Akademikerball Protests on Jan 26: What You Need to Know

Planned Protests Against the FPÖ’s Akademikerball in Vienna on Jan 26, 2018 | Police Mobilize in Large Numbers | Many City Streets to be Closed off

Vienna’s “Akademikerball” has been under the patronage/protection of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) since 2013, when it took control of the 60-year-old Wiener Korporations-Ball (Vienna Corporations Ball) – named for the conservative Austro-German fraternities (Korporationen), whose past and present members were invitees.

Held annually at the Hofburg palace, the ball (under both its names) has engendered  protests from left-leaning, anti-fascist groups and individuals. However, in recent years protests have grown accordingly, as the FPÖ-organized Akademikerball has become a networking event for Europe’s extreme-right political arena – including controversial prominent guests such as France’s Marine Le Pen, Belgium’s Filip Dewinter, and Russia’s Alexander Dugin.

Organized by the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) the ball held in Vienna’s Hofburg remains highly controversial: while other popular balls are thrown for hunters, Styrians, the Vienna Philharmonic or Kaffeesieder (coffee brewers), the Akademiker in question are generally from various far-right fraternities, so-called Burschenschaften and Schlagende Verbindungen.

Akademikerball Shuts Down First District

The presence of such reactionary forces in such a prominent venue is considered a red flag by liberal and left-wing organizations, who have mobilized protest marches to disrupt and stop the ball since 2008. This year’s event, held on Friday, January 26 promises to be no exception, with the police estimating a larger turnout than in previous years – possibly thanks to the FPÖ entering the new coalition government as junior partner. The authorities have responded by beefing up their presence, placing up to 3000 officers on duty and cordoning off the area.

Separate protest marches are planned: one starts from Wallensteinplatz (at 16:00) and will link up with another at the University of Vienna (who start earlier at 15:00), expecting to  merge by 17:00 and march in force to Girardipark. A third will kick off from there at 19:00, moving up Getreidemarkt and ending behind the Burgtheater. Another protest will be held at Maria-Theresien-Platz and remain stationary.

The police will start closing off security areas from approximately 17:00 onwards, completely blocking off all approaches to the Hofburg. Anybody entering this zone will have to provide an ID and a valid reason for entering. In addition, public transit will be affected from 14:00 and 16:00 onwards, with service on the No. 2, 46, 49, D and 71 tramlines as well buses and more either interrupted, detoured or shortened.

Though protests have generally been peaceful, there has been some violence and property damage in previous years – enough to convince police to mobilize in large numbers. Among their thousands will be video producers from the new “Polizei TV,” a YouTube channel set up by the federal police as part of their social-media PR initiative. Their coverage of the demonstration will be available the next day. The police will also tweet up-to-date information on street closures (@LPDWien).

The protests have been heavily criticized by the FPÖ and its student association, the Ring Freiheitlicher Studenten, which condemns what it calls “left-extremists” as well as the succor they allegedly receive from the publicly funded university. University officials typically take a tolerant stance on free speech issues and don’t intervene with non-violent protests on campus. The RFS alleges that such tolerance favors the left, whose protests prevent “alternative” voices from being heard. The OGR anti-fascist group feels that the RFS and far-right political parties are merely trying to silence voices of dissent.

Background on the history and controversy surrounding the Akademikerball in this 2012 article from The Vienna Review

Michael Bernstein
American expat Michael Bernstein moved to Vienna in 2001, abandoning his previous career in arts administration. He is now a freelance writer, editor, translator and Internet Marketing consultant. He was a regular contributor to inventures.eu — an E-zine about the Austrian/CEE startup scene — and was Lead Editor for its 2015 Ventures Almanach. Photo: Visual Hub

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