::Austria's right tries to crush
dissent in the arts
By Imre Karacs in Vienna
dozen desperados huddle around the pungent wood fire,
swaying to the blues pumped out by the ghettoblaster.
Hundreds of riot police watch from the comfort of their
vans. But tonight they can relax. It looks like one
of those peaceful Thursdays when no attempt will be
made to storm the presidential palace across the square.
people of Ballhausplatz have been converging here every
Thursday night since Jörg Haider's Freedom Party
swept into government. But a year on they come in ever
smaller numbers. The Freedom Party is here to stay,
while resistance, in the streets at least, is crumbling.
next Sunday's regional elections in Vienna are expected
to confirm a sharp decline in Freedom Party support,
the protesters' optimism has faded. Despite the weekly
demonstrations, Mr Haider's appointees are still in
battle for the hearts and minds of Austria has shifted
backstage, to the corridors of ministries and to the
theatres and studios where the "resistance"
movement began. The most spectacular protests arose
from the artistic community, and it is they who are
struck hardest. "This government is at war with
the arts," said Virgil Widrich, an independent
film-maker. Public funding has been severely cut back
in film production by 37 per cent. The performing
arts, which had a high profile in the anti-Haider protests,
are being torn apart.
the Freedom Party, artists are enemies that have to
be silenced," Mr Widrich said. In a democratic
country that's no easy task, but the government has
found a weapon: offenders against the new aesthetics
have their money cut off.
have been numerous examples of this clampdown. Officials
swooped on Public Netbase, an internet-based cultural
forum used by "resistance" groups. After the
inspection, its funding was cut. The Salzburg authorities
tried to introduce a rule forcing artists to hand back
subsidies if "guilty" of opposing the government.
At last year's Diagonale festival in Graz, the People's
Party Mr Haider's coalition partners attempted
to withdraw a prize won by an artist, saying they did
not want to reward any anti-government propaganda.
Graz incident shows the Freedom Party is not wading
alone in cultural currents. The national arts budget
is controlled by the People's Party, which has been
as ruthless in stamping its mark on the country's artistic
output as Mr Haider's officials have been in his home
region of Carinthia.
civil servant spoke of "paranoia" in the ranks,
and political masters who have persuaded themselves
that the artistic resistance is being led by "pinkos"
the past three months, the axe has begun to fall on
this "fifth column". One of the most prominent
victims was Herbert Timmermann, the head of the Chancellery
department, which gives money to film producers.
card-carrying Social Democrat, Mr Timmermann was ousted
from his job. Eight hundred leading Austrian artists
and intellectuals signed a petition in his support,
but still he will be replaced by a right-wing member
of the People's Party.
times are coming," Mr Widrich said. "The government
might still support its most prominent opponents, but
the rest are in trouble. The conservative idea of art
is to show the beauty of the country, so they want Mozart
and Lippizaner. What they do not want is modern artists
who criticise the government."
they want, they will probably get in the end. The most
rebellious artists have either been driven abroad or
found alternative funds. Some who depend on state hand-outs
are toning down their work. This year's submissions
for funding are said to lack the cutting edge of last
year's crop. In eastern Europe they used to call this