In Austria, Germany, and other EU states
the increase in offensive as well as subtle racist discourses and practices
in recent years has become obvious. 1997 was declared by the EU as “The
European Year against Racism”, whereby state racism played no meaningful
role in this context. The emphasis was lain in the first instance on xenophobia
and right-wing radicalism. Conceptions of racism as peripheral or fringe
phenomena delegate political responsibility for racism onto single groups
Thus, in general, racist institutionalised
practices towards migrants, refugees, and members of minorities are little
considered. Often it is only extreme and violent racist attacks which draw
the attention of the public. Such reduced modes of perception and observation
define racism as a trivial problem. Through this process its present socio-political
meaning is marginalised and ghettoised. While racism is seen as disassociated
from the structure of the power relations in our society, its institutional
achorings remain filtered out. Hand in hand with this goes the disregard
for the social consequences of institutional racisms for migrants, refugees,
and minorities. These viewpoints contribute to the reproduction and establishment
In order to bring institutional racisms
(in the form of state regulated racisms) into the focus of public attention,
we placed a 3 x 3 x 3 m large poster object in the Viennese city centre
on the Herbert-von-Karajan Square in front of the State Opera from 14.10.
As this site is visited by numerous tourists,
the poster object showed a sober text, superimposed over a photographed
house facade, about the Austrian practice of remand pending deportation
in German, English, and Italian. This facade is part of a police prison
on the Rossauerlände, one of the two Viennese prisons for remand pending
deportation, in which 50 % of all prisoners on remand pending deportation
are locked up. The fourth side of the poster object informed in more detail
(also in three languages) about the practice of remand pending deportation
in this country under the headline “Interesting facts worth knowing about
The poster object was part of the project
“INSTITUTIONAL RACISMS”, which was continued as an exhibition in the Exnergasse
Art Gallery. Among other things, a video was shown there with leading officials
from Austria and Germany who we interviewed on remand pending deportation
and other exclusion mechanisms. In it the Head of the Department of Aliens
Branch of the Police in the Ministry of the Interior, Dr. Widermann, and
the Head of the Austrian Federal Asylum Office, Mag. Taucher, and a Ministerial
Director of the Department for Asylum and Alien Affairs, Dr. Lehnguth,
and the Ministerial Director in the German Federal Ministry of the Interior,
Dr. Rupprecht, attempt to justify their work and the exclusion politics
of the state.
Supplementing the video, selected information
materials from anti-racist publications lay freely available for taking
on three wood pedestals in the form of pads of sheets stuck together at
one side. On a total of 54 pages an offensive stand against different forms
of institutional racisms is made, among other things for an immediate abolition
of prisons for remand pending deportation. A form of criticism which only
independent, radical left, and thus generally low-circulation magazines
In contrast to the above, the criticism
in most of the “liberal” media is limited to coverage of the conditions
surrounding the execution of remand pending deportation. It reduces itself
to the human rights violations taking place in the prisons. Yet the abolition
of remand pending deportation is never called for, and the legal requirements
and practices, which reglement the dealings of the Austrian state with
people labelled as “foreigners”, “economic refugees”, or “illegals”, is
never termed as racist.
While the media thematise the problematic
only on the basis of particularly crass individual cases, they provide
the state and its representatives with the opportunity of defending
a system of racist exclusion both internally and externally. In such a
way the few abuses which become public can be portrayed as exceptions by
the official sources. The promise to rectify these abuses is then always
accompanied by an emphasis on the necessity of the practice of remand pending
deportation, with the ultimate effect of creating additional acceptance
for the state regulated discrimination against migrants. In such a way,
criticism articulated about the conditions in Austrian prisons for remand
pending deportation often has the effect of, for example, the Minister
for the Interior wishing to improve the appearance of this institution
by including various NGOs, in order in the long run to make the enforcement
of remand pending deportation, which is intended ultimately to guarantee
deportation, more frictionless and efficient.
The racist police practices of classifying
people with dark skin colour as potential drug dealers and subjecting them
to permanent police controls are accepted as necessary by the liberal media,
with the exception of blatant racist events (such as when a coloured government
official from Uganda is suspected of being a drug dealer whilst drinking
pineapple juice in the underground and is maltreated at the police station.
“At best”, in such a case, the behaviour of the respective police officers
is criticised; the system which produces such practices remains untouched
The press coverage limited to these “isolated
instances” strengthens these mechanisms, thus produces further “isolated
instances”, until the media loses interest in it. For fates which are too
similar to each other lose their sensation value; they can't increase circulation
and viewing figures any more. “That doesn't interest the readers any more”,
“We've already reported on it very extensively”, etc. were the sayings
we could listen to from journalists and editors again and again in the
course of our work.
“All politically persecuted persons enjoy
now as before a right of asylum”- this often used phrase covers up how
Austria really deals with migrants. For the right of asylum is enjoyed
only by all those who correspond to the flexibly determined (depending
on the economic and political situation) criteria - in Austria in 1996
only 716 of the 8732 asylum seekers were recognised as refugees. So, for
example, (civil) war refugees, who refused military service in their country
of origin, do not count as politically persecuted, although the forced
repatriation to their country of origin can mean death for them. For, refusal
of military service does not count here in this country as a political
act. As a result the only possibility that remains is to enter Austria
“illegally”. Then on the “green border” the Austria military is already
waiting, armed to the best degree with the night sight devices and helicopters,
to hunt down so-called “illegals”. If as a result of these politics of
exclusion an unarmed Rumanian is shot down on the border, then reports
describing the incident appear in the media, without the principle of armed
border protection being fundamentally questioned in the process.
Our intention was to counter this media
coverage which ultimately backs up state and everyday racisms. The project
set its goal in highlighting institutionally and state embedded racisms,
by for example describing the institution of remand pending deportation
as racist. Obviously racism can not, in contrast to the conditions reigning
in the jail houses, be “improved” or “reformed”. The goal has to be the
abolition of the institution remand pending deportation.
That provided the opportunity for numerous
discussions in front of the poster object and in the media. In the live
radio program, “Von Tag zu Tag” in Austrian Radio1 we discussed with Peter
Huemer and several callers whether and to what extent the Austrian state
acts in a racist way when it operates prisons for remand pending deportation
for the purpose of deterrence and exclusion. Of course the print media
also reacted to this reproach launched by means of the poster object. While
the news magazine Profil posed the open question of who the racist is here,
the leading editor of the new right weekly newspaper, Zur Zeit, accused
the project of SOS-Mitmensch (S.O.S. for Fellowship Platform) Populism
in his article entitled “State racism” and expressed regret that the state
should be discredited as a result.
These and other criticisms did not detract
from our concern to make the contents of the project flow into the media
discussion. The text of the poster object was printed in various print
media or read out in radio programs, and additionally the project provided
the grounds for several journalists for programs (1) and articles about
remand pending deportation and racism, for the purpose of which they met
us personally (2).
In the Art Gallery Exnergasse we discussed
institutional racisms with school classes which we invited to exhibition
conversations. An 8th class of the Viennese Grammar School in the Hegelgasse
was inspired by their exhibition visit to work further on the theme in
their (German) lessons. In an initiative coming from the pupils, some of
the anti-racist information texts from the exhibition were copied again
and distributed in all the classes of the school. Pupils also created an
advertising column with the texts.
The concept of INSTITUTIONAL RACISMS was
criticised a number of times on the basis that we ourselves were in a certain
sense also exclusory, in that in a project against racisms we didn't emphasise
the positions of anti-racist migrants and migrant groups enough. Our reply
to this partly justified criticism is that the project was conceived in
the first instance as a supplement to the anti-racist resistance of migrants
and anti-fascists. “Exhibiting” migrants and migrant initiatives - on the
grounds that the latter are “directly” effected by racisms - can easily
lead to migrants and migrant groups being declared yet more responsible
for the fight against racisms, by which means even more responsibility
can be delegated. In the worst case it can occur with such an approach
that strategies, idea and the labour of migrants is used for an anti-racist
project, from which it is subsequently only the organisers who cream off
cultural capital. The concept of a networking of different anti-racist
(migrant) initiatives also leaves open the question of how far the latter
need such a network, or who in fact profits from it, if it is a success.
Although (or precisely because) we have the privilege of Austrian citizenship,
we see it as necessary, under our authorship as cultural producers, to
make a stand against the legally regulated racist practices of the Austrian
OLIVER RESSLER, MARTIN KRENN
(1) A selection of the media in which the
poster object was shown and the texts of the poster object reproduced:
Welcome Austria, Markus Wailand, Falter
Nr. 42, 1997.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim, Falter Nr. 44, 1997.
Tourist of the other kind, national news
section, The Standard, 14.10.97.
In Schengenland, Jochen Becker, TAZ -
Die Tageszeitung, 15/16.11.97.
Institutional Racisms, Tatblatt Nr.19/97
Info-Intern (WUK), Cover page,Nr.6/97.
Institutional Racisms, Christian Kravagna,
Springer - Hefte für Gegenwartskunst (Magazines for contemporary art),
Nr. 4, 1997.
Against state racisms, ak - analyse und
kritik, Nr. 407, 23.10.97.
Who's the racist here? Christian Seiler,
Profil Nr. 42, 13.10.97.
Von Tag zu Tag (From day to day), Peter
Huemer, Austrian Radio 1, 12.11.97.
Kulturjournal (Cultural Journal), Roland
Schöny, Austrian Radio 1, 23.10.97.
Institutional Racisms, Susanna Niedermayer,
(2) What does illegals mean here? A program
about remand pending deportation, Sonja Edler and Andreas Zinggl, ORF,
Institutional racisms, Aurelia Wunsch
and Christina Steinle, ORF,12.11.97
Article about the Austrian practice of
remand pending deportation, Silke Rupprechtsberger, Die Furche, Dec. 97.