Note: Many sources and links in this article are in German. These are marked with [DE].
Xenophobes march through Vienna
On 17 May 2014, the parafascist “Identitäre” movement staged a demonstration[DE] in Vienna. The group advocates xenophobia, race- and faith-based policy[DE], ethnic cleansing[DE] and a “return to traditional, Christian European values”[DE]. Up to 200 people from Austria with support from France, Germany and Hungary marched through town to wave their flags and disseminate their hate speech. It was the first significant right-wing demonstration in Vienna in years[DE]. Among others, Ludwig Reinthaler attended, a Neo-Nazi from Upper Austria whose political party was barred from participating in elections due to the imminent danger of re-engaging Naziism[DE].
Several organizations more or less from the political left (among them the University of Vienna Student Union) sought to block the Identäre march to demonstrate that they are not tolerated here. That strategy had been successful before in Germany, where even the President of Parliament participated[DE] in a sit-in to block a Nazi demonstration.
Vice News provides a very brief summary in this video:
Police collaborates with Identitäre
The Vienna police made all efforts to enable the Identitäre to carry out their march. Under the guise of enabling the Identitäre’s legal demonstration, the police guided them around the counter-protesters. When the pressure from the counter-protest increased, one police officer told the Identitäre “Friends, it’s getting tight. […] I suggest we go to the subway and end this.” (My translation from the original German quote[DE]; emphasis added.)
At some point, the police seized a banner from the counter-protesters. The Identitäre posed with this banner a few hours later, without any explanation how they got hold of this confiscated banner.
Police brutalizes anti-fascists
It was back and forth between the Identitäre march and the counter-protesters’ efforts to block it. On an intersection next to Volkstheater in central Vienna, the main counter-protest group was ultimately stopped by a large police contingent. You can watch what happened next in this video:
The video does not show the sudden pepper spray attack by the police:
37 counter-protesters, including two minors were arrested and many of them detained for a day or longer. The police issued 200 reports/complaints – for a demonstration that had at most 500 participants. At the hands of the police, a communist union organizer had her ankle shattered. First reports indicated that a pregnant woman was beaten and suffered a miscarriage – this, fortunately, turned out to be false. A police spokesperson commented this (ultimately erroneous) report and the other injuries as follows:
As a rule, if one takes a stand against the police, one has to expect consequences even if one is pregnant.[DE]
This is not new behavior for the Vienna police. At least for several years, the force has been a breeding ground for right-wing politics. The right-wing union AUF of the Austrian Freedom Party is the strongest faction in the workers’ representation of the police. The president of Vienna police Gerhard Pürstl has previously regretted that they are barred from pre-emptively arresting “potential troublemakers” before demonstrations. In January 2014, after counter-protests against a right-wing ball in Vienna were escalated by police and resulted in some property damage and injuries, Pürstl rebuffed criticism that peaceful protesters were the targets of police violence. Arguing[DE] that people who participate in a protest where some people turn to violence, he said that “[…] if one goes to bed with dogs, one should not be surprised to wake with fleas. […] We will track and [prosecute] everyone who participated in these protests.” Reacting to a woman who had to be treated by paramedics for tear gas injuries, he said not to “go crying; good that you went to the ambulance, there is data and we will trace you.”
The police is the agent of the state; it enforces only that which exists already in society. Austria was never purged of authoritarian thought or nazism. As the political right gains more and more support, this support will only increasingly be expressed in state policy and execution. We better watch out…