City coalition wants people to create charter

The Viennese government plans to create a charter for better coexistence in the city.

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Mayor Michael Häupl said yesterday (Tues) that the Viennese Charter should be formulated by November. He appealed to residents of Vienna to participate in discussing which aspects should be considered by the document. Greens Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou explained that podium discussions would be held in the city’s 23 districts in the coming months to debate the issue. She said that people could also get involved online.

Political observers consider the project as another attempt to weaken the Freedom Party (FPÖ). The right-wing faction fared extraordinarily well in the most recent city ballot. It bagged almost 26 per cent in 2010 while the shares of SPÖ, Greens and People’s Party (ÖVP) dwindled. The FPÖ is infamous for its anti-Islam policies. Opponents accuse the party headed by Heinz-Christian Strache of promoting xenophobia in a blunt manner while polls show that the party is finding increasing support among young Austrians, workers, pensioners but also members of the middle class.

The FPÖ looks back on a large number of excellent election performances after having struggled following its decision to cooperate with the ÖVP on federal level in 2000. The rightist movement caused outcry with slogans such as “Daham statt Islam” (Homeland instead of Islam). FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky accused mosques of being hotbeds of “radical Islam”.

Several FPÖ federal parliament delegation officials (MPs) are members of far-right student fraternities such as Vandalia and Olympia. Many of these fraternities still consider the end of World War Two (WWII) and the Third Reich’s surrender as a defeat and hold silent vigils for killed troops while other political movements and non-government organisations (NGOs) gather to commemorate the millions of people who were executed and gassed by the Nazis.

The Viennese SPÖ-Greens coalition’s announcement of creating a charter for a peaceful living together – which will, according to reports include no legally binding laws but only suggestions, appeals and ideas – can be regarded as a direct reaction to the rise of the FPÖ.

A recent party-internal questioning revealed that almost one in three Vienna SPÖ members are dissatisfied with faction leaders’ integration and immigration decision-making. The SPÖ Vienna board is reportedly at odds about possible precise actions since, according to the check, a large number of supporters think that the party should take a hard line while a considerable number of members are of the opposite opinion.

Various economic groups, think tanks and charity organisations already declared their intention to participate in creating the charter. Häupl – who became mayor of Vienna in 1994 – said the project would cost 450,000 Euros. He recently emphasised that he was enjoying his job more than ever before. Sources close to the mayor confirmed that the partnership with the Green Party apparently awakened a new spirit in the city hall. Some political commentators expect him to retire in good time before the next city ballot nevertheless to help shape the public profile of a new SPÖ front runner.