Green In Unlikely Places

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

A brief word on Austrian politics – it’s getting slightly weird there:

Österreichs Öko-Partei: Grüne Welle (von Stephan Löwenstein, Wien) http://t.co/7RuOGcMFU2

@FAZ_Politik

FAZ Politik


Grüne Welle: there is a new “Green Wave” in Austria, for the Green Party is doing quite well, as Stephan Löwenstein of Germany’s paper-of-record, the FAZ, lets us know. So far in 2013 there have been elections in four states – like Germany, Austria is divided into nine federal states – and the Austrian Greens made advances in each of them, spectacularly so in the state of Salzburg, where a Green party politician might even become state governor.

Maybe this isn’t so strange, you might say: the Greens have been very successful in Germany as well, just not lately. Famously, they formed a government at the national level with the Socialist SPD party of Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005 (winning re-election nationally in 2002), with party head Joschka Fischer serving as Deputy Chancellor and Foreign Minister. But Green Party success in Austria really is notable, since the political scene there is very different: basically, ever since emerging again as an independent state in 1955, Austria has been totally dominated by two parties, the socialist Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the right-wing People’s Party (ÖVP).

Yes, around 1999 you saw the rise of the right-wing xenophobic Freedom Party (FPÖ) led by Jörg Haider, but intrusions into this cosy two-party arrangement of Austrian politics – for decades the basis of insider patronage for government and business positions up and down the societal spectrum – have ordinarily been very rare. Granted, the rise of the Greens is frequently manifesting itself in that party entering three-way coalitions with the established SPÖ and ÖVP parties: this is in place already in Corinthia, might happen in Salzburg, and could even happen at federal level.

Now, why does this matter? Who is interested in Austrian politics, anyway? – maybe even not many Austrians themselves! Well, it’s interesting to see the stranglehold two traditional parties have had on Austria broken up this way. This is also a step forward – if small – for those trying to do something about the worldwide threat of global warming (hey, we’re now over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – not that there is any direct evidence that that subject is at all responsible for the Greens’ recent electoral successes).

As for more immediate concerns, Austria is firmly in the camp of northern EU “creditor” countries, in fairly good fiscal and economic shape themselves, whose attitude and generosity towards those Eurozone members struggling in the South and on the periphery (i.e. Ireland) will be decisive towards determining how – if at all – the EU can eventually emerge from its current sovereign debt crisis.

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Slovaks On the Move

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Geography buffs find particularly interesting places in the world where major urban centers come close together but under different jurisdictions: the greater New York City metropolis, say, or the Liège-Maastricht-Aachen area in NW Europe. But there is one other that is more interesting even than these, featuring major urban centers once divided by the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and that is the Vienna-Bratislava area along the Danube. (Which, if you enlarge it even further, also includes the Hungarian city of Mosonmagyaróvár – OK, we’ll forget about that one for now . . .)

Indeed, a major Bratislava residential area known as Petržalka (to the south, and infamous for its very many drab panelák Communist pre-fab high-rise apartment buildings, still there today) has for years crowded right up to the line beyond which no one was allowed to be seen, lest they be shot. Ever since that regime fell in 1989, travelers heading to Bratislava on the bus from Vienna’s Schwechat airport (e.g. your humble blogger) have still found it remarkable the way the villages and fields lying to that city’s east abruptly give way to crowds of buildings once you cross the border.

But now there is no more “border” – that part of the world is now in the EU’s Schengen Area. Slovaks are no longer constrained, and so now they’re breaking out::

Novinky: Bratislavané se stěhují do Maďarska a Rakouska: http://t.co/8XyLzZ69

@Zpravy

Zpravy


“Bratislavans are moving to Hungary and Austria,” it reads. Yes: “moving,” as in “house.” This article – and note, it’s on a Czech news website – mainly discusses Slovak settlement in two neighboring places, namely the Austrian village of Wolfsthal – which you ride through on that airport bus – and the Hungarian town of Rajka, in the other direction but still only about 20km from Bratislava.

Hasicom
As recently as 2007, there were only three Slovaks in Wolfsthal, out of a population of around 720; now it’s 230 Slovaks making up a population of 900. The mayor, Gerhard Schödinger, certainly speaks Slovak – he has a Slovak wife! (And he used to be an Austrian customs official, back when there was a border.) As we can see, he also makes sure that the public signs dotting this Austrian town are bilingual German/Slovak. The Slovaks living there like it mainly because, well, everything is so German – “It’s peaceful here,” says one, “with beautiful Nature, order and safety in the streets” – but also because the Austrian government offers great social welfare benefits, topped off by easily-attainable and cheap loans of up to €50,000 for home improvement. (more…)

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Naked Ambition

Monday, March 5th, 2012

So Putin has been “elected” Russia’s president for a third time. Well, some remain unwilling just to accept this lying down – er, fully clothed. Yes, one of the world’s favorite protest groups swung into action yesterday in Moscow to protest Russia’s crooked election. The group calls itself Femen, and it’s a media-favorite mainly due to its attention-getting tactics – so time-tested and traditional, in a way, yet now employed for political ends: they are all comely young women, and they take their tops off.

The result is frequent intriguing headlines such as Women Go Topless Against Putin and the like. (Click if you will, but the photo-series is of course rated PG.) But there is another aspect to this group’s operations that is intriguing as well, if one can pull one’s eyes away from the fleshly dazzle. For Femen is a Ukrainian organization – so what are they doing in Moscow, and what do they care about Putin?

Actually, this Moscow altercation – which apparently earned its Femen protagonists several days in jail, and which took place at the very same polling-station where Putin himself was scheduled to come vote, naturally: this has emerged as a standard Femen tactic – was a romp in the park compared to the group’s protest action in Minsk last December against the dictator there, Aleksandr Lukashenko. The Belarussian KGB – they still call it that there – proved itself to be quite unimpressed with the charms on display; they not only rather roughly arrested the Femen protestors, but then took them off to the woods to terrorize them for a bit, including cutting off their hair. But of course they did not want to go too far, given the constant media attention these women enjoy, and which to some extent is their protective shield even as they otherwise leave themselves naked.

Still: Ukraine, Belarus, Moscow – OK, it was once all one country, and many cultural similarities remain. But Femen activists have also reportedly been spotted in Milan, protesting in some way or another against the fashion industry. I couldn’t find much material on that, but what I do have is recent reports about how the Austrian political scene is about to get a bit more interesting. Yes, a two-woman Femen delegation – that’s them in the picture up above – recently traveled to Vienna to give the Austrian Green Party political-action tips. According to the report in the authoritative Austrian newspaper Die Presse, that included a how-to session on “boob prints,” which have turned out to be the #1 money-raising article from their Femenshop. (Unfortunately, the text on that webpage is only in Cyrillic – probably Ukrainian – which likely means that those too far removed from Kiev could find it difficult to mail-order the goods on display here. Any enterprising Western Internet-business(wo)man interested in helping out?) The German newsmagazine Focus actually has a photo-series showing them at their press conference, making the aforesaid print; the rather more staid Die Presse limits itself to collecting juicy quotes from the Femen representatives, such as “We want to show how you do it: go out onto the streets, disrobe, and win!” and that they all still call their mothers every day, who invariably ask “whether we are dressing warmly enough.”

In the final analysis, though, Austria is another culture entirely, as is Milan, so it is a significant step outward into the world. Why would the girls of Femen want to stop there? What I’m suggesting is that we might be seeing here the beginnings of the next great transnational political movement. Yes, after the Occupy Wall Street protests, it’s time to take it from the top!

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Contemplating the Meaning of Paris

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

By now you will have seen the “Paris Hilton Responds to John McCain” comic video, of course. Well, it turns out that Paris is now on a trip to Denmark – which prompts one of the mainstream Danish papers, Berlingske Tidende, to issue a meditation not so much on her new video per se, but on the Paris Hilton phenomenon generally (Paris Hilton Has Landed). (more…)

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Coming Soon: Austerlitz Theme Park!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Austerlitz: the very name is covered in glory for the French, as well as for anyone else with any knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars. For it was on this Central European battlefield in 1805 (a little less than two months after the sea Battle of Trafalgar, as it happened) that Napoleon Bonaparte faced down the combined armies of two great empires – the Austrian and the Russian – and beat them bloodily and decisively in a battle regarded as a tactical masterpiece. In the aftermath the Austrian Emperor Francis would sue for peace, acknowledging France’s previous conquests in Italy and Germany; what was left of the Russian army would be permitted to scurry back on home; and Prussia (non-participating) somehow would become annoyed enough with this result to shortly go to war against Napoleon itself (bad move). In today’s Paris you will find a Gare (i.e. train station), a Quai (i.e. embankment), a Pont (i.e. bridge), a Rue (i.e. street), a Port and a Villa d’Austerlitz – despite the name itself being about as un-French-sounding as you can get while still staying within the Roman alphabet.

In fact it’s a German name, of course, because back in those days of the very early 19th century German culture and the German language were dominant over Central Europe, as they had been since the Thirty Years’ War, and the major city outside of which the battle was fought was known as Brünn. (more…)

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Arnold Corrected

Saturday, September 4th, 2004

As the quintessential high-profile event that it was, the Republican National Convention was played out under an unforgiving microscope. Any and all of the supposed facts cited and claims made by the speakers who appeared were legitimate material for dissection by outside analysts – even those made by the president. One could even say especially those facts cited and claims made by the president, except that it seems that closer attention was deservedly devoted to Georgia Senator Zell Miller’s ultra-rabid anti-Democrat harangue (free registration required). “Deservedly,” because one naturally rushes first to apply falsehood-revealing fumigation to the house that is on the brink of toppling over from termites.

Even rising-star California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not get a pass here, though his offences against the truth were rather more trivial. “Offences against the truth”? Well, you may have picked up the references he made in his address to his youth in Austria, inserted to contrast the bad Old World he left for the good Republican New World he entered when he emigrated in 1968. “I saw [Soviet] tanks in the streets”; and “[a]fter the Russians had left, I saw how Austria had become a socialist state.”

This “bad Old World” contrast has now attracted attention and refutation from various quarters. The question as to whether he really could have seen Soviet tanks as a boy in the Austrian province of Styria is the relatively trivial of the two, so I’ll just point to a reference elsewhere (in English) that that was unlikely to be the case. More interesting is the question whether post-war Austria was truly socialist, and that point is addressed in an article by Florian Klenk in no less than the respected German opinion newspaper Die Zeit (Arnie and the Socialists). (more…)

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Austria Put on the Couch

Thursday, June 10th, 2004

Today: How is Austria different from Germany, anyway? Our guide, via the Danish newspaper Politiken, is Marlene Streeruwitz, once again a prize-winning author (novels, plays, radio-plays) and translator, whose works we are told focus upon “the terror of every-day life, nearly-unbearable normality, and the laid-waste relation between the sexes.” We get an initial clue about her homeland from the review of one of her radio-dramas that was broadcast a couple years ago on Danish Radio, which judged Frau Streeruwitz’ anger as “typically Austrian, that is, substantial and implacable.” Indeed, take a look at Frau Streeruwitz’ portrait, if you please. That’s only a half-smile you see there, at best; indeed, I’d also call her look “substantial and implacable.” (I bet she’s divorced.) But to proceed . . . (more…)

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Austria Loves “Arnie”

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

Austria is where Arnold Schwarzenegger originally came from (born there in 1947, in Thal-bei-Graz). And, from a review of Austrian coverage of Arnold’s election victory, it seems the country has gone wild about its favorite son, popularly known there as simply “Arnie.” A review of that coverage is in order – but please realize that, since I don’t ordinarily treat Austria, I have but an imperfect idea of the newspapers I should cover here.

As you probably have noticed, I generally cover the national press, not the regional press; and I generally cover the “broadsheets” rather than the “tabloids.” (These terms refer to the physical format of a newspaper – whether you read it with the long side vertical or horizontal, respectively – but they also have come to mean “respected, mainstream publication” and “pandering to the crowd,” respectively.) It was easy to find a webpage with the Austrian newspapers, but it was not clear which of those satisfied my criteria. If there are any Österreichers out there who can help me along, by telling me which other Austrian newspapers I should have included but didn’t, or perhaps which of the ones I did choose that I shouldn’t have, I’d be mighty grateful. And I’ll be prepared for that “next time” – say, when an Austrian is elected EU Council President (if the draft Constitution proposing that new office ever gets off the ground).

As with the French press, the challenge here is to find coverage that adds something new to the blanket recitation of facts about the recall election that you’d be able to find anyway in the English-language press. Turning first to the Kurier, only two articles stand out in this regard. (more…)

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The French Appraise “Schwarzy”

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

Here we go: and the French press, as you can well imagine, has had a lot to say about Governor-elect Schwarzenegger, who by the way apparently is known best there as “Schwarzy.”

We start with Le Monde, which features no less than three commentary pieces on the California election results, in addition to several reports of a more factual nature. (more…)

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Eurovision: Turkey Tops, Great Britain Null

Monday, May 26th, 2003

Time now to switch from overtly political subjects – the lifting of Iraqi sanctions at the UN Security Council – to a phenomenon which may seem apolitical (in fact, it’s downright shmaltzy) but which contains within itself potentially very serious political implications. I refer here to the Eurovision Song Contest, which came to its conclusion on Saturday night by declaring the Turkish entry, “Everyway [sic] That I Can,” sung by Ms. Sertab Erener, the winner of the 26-nation competition. (Those of you from outside of the European continent who don’t know what I’m talking about – or, bless you, even those of you who actually live in Europe but still haven’t a clue – click here for an explanation.) That Turkey would win – and for the very first time in the contest’s 48-year existence – is serious enough. Really: serious. I’m working on an essay on the subject, to tell you what I mean. When I post its link to the left side of this website under “My Articles,” I’ll re-edit this entry to announce this and give you the link directly.

But right here I’d rather like to call your attention to the other end of the scale, namely the very bottom, occupied for the year 2003 by Great Britain whose entry, the song “Cry Baby” by the boy-girl duo JEMINI, came in dead last with zero points. (more…)

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