Simon Biggs on 2 Sep 2000 17:52:20 -0000

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<nettime> Ars Electronica and its political context

>Its good that some people have finally recognized the Free Speech Project
>in our program.  I hope you all can come to judge whether Ars Electronica
>meets your expectations.
>Gerfried Stocker

I doubt that this will be enough. Way before Haider Austria was already a
difficult country to be in if you are not a conventional person (eg: if
your sexual/drug/cultural/political preferences are not mainstream
Austrian, or if your skin is the wrong colour).

I first attended Ars in 1986, at which time I was accused by a group of
Austrian artists of being a communist American (in fact, at that time, I
was an anarchist Australian) and was threatened with a broken bottle (and
this in the Brucknerhaus). Why was I threatened? Because I was there with
an American friend (who, whilst being a very famous composer, was also
Jewish) and we were clear in our disenchantment with Waltheim, who as we
know was a Fascist and President of Austria at that time. We were informed
that whilst they (the Austro-German's) had failed to get us in 1939 they
would get us in 1989. We laughed, at which point they attacked us.

These were not lager-louts but supposedly sophisticated artists and

I have never experienced this sort of behaviour in Germany.

I have been back to Austria several times since, and to Ars too, but
always with trepidation. This is a naturally right wing country, where
difference is hardly tolerated. Haider is no surprise. Hitler was from

In 1987 I was in Linz again and I found an old postcard in a shop in the
main platz which on the postcard was called AdolphHitlerPlatz. I couldn't
resist. I sent it to my Jewish friend in New York (who had been with me
the year before when we were attacked) simply saying "wish you were here".

He thought that was funny. Mind you, he has never returned to Austria.

I was arrested in Linz in 1989 for putting my feet up on a seat in a bus!
In 1997 I was full body searched, including anal search, for drugs
arriving at Linz airport. I mentioned I was an official guest of the
festival. They said I had long hair and was from London so I must have
drugs (I didn't). I imagine they would arrest you for swearing, or wearing
the wrong clothes. They demand you have an identity card (unheard of in
the UK). It is like having a number tatooed on your arm. It is a very
weird place.

Personally I think Timothy Druckrey was overly diplomatic. He should call
a spade a spade. Austria and all things Austrian should be boycotted until
Haider and his fascist party is disallowed power. Germany has banned such
parties, as has the UK and most civilised countries.

Simon Biggs
London GB

Professor of Research (Fine Art)
Art and Design Research Centre
School of Cultural Studies
Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield, UK

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