15 Jan 2018

Austria minister's use of Nazi language part of party's pattern

Austria's interior minister has provoked international outrage by using a term associated with Nazi concentration camps, but such remarks seem to be part of his political party's vocabulary.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Austria minister's use of Nazi language part of party's pattern - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

migration, politics

With their latest remarks on asylum, members of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) have caused international indignation.

Interior minister Herbert Kickl used a term associated with Nazi death camps, saying he wanted "services centres and infrastructure that would allow the authorities to concentrate asylum seekers in one place."

Kickl was condemned by the SPÖ, Greens, Neos, civil society and the presidential office. Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen called for a "responsible use of language," and SPÖ leader Christian Kern described Kickl's remark as "incomprehensible and shocking" Kickl later said his comment was not meant to be "provocative."

His remark, while shocking, was just the latest in a series of right-wing and anti-refugee formulations by leading FPÖ politicians -- among them club leader Johann Gudenus and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

STANDARD-editor Maria Sterkl said that for Kickl, FPÖ's chief strategist, such statements do not just happen. The new government has no interest in seriously clarifying the conflict, she said, and offering such statements is a welcome distraction:

"Kickl is a media pro. He knows exactly which rhetorical bomb to detonate and how to make it really loud. And yes, it crashed. International media reported, commentators condemned - Mission accomplished."

The fact that the interior minister used references to the Nazi era shows one thing above all: the bashing of strangers is apparently not enough. And even to threaten refugees with mass camps is no longer enough, because the Austrian population has become accustomed to it. And that's what is dangerous:

"This habituation effect is a fire hazard. This is not about radar cameras and police horses, but about the dignity of people. If we get used to the fact that refugees are rhetorically turned into herds of cattle, and allow that they are referred to as animals, than they may also be treated as such. Today it's just words. Tomorrow words may turn into deeds", Sterkl writes.

Tens of thousands demonstrated on Saturday against the turquoise-blue government in Vienna. It was the biggest protest against the new government so far.

Much of the anger was directed against the participation of the FPÖ in government and especially against Minister of the Interior Herbert Kickl. "I say 'Kickl' - you say 'resignation', was chanted again and again.

Details from the story:

In recent days members of the Austrian Freedom Party, among them club leader Johann Gudenus, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Minister of the Interior Herbert Kickl, have caused international indignition with their remarks on asylum. Examples:

  • "It is just a term, these basic care centers, for an appropriate infrastructure, where can keep those who enter an asylum to a procedure and concentrated in one place." (Minister of the Interior Herbert Kickl, Press Conference on Asylum and Foreigner Statistics 2017, 11.1.2018)
  • "It has already been discussed whether after a certain hour in the evening everyone should be back in the barracks. As long as we have an open asylum procedure, there needs to be order." (Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, "Wien heute", ORF, 4.1.2018)
  • "If you place the quarters in areas where fewer people live than in the city, that would be a possibility. There are enough areas on the edge in Vienna, where fewer people live. " (Club boss Johann Gudenus, "Vienna Today", ORF, 18.12.2017)
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