World Champions at Getting in the Way

Austria buries the talents of its ­people. Had Frank Stronach remained at home, he would have gone nowhere

Opinion | Andreas Koller | November 2012

Austria is glowing under the spell of famous Austrian expatriates. When Arnold Schwarzenegger visits his Styrian homeland, dignitaries and photographers go wild. When Frank Stronach founds a party in Vienna, a shock wave goes through the country.

Ridiculous? No. It’s a show of intellectual arrogance to make fun of the Styrian-American speach, appearance and world view of those two men.

To break free of modest circumstances, overcome resistance, accomplish great things and become a person of international importance – these are life-time achievements deserving credit. Even though many people in our system of cradle-to-grave welfare, civil service and early retirement don’t see it that way.

And it begs the question of what would have become of Schwarzenegger and Stronach had they remained in Austria. Schwarzenegger might have made it to Provincial Governor, Stronach not even as far as that. He would have been kicked off the board of any Austrian party as a neo-liberal deviant.

While Austria may achieve international importance only in few areas, there is one in which we succeed every time: We are world champions at hobbling talents and burying potential.

Not only in sports, where Dinko Jukic – the only water sportsman who can keep up internationally – was just banned by his association for misbehaviour, meaning that Austria’s summer sports will now sink completely into oblivion after the humiliation at the London Olympics.

Austria hobbles talent and buries the potential of its citizens not only in sports, but in all areas of life. For instance in education: With tidy regularity, international comparisons show that working-class children are still methodically kept away from universities. Immigrant children still end up in integration schools en masse. Those two factors alone are likely to knock Austria down a few pegs in the ranks of international competition.

Or in the economy: Elsewhere, every man and woman may decide independently when to work in order to earn the taxes that finance the state.

But in Austria, that very state still regulates when shop keepers may open and close the roll-top doors. Elsewhere, the authorities would be happy with as comprehensive all-day healthcare as possible. But Vienna’s pharmacists have only just now, at great pain, won the right to stay open on Saturday afternoons.

Officials, politicians and trade unionists, who never feel the wind of economic competition, act as referees for those who build their work lives with their own money and at their own risk. In between, they invent bureaucratic shenanigans. It doesn’t take much to envision how far a Frank Stronach would have come, had he fallen into the clutches of the local talent blocker.

Even in politics and its related areas, people look askance at anyone who is a little too successful. Former chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer is reproached by the Boulevard, because he is making a lot of money with his business and lecturing activities. Siemens executive director Brigitte Ederer and Volkswagen South America CEO Viktor Klima are forced to listen to the envious accusations that they owe their impressive business careers to SPÖ party networks.

Former chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel is decried as a nuclear lobbyist, because he is passing time in the German energy sector.

Each of those would have a far better reputation on the jungle telegraph, if they lived on a politician’s pension or a sinecure, instead of providing services and paying taxes. Achievement is not wanted here.

Stronach, Schwarzenegger and many others like them had to emigrate to have the dignitaries fall at their feet.

Andreas Koller is Vienna Bureau Chief for Domestic Politics and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Salzburger Nachrichten, where this article "Weltmeister im Verhindern" originally appeared on 1 Oct. The article appears here with permission of the author.

Translation by Mona Tömböl 

See also "The Fable of Frank Stronach" in Nov 2012 TVR.

Other articles from this issue