Staunton © Guardian
Newspapers Limited 2000
Sunday July 9, 2000
::Witch-hunt punishes those who
Staunton reports from Vienna on a cutback in funding
for liberal activists The Austrian far right in power:
a few sparsely furnished rooms in Vienna's former imperial
stables, a handful of artists and political activists
are taking the opposition to Austria's right-wing government
into cyberspace. But not for long. Public Netbase, which
provides Internet facilities for more than 1,200 cultural
and political projects, has had its public funding stopped
and been told to get out of the building by April next
Becker, one of the founders of Public Netbase, says
his organisation is only one of many cultural institutions
to face closure because they are judged by the government,
which includes Jörg Haider's far-right Freedom Party,
to be on the wrong side of the political tracks.
soon as the new government came into place, all project
money was immediately withdrawn. They don't even talk
to us now,' Becker said.
artists, journalists and intellectuals describe a climate
of fear and intimidation that they believe is part of
a government attempt to silence opposition to the coalition
government that has become the pariah of European politics.
on the public service television channel ORF have been
threatened with dismissal for being too critical of
the government and some coalition politicians have called
for weekly demonstrations in the centre of Vienna to
this week the president of the European Court of Human
Rights in Strasbourg will nominate three 'wise men'
to monitor Austria's treatment of minorities, immigrants
and asylum-seekers and assess the evolution of the 'political
nature' of the Freedom Party.
the report is favourable, Austria's 14 EU partners will
lift the sanctions imposed in protest against the presence
in government of Haider's party.
the cases the wise men may care to examine is that of
Anton Pelinka, Austria's most distinguished political
scientist, who was convicted in a Vienna court in April
of defaming Haider by accusing him of trivialising National
Socialism. Pelinka, who is appealing against the verdict,
claims that Haider is using the libel laws to silence
privileged people than me will consider very carefully
what they say in future. Because they don't want to
spend five years in the courts until Strasbourg proves
them right,' Pelinka said.
Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, last week
dismissed the furore over Pelinka as a political interpretation
of a private, legal matter. 'We have independent courts
and maybe this was not a very fantastic judgement. But
who are we to judge that?' she said.
other Austrian intellectuals claim that there is a pattern
in the government's behaviour, and Walter Famler, who
edits the literary magazine Wespennest (Wasps' Nest)
says that the Pelinka case ought to ring alarm bells
about the coalition's intentions.
really want to destroy the public standing of people
like Pelinka with every means they can find. The hardcore
Nazis in Germany threaten people with violence. Here
they want to corrupt people,' Famler said.
argues that, as the new government prunes back its public
spending, everyone's budget is being cut and that most
of the complaints by disgruntled artists and intellectuals
are nothing more than the predictable gripes of disappointed
many of the casualties of the cuts, from community radio
stations to independent theatre groups, have one thing
in common - their opposition to the government. And
while Ferrero-Waldner claims that her government's attempts
to effect changes in political programming on television
are aimed at creating more objectivity and efficiency,
all the journalists who are being targeted are critical
of the coalition.
the Foreign Minister does not favour a ban on the demonstrations
against her government that attract thousands each Thursday
evening, she suggested that groups taking part in the
protests could see their state subsidies disappear.
demonstrations can go on forever, but on the other hand
I think it's also a question sometimes of subsidies.
Because these people have their stands here and so on.
Maybe they get the money from somewhere. I don't know,'
the past, many independent cultural groups topped up
their budgets and broadened their intellectual horizons
by touring abroad, but Austria's current status as an
international pariah has meant that many invitations
have been cancelled and most groups are staying at home
with the budget cuts, the international boycott of Austria's
independent voices represents a double blow. 'Nobody's
called us from Western Europe at all this year. But
maybe we'll go to Skopje in October - that will be our
international tour,' said Baertl Gstetner, who runs
Tanzhotel, a pioneering modern dance group in Vienna.
has given up hope of receiving any more public funding
for Public Netbase, and as he watches the progress of
Austria's new government he believes that he underestimated
the threat to free speech.
the beginning, we were all quite happy to see a mobilisation
of the public and it was very impressive to see so many
people on the streets,' Becker said.
I'm very much afraid if this goes on for a long time.
Austria doesn't have a very big tradition of dissenting
democratic structures, and I'm very worried about the
consequences,' he said.
Netbase is at www.t0.or.at
and Wespennest is at www.wespennest.at.
Denis Staunton writes for the Irish Times .