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NEWS ROUNDUP 19 Dec 2017

Austria has a new government and few are overjoyed

Christine Tragler recommended by Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria

"The government should secure the welfare of all -- with 'all' meaning everybody in Austria, not just all Austrians, as far-right politicians see it." Austria's president was mildest among critics of the current coalition. 

Austria Signs of the Times

Why this story matters:

protests

When, in 2000, the first ÖVP and FPÖ government in history was appointed, the atmosphere in the capital’s Hofburg Palace was tense. Thomas Klestil, then the head of state, did not even try to conceal his discontent and maintained a grim expression throughout the ceremony.

Things were quite different this time around. Although for the past weeks the Federal President, Alexander Van der Bellen has been openly critical of the coalition, he received the new leaders without reservation. His speech was, however, was admonitory toward the new turquoise-blue government.

The president recalled a maxim, which he had often used during his own election campaign. "The government should secure the welfare of all -- with 'all' meaning everybody in Austria, not just all Austrians," as far-right politicians see it. 

“Many people are positive about the plans of the new federal government, others are cautious or neutral. But many are also critical, even hostile.  I understand that. Differing opinions are the hallmark of democracy,” the president wrote on Twitter.

Not everyone is as diplomatic about the new coalition as Van der Bellen. Former Federal Chancellor, Christian Kern (SPÖ), considers their program to be a clear "step into the past".

Cornelius Obonya, actor and presenter, believes that Austrians must now be careful not to be "catapulted back 20 years". "If the security of this country is in the hands of a far right-party, it feels almost idle to talk about culture," he added.

The Austrian Women's Ring, an umbrella organization of various women's initiatives, criticizes the new government’s strategy concerning gender equality and women’s rights. In a Monday broadcast, their representatives explained that it glorifies an anachronistic image of gender roles and family. Women are present in the ÖVP-FPÖ pact mainly as mothers or migrants. The prevention of violence is treated primarily in the context of integration.

"Sexual violence has not 'immigrated' to Austria. It is linked with power disparities, sexism and economic dependency," the chairman of the Austrian Women's Ring, Sonja Ablinger, points out.

FPÖ's presence in the government worries the president of the Jewish Community, Oskar Deutsch. The coalition’s declarations on human rights and European values warns of underestimating the "dangers of nationalist politics ", he claims.

According to Deutsch, the ÖVP, the parliamentary opposition and the civil society should all remain particularly vigilant and critical in the coming years.

"There is nothing normal about the fact that a far-right, populist party, whose representatives have had difficulties distancing themselves from National Socialism, and who have looked down on people of other cultures and religions, is granted governmental responsibility," he adds.

If inside of the palace it was reserved, outside people did not hold back.

Up to 10,000 demonstrators protested against the new government.

Details from the story:

  • The Federal President, Alexander Van der Bellen, officially appointed the new turquoise-blue government on Monday morning. As of now, the country will be politically led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ).
  • At 31, Sebastian Kurz, is the youngest state leader in the world.
  • According to the police, around 5,500 demonstrators protested on Heldenplatz, for the most part peacefully. The organizers speak of up to 10,000 participants.

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