Magazine article New Internationalist

Sharp Focus on Art against Nationalism

Magazine article New Internationalist

Sharp Focus on Art against Nationalism

Article excerpt

sharp focus on art against nationalism

Louise Gray looks at Vienna's concerted artistic resistance to extreme-right leader Jorg Haider.

Soon after Austria's new Government - the far-right coalition of Jorg Haider's Freedom Party (FPO) and Wolfgang Schlussel's People's Party (OVP) - took power in February 2000, the people of Vienna began to be entertained in rather unusual ways. There was nothing unusual about the small knots of folksingers that appeared - in traditional lederhosen - around Vienna's key cultural spots. Or there wasn't until they began to sing. Instead of the standard songs about edelweiss and Alpine pastures, they'd deliver blistering attacks on the black-blue coalition, all of them set to music. By the time the police arrived, the singers would be long gone.

Haider's policies are, if not confused, then certainly conveniently ill-defined. He is not anti-European integration per se, it is just that he favours a certain type of European... and so on. It's an oddly passive type of nationalism that is, given Austria's Nazi past and its present proximity to the Balkans conflict, absolutely explosive.

When the Freedom Party entered into a governmental coalition, echoes of the pre-War intolerance reverberated around the world. Political reaction was swift and the local public response, especially that of the intelligentsia, was unambiguous. Austria, and Vienna in particular, had in recent years prided itself on a raft of political and social initiatives designed to allow the city to take a prime position in a multicultural society. Communities from Turkey and former Yugoslavia were being welcomed into the social processes of the country.

Within days of the coalition being formed a group calling itself `die Botschaft der Besorgtenburger' - the `Embassy of Concerned Citizens' - set up a little tent on Vienna's Heldenplatz outside the Federal Parliament. Round the clock and in all weathers activists offered information on the Government and solicited support against it. Anti-Government demonstrations became a weekly fact of life. Like the guerrilla folksingers, live art groups would stage impromptu `performances' on Viennese streets: one, which involved the performers falling to the pavement to scrub the flagstones with toothbrushes, provoked uneasy memories of the Nazi years. …

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