Konrad Becker on 1 Sep 2000 19:25:23 -0000

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<nettime> A Normal State Does NOT Rule in Austria

Kulturpolitische Kommission: 

"A Normal State Does NOT Rule in Austria"

Since February 2000, a coalition government comprised of the right-wing
FPÖ and the Christian democratic ÖVP has been in power in Austria. And
since then demonstrations have taken place against the FPÖ every Thursday,
and information and dance events have been held in front of the
Chancellory every Saturday.

The measures taken by the government have a two-faced character. Towards
the international community and the less differentiating Austrian public,
it presents itself as a fast reformer of those areas that were neglected
during the rule of the past coalition government comprised of the social
democratic SPÖ and the ÖVP. The fine details and the long-term destruction
taking place in areas with less media coverage are being veiled by a
pension reform, compensation for forced-labor during the Nazi regime and a
budget consolidation.

The innovative, contemporary art and culture scene in Austria has
developed a substantial structure since the 1970s with the help of state
subsidies and investments. Over 400 cultural initiatives in the cities and
non-urban communities serve to impart contemporary art, conduct
socio-cultural work with young people, and provide a platform for critical
confrontation with political issues, such as nationalism, racism, etc. In
addition to its important sociopolitical function, this non-profit
cultural sector constitutes one of the few areas with a growing employment
rate. Particularly the confrontation with democracy and sociopolitical
issues provided this sector with an early warning against the FPÖ and its
(cultural) policies. The current cultural advisor to Jörg Haider, head of
the government of the Austrian province of Carinthia, already wrote in
1980: "Scientists and artists, who represent the German Nation through
their work, should receive increased promotion. Genuine German endeavors
should be supported throughout the entire sector of art and culture.
Foreign and supplanted elements, though not to be declared bad as such,
should be increasingly identified as non-German." This background
illuminates Jörg Haider's decision to refuse to contribute financially to
the famed international Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for Literature, and to
create a promotion prize for Carinthian authors instead.

The interventions of the ruling government aim at undermining cultural
promotion for critical organizations and institutions as well as
destroying their structures. The strategy is manifold: termination of
rental contracts for federal, provincial or community property,
cancellation of subsidies, increased postage rates for newsletters,
donation mailing campaigns and program folders. The government reserves
the right to subsidize the postage charges for individual organizations
and thereby intends, according to the chairman of the ÖVP, Andreas Khol,
"to separate the wolves from the sheep."

Political neutrality towards the ruling government is being deemed a new
criterion for receiving support - government subsidies as politically
dedicated bribe money from those parties which have just come into power
in the government. Democracy has come to an end when there is no longer
any differentiation between the state and community, on the one hand, and
the presiding government, on the other hand.

If a person dares to reflect upon the next step in the current dealings of
the FPÖ and the ÖVP in the name of cultural promotion, if the government
only supports that which is in favor of itself, then why should there be
continued support for the parties in opposition? In keeping with such
logic, the leader of the Green Party, Van der Bellen, and the leader of
the SPÖ, Gusenbauer, would already be acting on the brink of organized
crime. Jörg Haider has already proposed that any critical voices in
Austria should be prosecuted fiercely and without mercy. Fifty-five years
after the overthrough of the Nazi regime and the reestablishment of a new
democratic Republic of Austria, the fundamental right of freedom of
expressionis being massively restricted. Intimidation, threats and
criminalization of those who think differently have always constituted
essential factors of totalitarian and misanthropic governments. The
Austrian federal government committed itself in the preamble of its
government program to uphold the basic democratic rights which also form
the basis of the European Union. However, the head of the government,
Federal Chancellor Schüssel, has not yet found it necessary to put Jörg
Haider in his place for having made this political advance, nor to protect
the fundamental values of the international community from this impending

The current political developments in Austria have become particularly
blatant with concern to the situation of the media. In 1998 the public
radio and television monopoly in Austria came to an end. Private radio
stations began broadcasting for the first time. It required years of
conflict-ridden confrontation with politicians to create the basis for
private, culturally motivated and non-commercial media projects. These
institutions were confronted with budget cuts immediately after the
present government came into power - the first measure for disciplining
any reporting that was critical of the government. Shortly following,
critical journalists and editors from public radio and television were
relieved of their offices or transferred to less "sensitive" positions.The
Austrian print media are demonstrating increasing conformity. In addition,
the interpretive power of the "Haider-friendly" and "EU-critical" Austrian
daily paper "Neue Kronen Zeitung" prevails over "Austrian reality" with a
readership of 42.5%. The measures imposed by the EU-14 are therefore
purely perceived as a media spectacle: the refusal to be photographed with
Austrian politicians, in contrast with the unqueried election of Herwig
van Staa, Mayor of Innsbruck, as President of the European Council's
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. He was the sole
politician who agreed to preside over a ceremonial event held by extreme
right-wing academic clubs only a few days before his election by the

If the Austrian chancellor and the foreign minister are unconcerned by the
pending examination into government work by an EU delegation, then it is
because the delegation will hardly be able to delve deeply enough into the
aforementioned areas. Disregarded by the traditional media, and robbed of
its structures by the government, Austria is presenting itself "in a
normal state" by omitting the developments described here, and is thus
founding a broad basis in Europe for right-wing populists and the enemies
of democracy.

We therefore expect the countries of the European Union to make a
qualified contribution that is fitting to observe and counteract all
antidemocratic developments manifest in Austria - as well as in any other
EU country - in addition to any individual, formal acts of taking distance
from the Austrian federal government. Such increased awareness of
antidemocratic developments must be primarily directed towards Austria,
since the participation of the FPÖ in the Austrian coalition government
could set a precedent for other EU members, not only leading to the
internal questioning of democratic principles, but finally also
constituting the downfall of the European integration process.

Gabriele Gerbasits and Gerhard Ruiss

for Kulturpolitische Kommission (Ständige gemeinsame Vertretung
östereichischer Berufs- und Interessenvertretungen der Kunst und Kultur)

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