At the age of 10, she moved with her family to Vienna, and there they stayed. But she never forgot where she came from. Today, Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic is a member of the Austrian Parliament, where she fights for the rights of women, minorities and immigrants.
She fell in love with Vienna from the start. Still, like many newcomers, she faced discrimination, racist jokes and exclusion. “As a child, I experienced what it means to be a foreigner,” she told me. “Fighting for equal rights stretches through my entire political career. It was my great motivation to go into politics. Because I believe that the personal is political.”
However, before entering politics, Ernst-Dziedzic earned degrees in philosophy and political science at the University of Vienna, and then a doctorate. It was also there that she started her working life, still unaware of her political future. “I thought I would be in academia, visiting European universities and raising various issues.” But then she started to work for the Greens, as an assistant to Ulrike Lunacek and became more active and involved, she remembered.
“I started to wonder what possibilities we might have just by raising our voices, motivating other people, what opportunities we might have specifically as foreigners.” She wanted to break out of what felt like a marginal position, and start working on practical issues, beyond academia and the world of theory.
Making a Difference
The decision was made, and Ernst-Dziedzic entered politics on the local level. In 2010, she became a councilor in the 20th district of Brigittenau. Would she like to see more migrants involved? “Absolutely!” she confirmed. “I think it is very important. I’ve missed this diversity, because only then do we have different perspectives on politics, on the world and articulate solutions from different perspectives.” It is not only a matter of the groups whose voices are missing, but most importantly, the risk of isolated communities. So, she encourages people not to be afraid, to be politically active, to raise their voices, to organize. And although she is the only Polish woman in the Austrian Parliament, the situation is improving. In her own parliamentary club, 6 out of 26 people have Migrationshintergrund (migration background, i.e. either they themselves or their parents were born abroad) – what Ernst-Dziedzic calls “a huge success.”
Another success is her contribution to the local sisterhood. A few years ago, she co-founded the Congress of Polish Women in Austria, to address issues of Polish women living here.
“Women’s solidarity is strong,” she believes, “but they should be more involved in politics. I’ve met many women who were isolated from both the Austrian and Polish community. There was no institution or organization that attracted women with different backgrounds. So we created one.” She was touched by the number of Polish women who showed up.
In 2019, she tasted the first results of her fight for equality by getting married after 11 years to her partner, Anja Ernst. But her struggle continues. She believes that there are still many challenges. And her hope for a better future has a particular face – the younger generation. If she could pass one law on her own, she would follow Chancellor Kreisky’s path: “I wish everyone here in Austria would have a chance to finish their education without having to pay for it. Because, unfortunately, there are still no equal opportunities, and children from poorer families often cannot afford it.” This she sees as the basis of “proper socialization.”
Does she have a message for these young people? Instead, she underlines the message from them, the demonstrations, like Fridays for Future, which, she says, demonstrate their awareness of the oncoming crisis that the politicians have slept through.
“It is not about a few new bicycle lanes, but about a complete change in mentality, so that the next generations can actually live on this planet,” she said. It is a hope for positive change, that each of us needs and each of us should fight for.