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EU > Austria > Graz

Xenophobia in Austria

Graz, AT (View on map)

`Da Heim statt Islam` (No Islam at home), `Wien darf nicht Istanbul werden` (Wien shall not become Istanbul) and `Wir sauben Graz` (We clean Graz) leave little to the imagination. These lines serve as official slogans of the Freedom Party FP?, which can count on almost 20% of the votes if elections were to be held today.

Rupert (24):

'Hardly anything is done to facilitate the integration of immigrants`
Directed by J?rg Haider, the FP? first managed to become part of the government coalition in the year 2000. Leaders of the then 14 EU member states were quick to condemn `racist Austria` and called for a diplomatic isolation of the country. Collaborations were resumed a little later, when the isolation measure turned out to have only counterproductive effects. Party leader J?rg Haider resigned and returned to his post of local governor in the Cartinthia. The `FP?` is now led by Hans Christian Strache, a young man with a doubtful track record of waving swastika-flags during student parties. Strache now claims that those events were mistakes from the past that should not influence his current political career in the present. Regardless of his explanation, the FP? remains `German-nationalistic`, anti-EU and anti-immigration. Politics and xenophobia: they seem to combine well in a country that does not seem particularly welcoming to immigrants, most of whom come from Turkey, ex-Yuygoslavia or Africa.

Immigration towards Austria has traditionally been minimal compared to most other EU countries. Even today, Austria still manages to keep many newcomers off its territory. Contrary to the EU ideal of `free movement of labour`, Austria will not allow people from new EU-member states to take up jobs in Austria. The closed borders will probably remain in place until 2011, which matches the maximum 6 years of transition period allowed by EU legislation. Without a possibility to find a job, many potential immigrants stay away from Austria and find themselves something to do in other EU countries.

Joao (not his real name, 26) from Angola came to Austria simply because he had an opportunity to do so. He has lived in Graz for the last eight years. `I understand Spanish, I speak English, French, Portuguese and German, but I cannot get a job because I am not allowed to. I learnt the local language, used to participate in all sorts of working groups and education programs, but I have sort on given up. I got used to people taking us immigrants for animals. I accepted the existence of racism. I wish I could get an official job and prove that I am not a lazy guy taking advantage of the social welfare system. But it`s the only thing I can do, beside some small unofficial jobs on the side. Still, my life is here now. I can`t go back to Angola when I miss it. Going away would mean I would not be allowed back into Austria again.`

Faia (27) was born in Portugal, while his parents are from Guinee Bissau. His coloured skin has not proved to be an advantage for his integration in Austria. `I do have the luck that I can study and work without any restrictions, because I am an EU citizen. Still, Austrians are not used to seeing black people who speak German and who do anything else than selling the Megafon magazine, planting trees, dealing drugs or having their own small shops. I wonder how things will go when I start looking for a job once I graduate in architecture.`

Faia tells me about a time some people in front of a club got into a fight, while he at one point jumped in to separate the two parties. `When the police arrived, I was arrested only to learn in the police cell that I was going to be prosecuted for sexual harassment. I ended up having to appear in court and paying 700 euros for breaking the public order. The policemen who did not even see the fight happen, witnessed against me in court. It was ridiculous and I don`t think it would have happened to me if I looked more Austrian than I do. Then, there were always the football matches I played where the supporters of the opponent would call me names.`

Hayati (22) from Turkey has a internet / call shop near Gries Platz. Locals tend to call the square `Little Turkey`, because it`s the centre of one of the neighbourhoods where many immigrants live. Hayati came to Austria with his parents, when he was 6 years old. `Graz is where I grew up and where I went to school`, he says. `Everybody around this square perfectly understands German. Most of them also speak it, but it`s still very difficult to find a job, which explains why there are so many small shops and caf?s in these streets.`

Hayati thinks that Austrians are made afraid of Islam by the media. `Austrians are not interested in seeing things with their own eyes. They read about it in newspapers and take it for granted. Still, many of the bad things that they associate with Islam are as much of a sin in our religion as they are in Christianity. There is a lot of disinterest and misunderstanding, which is a shame for everybody involved.`

Christian (27, Austrian) illustrates what he calls `Austrian narrow-mindedness` by telling that he escaped the village he was born in, simply because his long hair was not accepted by the local community. `I was not one of them. They called me a hippy. Some people don`t really think any further than their own interest. In their search for common ground with other people, they simply look for somebody to classify as an enemy or outsider.`

Local points of view
Thomas (25) is happy that young Austrians have started traveling to other countries and thereby widening their views. `Once they have been to other countries, they may as well have a look in the immigrant neighbourhood and adjust their ideas about foreigners. I think racism mostly results from a lack of self-confidence. And for the fact that so many foreigners are not allowed to work: that`s ridiculous. How can you demand that they integrate while taking away the main facilitator of integration, which is having a job and living independent from the state.`

Rupert (26, photo) explains that it`s very unusual to see non-Austrians having `proper` jobs. `Nothing is done to facilitate their integration. When I lived in Sweden for a short while, the Swedish government was providing all sorts of language trainings for newcomers. Nothing like that is happening here, even though most of the immigrants do not exactly come from countries where German is a commonly spoken language. Instead, it`s usually Africans who illegally pass Italy and then ask for asylum here, quite some refugees from former Yugoslavia and a considerable Turkish community.`

Building bridges
Rupert hopes that the gap between immigrants and locals will get smaller with the arrival of a second generation of immigrants. `They will speak German, go to Austrian schools and be Austrian from the start. Yet, at the same time, there is also a lot of polarization going on, which makes me little confident that the situation will get much better over the years to come. The two groups are quite distant from one another. It`s mostly still `us and the foreigners`.

`Non-Austrians are easily recognisable, and if you see somebody who dresses differently from everybody else, it almost comes natural to think: who is this guy and what`s he up to. That`s the type of mistrust that exists in Austria, simply explained by a lack of exposure to anything that differs from the average. Racism is also somehow politically integrated, while there are hardly any opposing anti-racism organisations. Anti-racism mainly floats on individual efforts, like people crossing out graffiti Swastika signs on walls`, Rupert says.

Andy (25) is happy about the multicultural environment in the area where he lives. `I often buy groceries at one of the Turkish shops. They sell better food and the vegetables are usually very fresh. I actually like the cultural diversity in my neighbourhood, although I find it pitiful that so many immigrants end up dealing drugs in the park.`

Andy thinks that racism and intolerance are mainly caused by lack of education. `People in low-paid jobs are scared that foreigners will take over their jobs. Which doesn`t make sense because they had better be afraid that the companies they work for will move to countries where labour is cheaper. And then there`s the many extreme-rightish student associations which serve as very poor examples. Instead of preparing themselves to take the important jobs in the future, they often spend their time celebrating parties and paying tributes to political ideas that are commonly accepted to be unacceptable.`

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