Austrian justice minister with migrant background leads fight against online hate

She vividly remembers one racist remark she heard on the tram in Vienna. After she had asked the driver for directions, he told her that "Tschuschen [Note D. Author: derogatory Austrian term for people whose roots lie in ex-Yugoslavian countries] have no place here". EPA-EFE/FLORIAN WIESER

When it became known for the first time someone with a migrant background would be in the Austrian government, Green Justice Minister Alma Zadić started to receive death threats, being told to fly back home to Bosnia. Now, she wants to use her experience with discrimination to protect others online, EURACTIV Germany reports.

For a long time, it bothered Zadić when being asked about her origins, she told Alexandra Stanić, chief reporter for VICE in German-speaking countries, in an interview.

Zadić experienced references to her origins from an early age, but things got particularly bad as soon as it became known that she would take on the role as justice minister, when she was met with a wave of racist and sexist hatred.

One Facebook user posted that a ‘bullet’ had been reserved for Zadić, while others suggested that she was entitled to the death penalty for treason after having said that the Balkans start in Vienna. These days, she is under constant personal protection and always accompanied by bodyguards.

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Measures against online crime

Now Zadić wants to take action against online hate. During a speech on the occasion of the European Day for Victims of Crime (22 February), she emphasised the importance of combatting this hatred. Not least the attacks in Hanau had shown how quickly digital violence can turn into physical violence.

She announced a package of measures which focus on the legal protection of victims, to ensure it is done quickly and cost-effectively.

Zadić is calling for a duty of investigation to be imposed on the police and public prosecutors so that they investigate hate posters independently to avoid that victims have to bring legal action. Moreover, she is calling for online crime to generally become punishable more quickly.

On top of that, the government programme also speaks of holding platforms “more accountable”, for example, by “deleting illegal content” or through “effective complaints procedures”.

She is also counting on international cooperation in legal protection because, in her draft, she would like to incorporate the German experience with the Network Enforcement Act (Netz-DG), which has only recently been made more stringent.

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Not having to choose an identity

Zadić had to learn early on that words are a form of violence. Born in Bosnia, she came to Austria at the age of ten in 1994, when her parents fled from the war in Yugoslavia.

She remembers vividly one racist remark she heard on the tram in Vienna. After she had asked the driver for directions, he told her that “Tschuschen [a derogatory Austrian term for people whose roots lie in ex-Yugoslavian countries] have no place here”.

In her school days, she had to struggle with being excluded, given that she was the only person in her class without German as her mother tongue. Only after changing schools and being around more children with a migration background, did she quickly learn the German language.

She then studied law, for which she spent two years in New York, at Columbia University. She told VICE that this experience had left a deep mark on her, as the melting pot of cultures and identities in New York had not reduced her to her origins.

She learned that she did not have to choose an identity, but that she could be both Bosnian and Austrian.

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Switch to politics

Back in Europe, Zadić began her legal career. After having completed her internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), she started to work as a lawyer in a top law firm.

But in 2017, she made her shift into politics and helped build up the party “Liste Pilz” of former Austrian Green Party member, Peter Pilz.

In 2019, when the party was on the verge of dissolution, Zadić finally switched to the Greens.

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