Eva Grubinger on 3 Aug 2000 14:50:19 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Who's afraid of the 'F-word'?

Who's afraid of the 'F-word'?
Eva Grubinger on Haider's Austria and freedom of speech
first published in 'Mute', issue 17

'Please be fair. Give us a chance. Give us time. Judge us by what we do.'
When Austria's rightwing government came to power in February it asked the
public to overlook some of its more notorious pronouncements, such as
calling artists 'social parasites', praising the 'employment policy of the
Third Reich' and dubbing black doctors working in Austria 'bushniggers' -
pronouncements which initially lead to its immense national and
international boycott.

Unfortunately, the Freedom Party has not been applying similar standards to
various groups and individuals who do not fit into its idea of 'freedom',
preferring to deploy democratic rules and conventions against democracy
itself. Long before the F-party eventually came into governmental power it
was systematically suing journalists, artists and cultural institutions,
egged on by the high circulation tabloid Kronen Zeitung. According to
Austrian law (and that of many other European democracies), insulting
public figures such as politicians (who are then treated as private
individuals) is punishable by as much as £100,000 and even up to two years
in prison.

Writer Werner Kofler was perfectly aware of the law when he wrote his book
Üble Nachrede - Furcht und Unruhe (Nasty Slander - Fear and Restlessness,
Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 1997). The book incensed a group of politicians and
right-wing journalists and artists who, finding themselves fictionalised in
the past, had instituted legal proceedings against the authors. But by
using the simple trick of putting all his words into the conditional - he
only would have insulted these people if he'd received the Robert-Musil
Stipend, which would have given him the financial possibility of writing
the memorandum Master of Nasty Slander - Kofler rehabilitated the freedom
of art whilst simultaneously questioning the effects of literature. As
expected, he got sued by a rightwing journalist working for the Kronen
Zeitung, but was acqitted in court.

Austria's most popular comedy duo Dirk Stermann and Christoph Grissemann,
who achieved cult status for their mad radio show 'Salon Helga' on state
owned youth channel FM4, obviously had not heard of that simple trick when
- during an interview with the Upper Austrian fancine 'rödr@nner' they
stated as a joke: 'Somebody should shoot Haider. Someone who has only two
month left to live' and 'the Austrian is a spineless, rotten swine'. They
apologized for their outburst, but nevertheless got banned from the station
immediatly and of course the F-party called in the police to consider
whether its party leader had been illegally threatened or defamed.

Very soon after the 'takeover' of the new government the Austrian state
broadcasting corporation ORF forwarded unofficial orders to their
(cultural) editors to only report on their supposed subjects, not to
contribute to the political debate of (cultural) resistance and opposition
and not to join demonstrations in their spare time. As a reaction to these
newly imposed pressures on the media, the radio DJ Fritz Ostermayer hugely
increased the popularity of his show 'Im Sumpf' ('In the Swamp') by reading
self-penned and solemn 'high art' lyric poetry containing the sharpest
criticism concerning the goverment. Without ever mentioning names, it let
his audience know who was being lampooned. To read the most risky material
he brought in his kids, since no court can sentence minors.

But after three months under the influence of a government which appointed
Jörg Haider's own lawyer as minister of justice and after Haider's famous
'a dog should never bite the feeding hand' statement, such brilliant and
ironic escapades are dwindling in number. Even courageous cultural
institutions such as the Internet provider t0-PublicNetbase now meekly
hesitate to publish certain critical content, even though it only recently
beat the F-party in a law suit. Since the rightwingers are trying hard to
block the funding of cultural venues which are 'being used for political
agitation', a variety of important institutions of contemporary culture and
discourse, such as the DepotVienna and the Kunsthalle Tirol, are now facing
the threat of either getting constantly sued on whatever absurd pretext
(misuse of public funding, cruelty to animals, child pornography...) and/or
being dryed out financially.

The F-party is now expanding its successful policy of litigation to an
international arena. It's even considering 'taking legal steps' against the
EU. By stirring up Austrian patriotism, the new government is trying hard
to distract attention from its agenda of quashing social and political
rights on all levels. According to vice chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer,
Great Britain with its BSE scandal serves as a role model, 'having
blockaded everything until they got what they wanted'. Which of course
would tempt one to say, if one could, that Austria would be better off
governed by mad cows than Riess-Passer and her kind.

German speaking sites:http://www.doew.at (documentary archive of Austrian
resistance, all further links)http://www.stermann-grissemann.com (site of
comedy duo Stermann-Grissemann )http://www.t0.or.at (Public
Netbase)http://www.austria.gv.at (Austrian Government) English speaking
sites:http://www.adl.org/backgrounders/joerg_haider.html (Anti-Defamation

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