September 15, 2015.
Hey, it's not the end of the world; it's not even the end of Mariahilfersraße, which runs from Vienna's central district to the Westbahnof and beyond. Westbahnof is the major railroad station where Syrian and other migrants gather, waiting for the trains out.
Every day or so I wander up Liniengasse to Mahü and over to the Station. It's usually pretty relaxed, like any other railroad station or airport where people have to wait too long. Outside the Station, in the sunny September sun, there are men in groups and women in groups with children. The right-wing troll machine has tried to make an issue of the fact that some pictures of the Syrian refugees show young men only, which somehow serves to prove that all migrants are strong young men without a claim to sympathy. At other times they'll point to pictures showing only women and children, which they interpret as clear evidence of media bias to gain sympathy. From what I gather this is a culture where women and men don't mix much in public places. I've seen no young women whatsoever here, which doesn't mean there aren't any, just that they're somewhere else.
Then there's the area where you drop off and pick up donations: it's men, mostly, lining up for whatever help they need. Today's request was for men's winter clothing, unfortunately I gave all I had a few weeks ago, when an earlier group of refugees was left to sleep out in the open at the makeshift camp in Traiskirchen. Back then the right-wing press was explaining that those individuals and organizations working to alleviate the conditions at Traiskirchen were trying to derive “political advantage.” Today the Viennese don't have to travel to Traiskirchen anymore to press their advantage; and they bring their children to the Westbahnhof as well, to give them an advantage, too. I've seen a number of school groups at the Station.
There's yet another area by the tracks where men stand around, waiting, and women in hijabs are sitting here and there. And there are two signs, one in Arabic, one in English, explaining that food and water are available, as well as medical help; that there are translators and other staff who can be recognized by their badges, and that you should not hesitate to ask if you need anything, and that concludes:
We are doing our best to help you.
You are safe.
The City of Vienna.
The most unusual part of this, is that the signs are not in German. Starting in the late eighteenth century the German language was manipulated by the Habsburg Empire, and subsequently by Germany, as a tool of inclusion and therefore as a tool to divide. Czech Jews, for instance, were allowed an education only in German, which meant renouncing their cultural identity as Czechs. Even today for the numerous migrants, economic or otherwise, in Austria, it's impossible to get any kind of position without considerable German language skills, skills that are often far above those actually required. There is a viciously hilarious skit by Anke Engelke, a kind of Amy Schumer of German TV, in which a small group of Turkish migrants is attending their first language class in German: gentle, respectful people. By the end of the class they've learned to talk the way Turks in Germany are expected to talk: “Me Orhan, you bitch.” Language, when improperly taught, can teach others to keep their place.
In Austria, the claim to protect “Our Language” and “Our Culture” has been a major talking point of the far-right demagogue Heinz-Christian Strache; one of his earlier campaign slogans was Deutsch statt “nix verstehen” : “German, not me no understand.” In Vienna, municipal elections are scheduled in a month's time, and the bought press has been predicting a triumph for Strache, much as the bought press in America and France has been predicting a triumph for the Front National for the past decade. Then of course there are the malicious billboards set up in Hungary by the Hungarian Government, addressed to refugees in Hungarian only, and telling them that they won't be allowed to take Hungarian jobs. The absence of German on the walls of the Westbahnhof needs to be understood as a splendid slap at the fear-mongers of all stripes; it's the beginning of resistance in a country where resistance to authority does not come easy.
September 19, 2015.
The scene, set in a Central European Country in the 'fifties, reminds me of a similar situation in the newsroom of any one of a number of newspapers in the 'twenty-first: the media are carrying, live and in real time, the trials of a few self-confessed enemies of the State; except, there's a tiny delay in the broadcasting while behind the scenes an army of moderators anxiously crouch over the speakers, ready to interrupt at any sign that the spontaneous script has not been followed after all. [“Our live feed has encountered some technical difficulties; we'll return you to the show trial as soon as possible.”]
In the movie at least, one of the accused manages to prank his accusers: when asked to confess his guilt he stands up and drops his pants. A roar of laughter goes through the courtroom, but since the moderators can't see what's going on they're too bewildered to stop the broadcast.
I managed the same kind of prank the other day—in a cyber kind of way. I managed to sneak something supportive of the City of Vienna's efforts to accommodate its new migrant populations onto the tightly-controlled “open” comments section of a major English-language newspaper known for its pretense of progressivism. I even managed to post the Vienna City URL for those who want to help (which is http://fluechtlinge.wien, by the way) though not its phone number, which is 00 431 245 2999, though if you're calling from America it's 00 431 245 2999, this said in passing.
And here's the message:
Can you believe this? The City of Vienna has set up a hotline for those wishing to help refugees. It turns out the most pressing need today is for “Dolmetscher,” volunteers who play the recorder.
Now it helps to know that Dolmetscher simply means “translator” in German. To an English speaker Dolmetsch evokes Arnold Dolmetsch, the legendary maker of block flutes and other instruments who founded the Early Music Revival. By now the fascosphere must be buzzing with rumors that those spoiled migrants in Vienna are being mollycoddled with live performances of Michael Praetorius and Gottlieb Muffat while good Austrians must content themselves with scratchy CDs of Im weißen Rößl.
I did get a number of respondents who wanted to know what, exactly, was wrong with providing Early Music performances for refugees—a sentiment with which, at bottom, I have to agree, having just discovered that Dolmetsch built his first harpsichord on the advice of William Morris, that great destroyer of Western cultural values.
September 22, 2015
A Frightening Outbreak of Decency.