Most of what the Austrian People's Party and the Greens Party grandly announced in their recent coalition agreement paves the road to an illiberal democracy, even a totalitarian country, by introducing a dictatorship of political correctness. Pictured: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right) and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler of the Greens Party during a session of the parliament on January 10, 2020 in Vienna. (Photo by Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
While most of the world's attention was focused on the death of a terrorist leader, Iran's Qasem Soleimani, and the ensuing missile retaliation in the Middle East, a small country in the heart of Europe was once again ruled by an elected coalition government. Following snap elections in late September 2019, the Austrian population exhibited great patience until the start of a new decade, when, on January 2, the Austrian People's Party and the Greens proclaimed, to paraphrase the Vatican: "Habemus gubernationem!" (We have a government!)
Given that the two parties entering this government are polar opposites in terms of political orientation, left vs. right, it is not surprising that the negotiations for a "viable" and lasting government took 100 days until their successful conclusion. Moreover, given what the Greens stand for -- the climate, preventing "right-wing extremists" (namely the Austrian Freedom Party) from entering government ever again, and transparency -- it would seem irreconcilable with the People's Party's goals: migration and law and order. At first, only the Austrian and European mainstream media and the European Union enthusiasts in Brussels were optimistic about this new coalition. The latest polls, however, indicate rising approval among the population.
How long this enthusiasm will last, remains to be seen. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz praised the 326-page coalition agreement as "incorporating the best of both worlds", and although it contains the proverbial "good, bad and ugly", regretfully only little can be considered good. In fact, most of what the People's Party and the Greens grandly announce in their pact paves the road to an illiberal democracy, even a totalitarian country, by introducing a dictatorship of political correctness. As argued by Andreas Unterberger who runs Austria's largest political blog:
"[There is a] major restriction, if not ultimately, the abolition of the most important fundamental and human right, freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is the central basis and prerequisite for any democracy based on the rule of law. This is exactly why Turkey or Russia are not democracies - there are elections there, but people are constantly being locked up for [their] opinions."
Before we further address the de facto abolition of freedom of expression, let us take a closer look at the already mentioned good, back and ugly.
- More money for more families and children.
- Substantially more money for women.
- More money for health care.
- More money for police force.
- More money for defense forces.
- More money for universities.
- Ban of forced marriages and trafficking in women. (This has always been banned. Still, it is good to reinforce it.)
- Family and youth agendas are almost completely ignored, which proves a lack of interest in this matter.
- The chapter on research and digitalization includes only technical trivialities and some ideological nonsense (such as "inclusion").
- The area of medicine and health politics lacks innovative approaches. While there are buzzwords that could have been strung together by any political party, "gender medicine" (whatever that may be) will be subsidized and promoted.
- Numerous "green classics", such as promotion of car-sharing and bicycles as well as e-mobility, phasing out of coal and petroleum, adding a 12 euro surcharge on plane tickets, "climate (carbon) neutrality until 2040" and a carbon tax by 2022.
Before we discuss "the ugly", a few words on concessions that the Greens had to make and which they said had been painful to accept. One major problem for the Greens consisted of emotionally charged "trigger" words, such as "return centers" (for asylum seekers who were denied asylum status), "preventive detention" for potentially dangerous individuals, and "federal asylum agency." Those words symbolized the Greens' relentless fight against the previous interior minister, Herbert Kickl, who had introduced those concepts before he was dismissed by the Austrian president. The Greens were also outspokenly unhappy with the headscarf ban for girls under the age of 14, even if that measure appears largely symbolic in the fight against Islamization and was likely added by Sebastian Kurz solely to cater to his right-wing voters.
Addressing mass migration, which was dealt with in a deliberately obscuring manner for the average reader of the coalition agreement, by using superficially neutral, bureaucratic language, such as calling for "contributions to the reduction of migration in the countries of origin" and the "combating of human trafficking."
The greatest betrayal of all can be found in the section on domestic security/steps against extremism and terrorism (pp. 219-221). If one was hoping for more freedom of speech and conscience, which is already significantly restricted thanks to previous governments led by the People's Party, then this hope was cruelly quashed. A tyranny of "thought offenses" due to a dictatorship of political correctness was already established prior to the incoming government's -- frankly terrifying -- additions. Now, a number of institutions, funded by taxpayer money, will be established to monitor those people whose opinions are no longer acceptable.
For instance, there will be a "Plan of Action against right-wing extremism and religiously motivated extremism (political Islam)." Andreas Unterberger, Austria's most widely read political blogger, analyzes it as follows:
"Such points are doubly scandalous. First, only right-wing extremism, but not left-wing extremism, is fought without giving a reason for this unequal treatment that violates fundamental rights. Second, there is no definition anywhere of what extremism or right-wing extremism is supposed to be. This creates something similar to the fight against 'anti-state' thoughts: namely a totalitarian instrument that can be used as a rubber paragraph against anyone who thinks differently. For too many governments around the world, every dissident is an extremist they are brutally fighting."
In another example, "[c]ounseling and education (establishment and evaluation, digitalization new media, New Right, right-wing extremism, antisemitism, Islamism)" will be introduced. In Unterberger's words:
"The government, led by an alleged center-right party, is fighting against right-wing extremism only and without any definition, but nowhere against left-wing extremism."
Finally, and this is most likely the passage with the gravest consequences for dissidents: Take measures effectively to combat associations that disseminate anti-state ideas/ideologies/thoughts (such as Identitarians). Again, as Andreas Unterberger states:
"This is the first time since 1945 that the fight against thoughts has become official government policy in Austria. This is also very reminiscent of Soviet communism, which once existed in Eastern Europe, because the communists automatically labeled every opposition figure, every dissident, everyone who advocates democracy and human rights as an enemy of the state and often locked them up for years. As proof of the danger of such a project, there is no statement in which the Identitarians would actually be hostile to the state. Because they are like Kurz against Islamization and migration? They never appeared with other content ('thoughts')."
The above restrictions warrant further elaboration in the near future as the situation regarding freedom of thought deteriorates. One recent case in point is the forceful interruption of a university lecture by a "right-wing" history professor, by the so-called "Black Block" of Antifa, known for its violence, chanting: "Out with the Nazis!" One student member of a fraternity was even violently assaulted by a left-winger. This was not the first time; previous attacks occurred in November and December 2019. Left-wing extremists such as Antifa will not be investigated, according to the coalition agreement, while right-wingers will be. The German saying "Wehret den Anfängen!" (Resist the beginnings"), often employed by left-wingers when shutting down speech they do not approve of, should be valid for both political camps, or not at all.
During the election campaign and in countless interviews, Sebastian Kurz, as leader of the People's Party, staked his party's claim to being defined as "center right-wing":
"... I want a proper center-right policy on migration and other issues, tax relief, more freedom instead of regulation."
Irrespective of the truth of this statement, the subtext is: "If the People's Party is center right-wing, then any party (for instance, the Freedom Party) or any person (for instance, anyone disagreeing with the current government's stance on 'political' Islam or its measures to curb migration) to the right of us is considered right-wing extremist." Sebastian Kurz thus cleverly narrows the corridor of what is "acceptable" speech, that is, anything he and his party say and stand for. An entire innocent population group will be pilloried and shamed simply for espousing beliefs that are not considered left-wing or that differ from those of the People's Party and the Greens. Moreover, the measures introduced in the coalition agreement which target only "right-wing extremism or extremists" will lead to a new wave of turning people in that is reminiscent of a very dark era in Austrian history.
It is not surprising that the Austrian mainstream media have not discussed this part of the coalition agreement at all -- whether positive, negative or even in a neutral fashion. Given that European journalists are predominantly left-wing, such a lack of discussion might be expected.
As an American author C.J. Redwine said, "Silent acquiescence in the face of tyranny is no better than outright agreement." Sadly, this seems to be a specialty of Austrians when confronted with tyranny.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is an Austrian human rights activist fighting for the right to freedom of speech as enshrined in the U.S. First Amendment. In 2009 she as charged for incitement to hatred and later found guilty for denigrating the religious teachings of a legally recognized religion. Her case was later accepted at the European Courts for Human Rights. She is the author of the book, "The Truth is No Defense."