A protest turned ugly on Saturday, May 1st, as tensions flared between demonstrators and riot police at the Votivpark near the University of Vienna, resulting in 12 arrests and over 450 people charged as well as seven officers and roughly 50 protesters injured. According to the organizers, the Österreichische Hochschüler_innenschaft der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (the student council of Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts), the situation escalated when two activists climbed up the scaffold on Votivkirche to attach a banner; the police maintain they were reacting to several hundred violent protestors who attacked them with beer bottles and -cans. Metropole’s Daniel Harper was on the scene.
The march began around Ottakringer station at midday with hundreds in attendence all wearing protective masks, making their way through the city toward the Votivkirche where a series of speeches would be held at Sigmund-Freud Park.
Chants and causes were numerous – some denounced unfair labour laws for sex workers with signs reading, “Sex work is real work!” while others spoke out against domestic violence and others still promoted Black Lives Matter.
From black-clad members of Antifa carrying megaphones and flares to university students with signs, more and more people joined the march as it progressed.
By 13:00, thousands were making their way through the city, stopping traffic through Ottakringer Straße and attracting the attention of passers-by and residents who peered out their windows. Eventually, the crowd reached Josefstädter Straße where red banners were draped on the U6.
Upon arrival at Sigmund-Freud Park, demonstrators were met by police in riot gear, who had established a perimeter of vans in front of the Votivkirche and deployed in small groups around the park.
Violence erupted after a photographer who had climbed onto a car to take a picture was detained, which in turn led to altercations between protestors and the police.
Once things turned violent, officers promptly utilized pepper spray and began arresting several people, with excessive force witnessed by several demonstrators.
The police eventually regrouped, with protestors forming human chains in front of them. Some put up their hands to demonstrate peacefulness and tried to communicate.
“Why are you doing this?”, one woman asked, “We are all Austrians, we are all human beings!”
Eventually the police withdrew, forming a line around the periphery of the park. Many demonstrators left, while individual officers asked demanded to see IDs and enforced COVID safety measures.
One Iraqi migrant joked, “I don’t need to go to the gym as the police gave me a good full body work out already.”
As the crowd slowly dispersed, some headed toward the police station on the corner of Berggasse to wait for friends to be released.
Many waited at Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz, where detainees would be slowly released one by one over the next hours, with the crowd erupting in applause each time.
By 2:00 in the morning, many were still waiting.
“My relationship with the police has been altered, for sure,” one demonstrator exclaimed. “I tried opening a dialogue about why this happened, but he was fixed in his position.”
Vienna wasn’t alone in this however: This year’s Labor Day saw over 200 people detained in Istanbul, while 34 were arrested in Paris. Many protests in major cities across the world also ended in incarceration, violence and a lack of communication.
What started out as a peaceful march devolved into arrests, beatings and violence, leaving many to ask, “why did this happen?”