 percent of the votes.


Given the KPOe's lack of success in Austria electoral politics, it was interesting to see its "Vota Communista" political posters in front of the University of Vienna in April.  The posters were for elections to the Oesterreichische Hochschueler_Innenschaft (OeH, Austrian University Student Association) that was held May 24-26.  This association is created by Austria law to represent students as part of the nation's policy making system. Austria's corporatist system requires that all large groups from workers to dentists to carnival workers have their own associations to represent them in the making of laws and regulations and other agreements. Representatives are elected at each university, and then a national 96-member OeH body is elected by the university student associations.
Third Communist Student Election Poster

In all, 18,663 of 76,052 University of Vienna students voted in the OeH election. The Green and Alternative Students group received  the largest percentage of votes (30.9%); the center-right party (AktionsGemeinschaft an der Universität Wien) was second with 26.6%; and the socialist student group (affiliated with the SPOe) got 23.5%. The communist group (Kommunistischer Student_innenverband Linke Liste) received 5.9 percent of the votes, and another communist group got 2.5 percent.  The group affiliated with the FPOe, the Ring Freiheitlicher Studenten, received only 2.6 percent of the vote. In the national association of students, the communist students have 2 of 96 seats and the FPOe students have 1 of 96.

The student elections seem to show that most Austrian students are within the bounds of the existing distribution of political power, though leaning toward the traditional left (SPOe) and the environmental left (Greens). The extremist parties enjoy comparatively little support among university students. Which seems to be very good news for Austria and the world.
Socialist (SPOe) Student Election Poster

Green and Alternative Student Election Poster

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