An Insight in Austrian Politics

When dancing on a ball seems to harm and provoke others, should it be accepted it as a democratic right?

Innocently smiling at you, she puts her hands in front of her face and says “Where am I? Go look for me!” I suppose everybody has played this game with children. Having the privilege of being naive, children believe in their invisibility when putting the hands in front of their faces. Hence, it derives their accommodating feeling of being safe and inexistent. Nevertheless, this trick will not hold off the rebuke for their mistakes.

The same conception of inexistency seems to be held by some demonstrators, trying to use their covered faces to make their brutality reversible. At least this is the perception of the Austrian police in Vienna.

As every year the Austrian right wing party FPÖ invited extreme right-wingers from all over Europe to come to the Hofburg in Vienna for a numerously visited ball. The ball is called academics’ ball and is of high controversy. Whereby the title might mislead you into thinking it is a ball for university educated people, it is actually said to be an event with the purpose of celebrating the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany. Especially criticized is the use of the balcony, where Hitler announced Austria to be part of the German Reich in 1938.

Since the existence of the ball, massive demonstrations took place in front of the Hofburg. These demonstrations were always shaped by violence, vandalism and pure disbelief of the existence of such a feast.

In 2014 the academics’ ball took place on Friday, the 24th of January. Already weeks before there was a huge discussion going on, as the police prohibited the use of face coverings in most areas of Vienna. Officially the reasons to do so, was the prevention of the “traditional” violent riots. Furthermore there were bans around a large area around the Hofburg impassable for any demonstrators, neither by left wing groups, nor civil groups, nor associations supported by Holocaust victims.

All these measures had the intention to provide the guests of the event with a calm and safe atmosphere. Additionally the ban of wearing face coverings was seen as a preventative measure to uncontrollable violence. However, most of the opponents to the academics’ ball viewed themselves as victims and were portrayed so in most of the national and German news organizations. Prestigious news papers, such as the Spiegel and BBC wrote articles in favour of the critics of the academics’ ball.

The BBC reported the following about the organisation “Jetzt Zeichen setzen” (to set an example now) which is supported by six Holocaust survivors and their publication of an open letter stating “”As survivors of the Nazi era, we are stunned that the Hofburg, which belongs to the republic, is still opening its doors to representatives of extreme-right organisations from Austria and Europe”. Furthermore, the UN cultural body UNESCO turned its back to the event by removing it from the list of Austrian cultural tradition in 2012 due to its links to far-right politics.

There is clearly public support of the demonstrators, which do not all come to make their anger public in a violent way, but rather want to issue a statement. This year around 6000 demonstrators participated.

Consequently, I want to refer back to my comment about the demonstrators’ perception of their impression of being safe and unrecognizable with faces covered. Does a ban on wearing face covers helped to prevent violence on these demonstrations? The numbers obviously do not support this assumption.

When hearing of these incidents on the media, the questions arose, whether it should be a right of the state to (1) let such an event be hosted in a state owned facility, while such a high amount of citizen is against it and (2) to impose such measurements to the demonstrators. If the public’s opinion holds a generally negative view on the academics’ ball, my argument is that the conditions of it have to be changed.

I do not hold the opinion that the event has to be abolished, as this would be undemocratic. However, the circumstances have to be proportionate to the amount of participants and the limited inclusion of people. It obviously does not have to take place in such an excessive form in regards of media coverage and amount of guests. Also the controversial location (the spot where Hitler announced the annexation) can be harmful to others.

Written by: Viktoria Arnold

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