It’s an important precedent: Dr. Alma Zadić, a Bosnian-born lawyer who came to Austria as a 10-year-old when her family fled from the war-torn Balkans in the 1990s, has been named justice minister in the newly formed Conservative-Green government.
Equally important, Zadić has embraced both sides of her identity, the migrant and the Austrian, working for the International Organization for Migration, as well as for a United Nations court of law that dealt with war crimes from the conflicts in the Balkans, before becoming a Member of Parliament in 2017. The multi-ethnic community calls her a role model for young immigrants, according to Das Biber, a Viennese magazine for and by the migrant community. Having said that, her appointment has been controversial.
The right-wing FPÖ, a national-conservative party, questioned her eligibility for this position, making allegations that she is linked to Islamists, sparking a wave of baseless accusations online. Her party responded that she is non-religious, upsetting left-wingers, according to Der Standard, who regarded this as a misguided response to anti-Muslim agitation.
This reaction is in line with current studies: Austrians are highly sceptical about immigrants’ contributions in any area, cultural, economic and social. Only one third believes they play a positive role in society, leading to a lack of recognition, scarce government resources, and doubts regarding their professionalism. Ultimately, integration requires not just an effort from migrants, but also the support of the local population and institutions.
A Value or a Threat to Austria?
Contrary to public scepticism, studies show that migrants are actually agents of change. Employees with migration backgrounds – 16% of the labor force – are taxpayers and consumers, who also contribute up to $4 billion to their countries of origin, a number of which are Austria’s essential economic partners, thus promoting transnational knowledge sharing and intercultural understanding, as well as stimulate entrepreneurship.
Das Biber considers the controversy over Zadić a good sign, an opportunity to rethink integration and its paradoxical nature, writes sociologist Aladin El-Mafaalani. Locals deny migrants, yet demand participation; newcomers face resentment, as “more people will be sitting at the table and they all want a piece of the pie.”
Zadić herself seems unfazed by the hostility, “it’s a new situation for me, but I just have to get used to it”. She is fighting back in her own way, she told the Kleine Zeitung, and plans to increase the justice system’s efforts fighting online harassment.