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Austria curbs basic democratic rights to lash out against Palestine solidarity movement

A series of unprecedented political bans of demonstrations and arrests dismantle historic achievements

13. November 2023
Wilhelm Langthaler

Austria has been a country known for both: social peace on one side and democratic and social rights on the other being interconnected. That combined with a foreign policy based on the constitutional neutrality which since the accession to the EU has been reduced to a formal remnant (however, with a huge political importance).


Neo-liberalism and its relentless attacks have been undermining this compromise dating back to the 70ies. All phenomena of decomposition of the existing political systems experienced across Western Europe could be observed also in Austria, though maybe with more moderation. The more economic liberalism took a left-liberal cultural face, social opposition assumed right populist forms also employing Islamophobia.

The authoritarian Corona regime, supported by the historic left, produced a significant and unprecedented opposition also on the streets. With NATO’s war on Russia the formally neutral country chose to fully take side with the West in flagrant violation of the constitution. A good part of the population opposes this ostensible subordination – a defiance which is being expressed within the political system only by the right wing FPOe. This party also lent a platform to the protests against the Covid measures.

Already the Macron-type Kurz government led by the Christian-Democrats (OeVP) presented itself as the strongest possible supporter of Israeli colonialism regardless of the change of governmental coalition from FPOe to the Greens. Today they continue to pose as fanatic endorsers of Israeli apartheid, also without the fallen media angle Kurz. In dramatic violation not only of the constitution but also of the will of the vast majority of the Austrian people they voted in the UN security council with the US, Israel and some client states to continue the war on Gaza and against a cease fire.

But the government is followed suit by all parliamentary parties, with the FPOe using the most brutal rhetoric against demonstrating Palestinians which they ask to be kicked out immediately to Gaza. No more word on constitutional neutrality which they intended to pose as a champion for. Even more extreme is the media apparatus of the regime. They follow and exacerbate the line developed in the “war on terror”, the Covid regime, the war on Russia, turning into a direct mouthpiece of the elites and dropping any “journalistic ethics” of representing “both sides”. The bias it that extreme that many consumers are turning away. Dissenting reports and opinion on alternative channels are being attacked and suppressed as “fake news”.

Politically this is being operated by an “anti-fascism” turned into an instrument of the US empire. Whoever questions their supremacy is depicted as antisemitic and gradually equalized with Nazism. Originating from the left, this apologetic ideology has been adopted as reason of state. The motto: always with Israel regardless of how monstruous its crimes are. This holds also true for the historic successors of antisemitism, namely the OeVP and the FPOe. They have exchanged antisemitism with a more modern and functional racism, namely Islamophobia and Israeli apartheid.


Unprecedented attack on the right to free expression and demonstration

With the start of the genocide committed by Israel in Gaza thousands and thousands day by day took to the streets of Vienna and smaller Austrian cities which hardly have been experiencing political street activities. Meanwhile the regime miserable failed to counter-mobilise street support of the Israeli war.

The regime media reacted with a vicious campaign of “Hamas terror supporters” and “antisemitic mob” importing “violence against Jews” into Austria demanding a ban. In reality the demonstrations were completely peaceful and even moderate as tens of thousand of people well integrated into the social fabric with migration background took to the streets. Only the aggressive stance of the police created some problems.

Eventually the ministry of interior decided to ban all events employing the common slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. Their argument: it would de-legitimize Israel, which amounts to a political crime.

The constitution and the respective law are very clear and liberal. Expression and demonstration are free. Holding an unregistered demonstration is therefore only a breach of administrative law and moderately fined.

Despite a total of thirteen bans so far, several demonstrations nevertheless took place between de facto toleration and increasing pressure and harassment by the police. The bans are creating fears, insecurity, pressure towards political adaption and splits decreasing also the participation.

Eventually on November 4 a prove of forces took place. “Palestine Solidarity Austria” (PSOe) called for defying the ban and holding demonstration nevertheless as the constitution is to prevail over police interpretations. Meanwhile other events on the very same day have been organised, some accepting the police conditions. The possible participation of many thousands thus was reduced to a few hundreds scattered around the hermetically closed starting point. The police finally dissolved the protest rally turned into a call for free speech. Six activists were arrested among them the organiser and activists of PSOe as well as the Anti-imperialist Camp including one Japanese citizen. They were kept in custody for ten hours. By doing so the minister of interior sent a clear message that the police would enforce their breach of the constitution


For other European countries this seems to be a minor event as police violence is a normality. But for Austria it is a major shift in the destruction of democratic rights. Equality for all people in Palestine, to live together without a colonial apartheid state can no more be expressed collectively. Instead, the de facto apartheid from the river to the sea is being canonised into an untouchable state dogma.

If they do not institute a judicial coup until then, we will win the case in court. There is a precedent two years ago when they banned a Palestine solidarity demonstration on construed menaces of violence. The judge overturned the executive. This time the argument is purely political and therefore our chances even better.

This is, however, not mainly a question of jurisdiction. We are faced with an enormous political attack which requires a political answer, a huge effort to defend the basic democratic rights which have been under attack for years. Many people feel the danger of the situation including Austria’s unrestrained siding with the global US war drive leading into disaster. But there is not only widespread passivity. Ostracizing Palestinians for decades as terrorists and antisemites has contributed to the current difficulties to create a wide front defending the basic democratic right.


List of banned demonstrations including police orders

Political call to defy ban on Nov 4, 2023