Refugee charity organisations and anti-fascism groups are infuriated by news that a right-wing movement may host a ball at the presidential office next year.
Freedom Party (FPÖ) Vienna whip Johann Gudenus said today (Tues) that managers of Hofburg Palace granted his faction’s application to organise a ball at the venue in 2013. Hofburg Palace is a major tourist attraction. The spectacular building, which is situated in downtown Vienna, features several museums but also the office of the federal president.
Gudenus said that his party would hold Vienna’s First Ball of Academics at Hofburg Palace in 2013. This announcement has caused some controversy since it comes just weeks after several people were injured in riots taking place outside Hofburg Palace before, during and after the most recent Viennese Corporations Ball.
The event – organised by far-right student fraternities – attracted not only European right-wing icons like Marine Le Pen, the chairwoman of France’s Front National (FN), but also peaceful demonstrators and left-wing rioters. Students, Green Party representatives, members of the Jewish Community in Vienna (IKG) and labour unionists gathered near Hofburg Palace a few hours before the disputed bash started. The most recent edition of the ball took place in January. Previous Corporations Balls drew protesters too. However, a new level of violence was reached around this year’s ball.
Albrecht Konecny, the former head of the Social Democrats’ (SPÖ) delegation in the federal council (Bundesrat), told newspapers that a group of police officers were watching on as he was beaten up on his way home from the peaceful gathering against xenophobia and fascism. State prosecutors are investigating. The accused policemen could be jailed if found guilty while rightist bloggers claim that left-wing extremists could have mistaken the elderly ex-politician for an attendant of the ball.
A spokesman for SOS Mitmensch, an organisation focusing on helping asylum seekers and refugees, told Die Presse today (Tues) that the FPÖ dared a disgraceful deception manoeuvre. IKG President Oskar Deutsch said in a press release it was a “scandal” that the right-wing party experienced no difficulties in registering another “network get-together of right-wing extremists”.
SOS Mitmensch said the only positive aspect of the news was that the FPÖ could be fully held responsible for who would attend the event. The non-government organisation (NGO) said that the guest list of the ball set to take place in February 2013 would disclose whether the FPÖ respected democracy. Gudenus hit back by claiming that the planned ball had nothing to do with right-wing extremism. “It is everyone’s right to organise such an event,” he said speaking to Die Presse.
The public debate regarding the controversial ball was more intense than ever before this year after FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache said that what had happened outside Hofburg Palace that night reminded him of the Night of Broken Glass (Reichskristallnacht) of 9 November 1938 when synagogues and Jewish shops in several German and Austrian cities were destroyed and set on fire. Strache also angered his critics by refusing to disassociate from a statement in which he alleged that members of right-wing student fraternities and FPÖ supporters could be considered as the “new Jews”.
The business association which manages Hofburg Palace features several prestigious names such as Vienna’s Hotel Sacher. Martin Graf of the FPÖ, the parliament’s third president, warned the companies about a boycott if they refused to take back their decision to allow the Corporations Ball to take place at the palace. A spokeswoman for Hofburg Palace’s management and promotion agency said there was nothing wrong with giving the green light to the Academics Ball since it would be organised by the FPÖ. She underlined that the enterprises in charge of the decision would cooperate with all democratic political movements of Austria.