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this story is part of the 15-19 Jan 2018 Weekly Hindsight Read the hindsight

The 'other Austria' sends a powerful anti-government message

Christine Tragler recommended by Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria

Tens of thousands protested in the streets of Vienna against the government’s discriminating policies and far-right rhetorics. Will the opposition stand up to the challenge of representing them as future voters?

Austria Aha moments

Why this story matters:

protests, migration

On January 13, in spite of unfavorable weather, tens of thousands of people marched to the Heroes Square in central Vienna. Students and families, the youth and the elderly, groups and individuals from all walks of life have shown that they reject the politics of the ruling coalition, especially its far-right member, the Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Whether "only" 30,000 people participated (according to the police) or up to 70,000, as the organizers claim, one thing is certain -- there were more demonstrators than both sides had anticipated. As Der Standard editor, Colette M. Schmidt, pointed out:

The coalition of the ÖVP and the FPÖ “has triggered a demonstration call almost every day during their first weeks in power".

Among such calls was a widely deplored statement by the interior minister, Herbert Kickl, from the FPÖ, who spoke about the new asylum policy using language associated with Nazi death camps. Kickl wanted "services centers and infrastructure that would allow the authorities to concentrate asylum seekers in one place."

In her recent commentary, Colette M. Schmidt questions the popularity of the new Austrian government:

"The situation of single parents, immigrants and the unemployed has visibly worsened and, on top of that, came the outrageous words of Herbert Kickl. Now he wants us to believe that he wasn’t implying anything when he used the word ‘concentrated’ in reference to refugees.

The protesters were quick to reply -- ‘Concentrate on yourself" -- as some of their banners read on Saturday.”

According to Colette M. Schmidt:

"The demonstration was a signal for public opinion both in the country and abroad. Now, international media clearly discern the ‘other Austria’."

Consequently, a question emerges whether the established political forces in Austria, such as the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), are going to take these demonstrators seriously as future voters? Will they stand up to the challenge of representing them? It is clear that, in the next elections, the SPÖ will have to take up the role of a genuine opposition.

For now, as Schmidt put it:

“After days of uncertainty, the demonstration was an optimistic call for resistance. The prevalent mood was a friendly one."

Yes, some protesters carried signs pleading "Don't let Nazis govern". But a huge inflatable balloon, which hovered over the march, read: "Everything has an end."

Let’s hope so.

Details from the story:

  • Between 30,000 and 70,000 protesters marched in the streets of Vienna on Saturday afternoon to voice their dissent regarding the new government’s politics.
  • One of the most immediate triggers of the demonstration was a statement by the interior minister, Herbert Kickl from the FPÖ, who used rhetorics associated with Nazi death camps when referring to the new asylum policy.
  • The demonstration poses a challenge to the opposition, most notably the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which must accommodate this new political power in their strategy.

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