Austrians see high multiethnic conflict potential

A new survey has revealed a significant potential for conflicts between Austrians and foreigners.

A poll by the Centre for Future Studies of Salzburg’s FH higher education college shows that 53 per cent of Austrians considered the change that existing difficulties in the coexistence of themselves and immigrants could worsen as “very high”.

Around 45 per cent of interviewed Austrians said the same considering Christians and Muslims while 31 per cent were of the same opinion as far as the situation between rich and poor was regarded.

More than 1,000 Austrians aged 15 and older were questioned for the study which comes shortly after People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said police and prosecutors recorded 580 breaches of law with xenophobic, far-right, racist, anti-Semitic and islamophobic background last year. The minister declared that this was an increase of 28 per cent compared to 2009.

It has to be seen whether poll’s results will have any impact on the government’s attempts to create more understanding for each other among Austrians and foreigners. The coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative ÖVP presented Sebastian Kurz as the country’s first state secretary for integration in April.

Referring to the strong performance in polls by Freedom Party (FPÖ) boss Heinz-Christian Strache, Kurz recently said: “Many people can currently identify with Strache. Nevertheless, I have no interest in parroting his words.”

The deputy leader of the Viennese department of the ÖVP said about the right-winger’s controversial anti-immigration campaign: “It would be an easy thing to do to say a few slogans to become more popular and garner extra votes – but this is not my approach.”

Kurz added he was “not Austria’s anti-Strache.” The ÖVP official said he would not define himself “with what I am against.”

Speaking about the tense climate between many Austrians and the country’s growing Islamic community, the state secretary appealed on immigrants to actively participate in the society and “feel as self-confident Muslims and Austrians at the same time.”

Over half a million of Austria’s populace of 8.5 million are Muslims. At the same time, the country’s Catholic community is shrinking dramatically – a development which several other European countries are experiencing as well.

Both the SPÖ and the ÖVP have been criticised for allegedly increasingly populist approaches to the sensitive matter of conflicts between Austrians and Muslim immigrants to tackle the FPÖ’s increasing popularity. The right-wing party could become the strongest force in parliament in the next general elections, analysts have said. The SPÖ holds the most seats in the federal parliament at the moment, followed by the ÖVP and the right-wing faction Strache has headed since 2005. The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and the Green Party are also represented in the parliament.

SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann and the party’s state secretary for financial affairs, Andreas Schieder, may feel confirmed in their calls for higher taxes on assets by the poll results considering the conflict potential between wealthy and impoverished Austrians which were presented today.

The left-wingers suggested the country’s richest 80,000 to 100,000 households should be affected by such a tax. They claimed such a measure would mean additional revenue of up to two billion Euros a year. ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger and ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter made clear they opposed an increase of taxes on assets.

Statistics have shown that 10 per cent of Austrians possess 60 per cent of domestic assets. Around 12 per cent of Austrians are at risk of becoming poor, researchers have warned. Especially single parents and people confined to do poorly paid part-time labour were in danger, they said.