Racism Still a "Kavaliersdelikt"

Austria’s Defender of the Weak: ZARA’s Annual Report 2007

News | Matthias Wurz | April 2008

The Karl Kraus Room of Café Griensteidl was packed with journalists on Mar. 20, when ZARA, Austria’s non-profit organization documenting incidents of discrimination and racial attacks, presented the annual Racism Report for 2007.

Since 2000, the organization has published the only comprehensive annual report on racism in Vienna. While by no means systematic, as this is not a government body and resources are limited, the report is a compilation of incidences that were brought to their attention through the Counseling Services for Victims and Witnesses of Racism and over their website (see below).

This year’s report shows sudden, dramatic changes. So, it seemed ironic that at 10.00 a.m., just as the press conference began, Vienna was hit by a blinding snowstorm and powerful winds as Barbara Liegl, Managing Director of ZARA, highlighted the significant increase of attacks against Afro-Austrian children.

"Only a little push is needed for the to situation escalate," said Liegl, and described incidents of hair pulling, threats with knives, and more serious injuries like broken jaw- and cheekbones.

"One of the alarming findings of the report is that there is often no moral courage in public spaces," said Wolfgang Zimmer, Head of the Counseling Service. In a number of those cases, he said, the step from verbal aggression to a physical attack was close.

While the press conference proceeded and cases studies quoted, I glanced through the 80-page report. There was also some good news: ZARA has documented 831 racially motivated incidences in 2007, which indicates a dramatic drop compared to 1,500 in 2006, the lowest since 2003. Does this mean less racism in Austria?

Not according to Dieter Schindlauer, Chairman of ZARA. It was rather the influence of campaigns like Rassissmus streichen (Scrap Racism) in 2006 that had sensitized the Austrian public to these kinds of racist acts, so 793 cases were reported. When the campaign was discontinued in 2007, the awareness dropped too and only 251 cases were documented.

The Racism Report does not support firm quantitative conclusions on number of racists incidents or general trends of racism in Austria, Liegl pointed out in her editorial in the 2007 report.

"ZARA does not do active monitoring, but works with cases reported at the Counseling Service," she said. "A lot of racist incidences remain undetected for us," she told the gathering, as serious monitoring would involve a whole network of governmental and non-governmental institutions actively acquiring data.

Due to limited public funds – only about one-third of ZARA’s budget came from public support from the City of Vienna (32%) and national ministries (3%) in 2007 – the majority of maintaining the service came from individual donations and money generated by offering workshops and trainings. "We do not want to be book-keepers of racism," Schindlauer said, "but rather highlight individual cases and by that, to make an impact in reducing racially motivated violence and assaults in Austria."

Reading the complete report, the impact of the 103 selected case studies is powerful: Grouped by the different spheres, public spaces like streets or public transport, account for 58% of the reported incidences, without including the police (6%) and other public authorities (5%).  Accommodation and shopping (12%) and work (11%), as well as racism displayed against anti-racism efforts (8%) are the other categories. In comparison to 2006, the drop in racist graffiti reported – part of the public space statistics, and with 76% an all-time high figure in 2006 – is also reflected here.

The final part of the report provides follow-ups from cases previously documented. It also includes a chapter of racial discrimination in so-called ‘Nur Inländer’ (‘Only Native Austrians’) advertisements in the housing and job markets, published in classifieds section of newspapers or on the internet. ZARA reported 112 such cases since 2005 to the Public Prosecution Office in Vienna. When there appeared to be no response, the organization filed a complaint with the Public Obudsman, the Volksanwaltschaft.

The Ombudsman Board, designed for investigation and review of alleged or presumed grievances by public authorities or the Austrian judicial system, issued a 25-paged document of grievances and recommendations in August 2007. This was a "great investigation," according to ZARA, as the Ombudsman proved that most of the 112 cases were not investigated any further, despite the fact that such ads violate not only federal law but also legally binding non-discrimination directives issued by the European Union in 2000.

The cases are meticulously documented in this report, available for download, and the following example shows the systematic procedure encountered by the Magistratische Bezirksamt (City Administration): ZARA reported numerous ‘Nur Inländer’ job adverts published in newspapers, among those one that mentioned a mobile phone number as contact.

According to the Ombudsman Board Report, the authorities, asked for the name and contact details of the advertiser, which the medium refused for data protection reasons, leading the investigating authorities to conclude that the perpetrator was unknown and further pursuit futile for "lack of tangible clues."

The Ombudsman Board concluded overall that the right to freedom from discrimination was not sufficiently protected due to "lack of effort by the authorities." This sort of racism is relatively innocuous  (ein Kavaliersdelikt), ZARA agrees, but hopes that subsequent changes to procedures will "counteract such grievances," and the organization plans a review later in the year.

However, despite the positive resolution of this particular case, ZARA chairman Dieter Schindlauer has the feeling they "have not been particularly successful in recent years."



-Racism Report 2007 for full download (currently in German only): 


-Ombudsman Board Report on Racist Advertsing (in German only)


Other articles from this issue