News Monitor

Trouble in Lederhosen

All the ingredients for a slow news day story were there: a much-loved local showbiz star, Nazi-accusations and some holier-than-thou Germans. Andreas Gabalier, Austrian “Volks-Rock-’n Roller” who sings rock ballads in Lederhosen, had been awarded a prize by the Munich Carneval Club Narrhalla and reaped a storm of abuse as a closet Nazi in the German media. Alone, the name Narrhalla, a madeup word combining Jester with Valhalla, home of fallen Nordic heroes, suggests that the whole affair was not to be taken too seriously. But it comfortably confirmed the Austrian conviction that the Germans can take anything too seriously. Accusations against Gabalier of right-wing leanings were nothing new. His song texts often stress old-fashioned values that offer easy targets for politically correct sleuths – the song Mein Bergkamerad reminisces on a lifelong friendship of two men, like the Iron Cross on a mountain peak. Kamerad is the word for soldier buddies and the Iron Cross a medal for bravery in the German military. A recent CD cover showed the singer running, body bent and arms and legs somehow suggesting a swastika – further proof! The media fuss has faded and he continues to play to packed houses. In Germany, too.

Bogeyman to the Rescue

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl is the man we love to hate. Boulevard to broadsheet, angry attacks and measured reviews, the man with the look of an academic and the ideology of a Homeland Security enforcer is always good copy.

When Kanzler Sebastian Kurz and coalition partner H.C. Strache presented Kickl as interior min- ister, the howls of criticism began. Less than three months in office, Kickl was embroiled in a juicy constitutional scandal: In February 2018 armed police from a special street violence unit forced their way into the offices of the BVT, the federal office responsible for protecting the constitution and combatting terrorism. They removed sensitive files – supposedly on suspicion of technical mis- conduct, but the opposition believed incriminating evidence of neo-Nazi tendencies within Kickl’s FPÖ was being spirited away. Kickl’s ministry denied any responsibility and allied intelligence services stopped sharing data. Perfect John Le Carré.

DRAGAN TATIC / BKA

A recent remark by the minister that “justice must follow politics not politics justice” set off another avalanche of protest. The opposition parties have brought many no-confidence votes in Parliament, the anti-government Thursday demos are well attended, and polls show 52% of Austrians believe Kickl to be endangering the rule of law. Even his actually sensible suggestion to bring mounted police onto Vienna’s streets was roundly booed.

“Kickl is the most important man in the govern- ment – at least for the SPÖ,” wrote Rosemarie Schweiger sardonically in Profil. But what at first seems like a gift to an opposition in need of ammunition, may turn out to be more complicated. The interior minister is also the government’s point man for tightening Austria’s porous immigration laws, the popular program that swept the coalition to power. Then came the tragic event in February when a Kurdis man marched into a small-town social services office in Voralberg and murdered the official who had denied him financial support. The man had a lengthy criminal record, been deported from Austria and returned illegally. Now the spotlight returns to law-and-order Minister Kickl, this time the man of the moment, committed to ensuring that such things never occur again. Be grateful that our smooth youngKanzler can sleep peacefully: He gets credit for the program and his unshaven enforcer takes the flak. But then a man who likes horses can never be all bad – oda?

Kickl’s Mounties

EUGENIE BERGER / BMI / POLIZEI_IM_BILD INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

If it’s in the government’s Wiener Zeitung, it must be true – the Interior Ministry put out a ten- der for the purchase of twelve horses destined for police duties in Vienna. Not an occasion for controversy in the normal course of affairs, but at present nothing happening around the embattled Minister Herbert Kickl is normal. Media and others reacted with a predict- able hail of anger, scorn and laughter. The director of the Spanish Riding School angrily denied having supported the idea, the opposition complained about the waste of taxpayer money and an animal rights NGO found even the training of police horses unacceptable.

Kickl’s PR team got plenty of photo ops published showing the minister jauntily astride. Cartoonists countered with disrespectful renderings of the frail-looking bespectacled Kickl riding down wrongdoers in heroic pose. Whatever, Kickl’s Mounties are expected to ride into Vienna’s parks starting with the Prater and the Donauinsel as early as May.

Sharper Penalties for Assaults on Women

In the wake of seven fatal attacks against women as of mid-February, the Austrian right-wing coalition government proposed new measures on February 13, sharpening sentences for sex-based offences like rape, domestic violence and stalking.

The new approach, developed by the Criminal Law Task Force led by Karoline Edlstadler (ÖVP), state secretary in the Interior Ministry, calls for required minimum sentences and limits to parole. Austrian law permits suspended sentences in some cases, which allow first-time offenders to avoid jail time in favor of monitored probation combined with psychological counseling.

“When minor white-collar crime is punished more harshly in Austria than violence against women and children, which often results in lifelong psycho- logical and physical damage, then something is very wrong,” tweeted Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) in support of the initiative. “We now seek to correct that.”

Measures, expected as early as this year, would remove the possibility of suspended sentences without jail time, raise the minimum for rape convictions from one to two years, and toughen the prosecution of offences like stalking and invasions of privacy.

The package has come under heavy criticism from judges and legal experts who see the measures as political PR (“Politics for postings,” quipped Alexia Stuefer of the Public Defenders Office).

“It is often counterproductive,” Veronika Hofinger of the Institute for Criminal Psychology in Vienna told Der Standard, as stiffer sentencing makes victims less willing to report domestic assault. “It’s an illusion that fuller prisons make our society safer.”

PETER PAYS PAUL

Boring stories need cute pictures of kittens or kids, and the government’s much-touted Steuerreform (tax reform), actually a total financial package, was greeted in the Boulevard papers with angelic little tots, apparently cloned from the Kinder choccy advertising.

The big news is the family bonus, a payment of up to €1,500 per child. With two children this covers the leasing costs for a family car, pointed out Wolfgang Fellner in the coalition-friendly daily Österreich.

Other plans include reduced tax and social contributions for low earners and lower corporate tax rates. In FPÖ chef H.C. Strache’s spin “a net offensive.” But as always with gifts from the Inland Revenue, the money has to come from somewhere. Steady inflation means that the virtually invisible kalte Progression (bracket creep) allows the Finanzminister to play Santa Claus at no cost. “Eine Schmähparade” (roughly, a smoke and mirrors show) commented Rosemarie Schwaiger in Profil.

 

Simon Ballam
Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.
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