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The Votivkirche

9 Jan

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The snow is already gone, but I felt it made a nice picture yesterday with the Votivkirche, that neo-Gothic church erected by Emperor Franz Josef’s brother in thanks that the Emperor escaped an assassination attempt, visible here at the end of Frankgasse in the 9th district.

Perhaps I was also drawn to the picture because of the drama that is unfolding in and around the Votivkirche. The end of November, if I remember correctly, tents appeared in Freud-Park, named indeed for Sigmund Freud, and located between the Votivkirche and the Ringstrasse. At some point I walked down to find out what it was about and it turned out to be a protest for overfilled refugee and asylum-seeker camps. Over the weeks that followed the camp didn’t grow, but it didn’t shrink either. At the end of December the police stepped in to clear the camp, which was in violation of several ordnances. A number of inhabitants of the camp fled across the street into the Votivkirche, where the priest decided to let them stay, at least for now.

At the moment there is something of a stalemate. The refugees, asylum-seekers, and organizers of the protest are, of course, reluctant to give up since they have, presumably as intended, received a lot of media attention through their action and gotten the government to discuss their plight. The City of Vienna, and indeed the government of Austria, is reluctant to give in to what has become essentially a form of blackmail and might encourage other groups to follow suit. So, your basic lose-lose situation. In an attempt to up the ante a number of the protestors have now gone on hunger strike. So far it hasn’t made a difference.

What I have further garnered from the free daily newspaper, Heute, and the website of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), is that the FPÖ (the Freedom Party of Austria, far right) has responded by saying that the hunger strikers should be forcibly removed and force fed (always makes me think of the scenes about the suffragette movement as shown in “Upstairs, Downstairs”), the Grünen (the Green Party of Austria) has come under attack in Parliament for their relative support of the protestors, the ÖVP (the Austrian People’s Party, right centrist) is against the occupation of the Votivkirche and would probably like more regulation of immigration, and the SPÖ (the Socialist-Democrats in Austria and by far the strongest party in Vienna–not for nothing known as “Red Vienna”) are lamenting that the one federal state in Austria that is actually fulfilling its commitments to refugees is the one with the large-scale protest. Dr. Michael Häupl, mayor of Vienna, has also, legitimately, I think, expressed concern that the refugees and asylum-seekers are being used to political ends. The City of Vienna offered, apparently even before the occupation of Freud-Park, alternative accommodation that was rejected. Add to the mix that the organizers are reportedly from Bavaria (a federal state in Germany) and you have a sense of the complexity of the situation, and the low, low chances of a favorable outcome for anyone.

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