Xenophobia on the increase in Austria

A 2006 meeting of the Austrian "Ulrichsberggemeinschaft" organisation, which has been accused of being a Nazi-apologist group. [Josef Kriegl/Wikimedia Commons]

The Council of Europe is concerned about a rise in racism in Austria. Certain political parties and organisations, as well as media outlets, are cultivating a chauvinistic discourse. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The Strasbourg-based institute is worried about increasing neo-Nazi ideology, hate speech and hostility towards migrants in Austria. In a report published in Strasbourg on Tuesday (13 October), the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) called for loopholes in Austrian law to be closed, so as to protect people from incitement and racial slurs.

The ECRI reviews the situation in all 47 European countries every five years.

Overall, “antipathy towards migrants” had recently “increased significantly” in Austria, says the report.

>>Read: European Commission wants member states to criminalise hate speech

According to the report, the Austrian police recorded 1,900 instances of neo-Nazi activity in 2013 alone, up from 940 in the previous year and 338 in 2011. The number of racially-motivated crimes has also increased, according to official statistics, increasing from 519 cases in 2012 to 574 in 2013.

Experts and NGO representatives believe that this is merely the tip of the iceberg though, as numerous attacks on immigrants and minorities such as homosexuals go unreported.

The report also rebuked certain parts of the media that disseminate “clearly racist content” and that have not heeded the recommendations of the Austrian Press Council. It cited the examples of the Kronen Zeitung and the Tiroler Tageszeitung, which both blamed foreigners for criminal offences.

The report added that hate speech spiked in the run-up to elections. The ECRI referred to Islamophobic pamphlets distributed by the right-wing FPÖ party and its offshoot, the BZÖ (Freedom Party of Austria and Alliance for the Future of Austria, respectively), during the European elections last year. Also members of the conservative ÖVP party (Austrian People’s Party) have at times “given into the temptation to engage in hate speech”.

In many cases, crimes of this nature went unpunished, reported the ECRI. This applies particularly to instances of hate speech on internet fora. Xenophobic comments have even been left unmoderated for days on the websites of the President and several ministries.

>>Read: Social networks again told to crack down on hate speech

However, the ECRI did praise the Austrian government for the steps it has taken against racism and intolerance, given that Vienna has provided significant funds to bolster investigations into hate speech. Despite this, the experts at the ECRI still believe that more action is needed. They called for the criminal code to be tightened and for legislation to combat discrimination to be pooled. Government representatives should also systematically and clearly condemn any instances of racism or hate speech.

In August, the Austrian government underlined that it is “fully committed” to the fight against racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. However, the authorities also warned that “Racial prejudice, attitudes and acts still exist and that sustainable policies are necessary in order to combat it long-term.”

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