Simon Biggs on 5 Sep 2000 23:36:25 -0000

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Re: <nettime> Ars Electronica and its political context

Andreas wrote:
>this is not only an utterly stupid thing to say, it is also wrong (the
>FPOE is probably not much worse than the Tories in the UK would like to be

There is quite a difference between what some (marginal) members of a
political party might want and what their party policy is. There is an
even more important distinction between a party with no hope of gaining
power (the Tories, even with far softer policies than those on the table
in Austria) and one like the FPOE that is part of a governing coalition.

Xenophobia is a terrible thing, and we should remember it is not something
the political right has a monopoly on. There are plenty of members of the
UK Labour Party who are as racist as many Tories, either explicitly or in
a more subconcious manner, in their attitudes and the like.

The level of debate on race in the UK is far removed from that in Austria
or, for that matter, some other European countries. The current changes in
the UK Police force are an example, brought to the fore by their admission
of institutional racism. The government as a whole has also admitted that
most government institutions and agencies are institutionally racist.
Things are changing here, and whilst it may take many years, even
generations, to change the racist attitudes of many Brits the fact that
the debate is underway and the legislation is going through parliament is
a very solid beginning. The current realignment here regarding immigration
policy (returning to the 60's/70's policy of massive skilled worker
immigration rather than the tight controls instituted by Thatcher) is also
an example of such change as the UK realises that it faces a skills
shortage and needs more workers. Unlike in Germany, where such immigrants
are always regarded as temporary residents, in the UK these people can
become full citizens after only three years residence. This is similar to
Australia, Canada or the USA and I do not think you can claim this as
conservative immigration policy.

My logic in prefering a boycott of Austria is based on what happened in
South Africa. Consumer led action, followed by state led boycotts, were
very effective, especially when the US acted to curtail trade with that
apartheid state. What is now happening in South Africa is very complex
and, like most things, develops rarely in a straight line, but the Truth
and Reconciliation process was a wonderful example of inclusive political
culture that bodes so well for that country (compared, for example, with
what has happened in most other African countries after independence). I
am not alone in seeing this as a valid approach as I know many of our
peers are not at Ars this year for just these reasons.

I am sure there are plenty of non-conservative people in fact
I know lots that are very unconservative (Gerfried among them). Whilst
perhaps my use of the word "natural" was ill-chosen I would still argue
that Austria is a conservative country. Conservative not only because it
has managed to allow a facist party access to power but in far more subtle
ways, in terms of peoples attitudes to institutions, histories,
mythologies, change, etc.

Some places always seem to be reinventing themselves, to be undergoing
constant change. Others tend to remain the same, to hold onto traditional
values and certainties. Xenophobia, as an expression of fear of change, is
an aspect of this type of conservatism.

>be, and they are certainly not as blatantly bad as the still legal,
>neo-nazi NPD in Germany; it is interesting how we leftists tend to return
>to calling such countries 'civilised' in a selected situations, though we
>would happily denounce the uncivilised nature of capitalism in others, and
>rarely consider the fact that many of the socalled uncivilised nations do
>not know the same kind of brutal nationalist extremism); the logical

A country can be both conservative and civilised. In reality this is a
common conjunction. Societies that are constantly changing, shifting and
growing, rarely have the homogenised experience and shared values required
for a society to be civilised in the sense that Vienna or Paris are
civilised or sophisticated. A city like Sydney is a rough and ready place,
with few of the sophisticated adornments or niceties that dominate
Viennese culture...but Sydney is also a city open to change, where when I
was there last the Mayor was Chinese and the richest family was Italian,
where an official policy of multiculturalism was in operation (meaning
that no one single culture can be dominant, that all are equal and that
nobody has the right to establish their culture as above others).

For me Austria appears conservative as much as anything due to its
homogeneity of population, architecture and culture. To an Australian this
is what conservative can mean. For the same reason I find the UK
conservative as well, for many in the population wish to hold onto things
that in a place like Australia would be dumped if there was a reason
(usually money, but not always). Nevertheless, whilst the UK as a whole is
conservative there is much of it, including most of London, that is not at
all conservative...and again, there is no equivalent of Haider in the UK,
not even within a light year of power.

>conclusion biggs suggests is detestable: from the first statement (a
>naturally right wing country) should not follow the second (be boycotted
>until Haider and his fascist party is disallowed power), as this is
>against the 'nature' of biggs' austria; they should be nuked (gassed?) -
>oh no, they - that is 'Austria and all things Austrian' can now simply be
>genetically modified (isn't the 21st century great ...), and then we will
>play with them again.

I think you can see from what I write above that what you say here is as
detestable to me as it is to you. I wish you had given what I wrote a
little more thought before attacking me.

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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