FECL 34 (May 1995):

THE ENTRY OF INTERIOR MINISTER CASPAR EINEM: AUSTRIA ON THE EVE OF CHANGE?

Throughout Europe, conservative hardliners increasingly seem to hold a monopoly on Interior Ministries; and the EU's only response to growing social conflict and resulting problems such as migration and criminality seems to lie in increased control and policing of the excluded. Austria, however, is bucking the trend: a former social worker with a history in Vienna's left-wing circles has been named Interior Minister.
Caspar Einem's predecessor and party comrade, Franz Löschnak, became known for his crack-down on aliens (see FECL No.07: "BILL ON RESIDENCE INCREASES LEGAL INSECURITY OF ALIENS"; No.18: "THE NEW AUSTRIAN RESIDENCY ACT"; No.24: "Austria no 'safe third country', UNHCR says"; No.26: "Asylum law partly unconstitutional, Supreme Court rules"; No.31: "Proposals to reform Residence Law disguise further tightening of policy on foreigners") and his notorious inactivity against neo-nazi violence (see FECL No.31: "Interior Minister shuts his eyes to neo-Nazi terrorism"). It was logical for Jörg Haider, the leader of the extreme right "Freedom Movement", to praise Löschnak as "our best man in the government".
Things are likely to change with Einem's nomination. After successfully resisting a right-wing media campaign aimed at forcing his resignation, the new Interior Minister has started working: amendments of foreigner and asylum legislation and a radical reform of the police and other executive branches of the Ministry are at the top of the Einem's agenda.

 

In mid-April, long-standing bickering between the Social Democrat (SPÖ) ministers on one side and their conservative coalition partner (ÖVP) and the SPÖ's own workers' union faction on the other, around a controversial austerity package, led to a major reshuffle of Chancellor Franz Vranitzky's government. The four new Social Democrat ministers all belong to the party's new generation. Caspar Einem, son of the renowned composer Gottfried von Einem, is one of them.

Einem is known to belong to the "progressive" wing of the SPÖ and his surprising nomination was resented as a provocation by a coalition of conservative law and order advocates, the extreme right "Freedom Movement" of Jörg Haider and their numerous followers in the Austrian press and in the law enforcement authorities.

 

Right-wing press campaign aims at Einem's resignation

Shortly after Einem's nomination, information was leaked to the media - probably by sources within the STAPO (the Austrian state security police) - showing that Caspar Einem had at various occasions made minor private donations to groups considered to belong to Vienna's "anarcho-extremist" left wing scene, and in particular to the magazine TATblatt. Austria's leading newspapers immediately accused Einem of sympathies with left-wing extremism and mingling with terrorists. Indeed, a man involved in the kidnapping of a Viennese businessman in the late 70s and two young men who killed themselves in a recent attempt to dynamite a power line are known to have moved in the capital's youth scene of "anarchist" squatters and drug addicts which formed in the early 70s around the "autonomous" youth centre, ARENA, and other experiments in communitarian living.

 

The TV debate that turned the tide

After these revelations, Einem's fate seemed to be sealed. "Away with him!", it said in an front cover banner headline in Austria's largest tabloid, Die Krone. The more reputable media also seemed united in their demand for the minister's resignation. The call was supported by a strong phalanx of civil servants and police officers who said they refused to serve under a minister who, according to them, showed a blatant contempt for law enforcement authorities.

After some hesitation, and some arm-twisting by the other new Social-Democrat ministers, Chancellor Vranitzky publicly backed his Interior Minister.

The tide turned decisively, however, when Caspar Einem met Jörg Haider on 30 April in a popular TV debate. Before the broadcast, Haider boasted that he was to finish Einem in front of a million viewers.

Yet, the show ended in a media debacle for Haider. One of the leading politicians of the Austrian Green Party, Peter Pilz (see FECL No.5: "MORE PROBLEMS - MORE POLICE: a comment on Austrian policies of policing"), also participated in the debate. Thanks to thorough preparation, Pilz was able to virtually ridicule Haider's terrorism accusations against Einem. Pilz presented records from the parliamentary Press Committee showing that the allegedly "terrorist" TATblatt, like many other legal publications, had received government subsidies for years without this drawing any protest from the Haider Movement's representative in the Committee. Pilz also took maximum advantage of a recent court decision stating that it is not slanderous to describe Mr Haider as a "spiritual father of extreme-right terror".

Einem himself calmly justified his contributions to the TATblatt, which he claims he never read: "These kids too have a right to freedom of opinion". With respect to his "mingling" with the terrorism suspect Viennese squatter scene, Einem said that he believed that his role as a social worker was to maintain contacts with the kids in the squatter and drug scene who were in need of assistance. Such social responsibility and common sense from an Interior Minister apparently convinced many spectators.

 

From the nation's whipping boy to Austria's future Chancellor?

After the debate, whipping-boy Einem almost overnight found himself a public hero. The anti-racist movement, SOS-Mitmensch (SOS-fellow human being), known for its mass demonstrations against both the Haider movement and former Interior Minister Löschnak's foreigner policies (see FECL No.25: "The lost dream of Central Europe"), rallied in a "sea of torches" demonstration in support of the new Interior Minister, and on 1 May, marchers in the traditional Social Democrat demonstration carried banners in support of Einem. Opinion polls conducted just after the TV event showed that Einem had become one of Austria's most popular politicians overnight, with 59 per cent of the interviewed expressly wishing him to remain in office.

"I believe I have just seen a prospective Chancellor and his Vice-chancellor", the Vienna correspondent of the German magazine, Stern, commented on the TV performance of Einem and Pilz.

 

Haider debacle reveals political turn of the tide

Indeed, many believe that the Haider movement's failed coup indicates a reversal of recent trends in Austrian politics. According to a prominent Social Democrat, "it was clear from the very beginning: if Einem falls, the SPÖ will fall with him, if he survives, he is the successor of Vranitzky [the present Chancellor]". Indeed, for many Social Democrats, Caspar Einem impersonates a long awaited new image of the SPÖ - social security, warmth and humaneness, a modern form of humanism rooted in the old Social Democratic principle of solidarity.

 

Green rescue operation for Einem: preparing for a red-green coalition

All of the sudden, the Social Democrat party, after years of decline, seems to have become an attractive alternative for Green, liberal and young voters again. Green party politician Pilz' deft rescue operation for Einem is viewed by many observers as a smart move by the Greens, aimed at preparing the ground for a future coalition government with the SPÖ in 1998 - probably the only way to stop the hitherto irresistible rise of Mr Haider.

 

An odd curriculum for an Interior Minister

Caspar Einem's curriculum vitae is, to say the least, unusual for an Interior Minister. After studying law, Einem began to work in banking, but soon discovered that the money business bored him. Instead he attended practical courses as a social worker at a youth custody centre. After that he worked for five years as a probation officer for juvenile delinquents. Through this work, he discovered the problems of the "kids" (who were frequently drug addicts and criminals) frequenting Vienna's "anarchist left-wing" scene. Einem began to spend much of his free time with helping them to "find a way out of illegality", as he puts it. He opened his large Vienna flat to homeless drug addicts, who eventually stripped the apartment bare. The Minister openly admits that he occasionally hid young runaways from education centres while trying to find better homes for them. He was several times the subject of tip-offs to the police, but he was never prosecuted.

When some social worker friends presented a private project to set up a therapeutic community for drug addicts in a farm house near Vienna, Einem spontaneously donated half of the purchase price for the farm.

No wonder that, through his presence in the scene, Einem also met with radical youths who later were to get involved in acts of political violence. He acknowledges that he was grappling with all sorts of "Communists" and "Maoists", but says that he was never seduced by their unrealistic policies. Einem's political models were people like Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and his brilliant Minister of Justice, Christian Broda, the father of the reform of the Austrian Justice system, perhaps the most far-reaching reform of its in post-war Europe.

In 1977, Einem belatedly and with little enthusiasm joined the SPÖ and was employed by the Austrian Chamber of Workers, working first with consumer protection issues and later as a director of the department for communal policies. In this latter function he again had to deal with the radical youth scene, in particular the squatter movement which was opposing the city council's city sanitation project. Rather than supporting extremists and terrorists, as suggested in the right wing campaign against his nomination, Einem tried to prevent the desperate youth from resorting to violence by acting as a semi-official mediator between them and the city authorities.

Due to disagreements with his board, Einem left the Chamber of Workers and became a director of ÖMV, the state-owned Austrian mineral oil trust. Almost apologetically, Einem explains that he had to take the job, because he was without work. Einem's brief come-back into the business world ended with his nomination as first as state secretary and then as Interior Minister.

 

Right wing police officers out for a putsch

By successfully fighting Haider, Einem has won an important battle, but not the war. While even the conservative junior coalition partner, ÖVP, finally said that Einem should be given a chance, the Central Committee of Austrian police personnel has not retracted its demand for Einem's resignation.

In the view of Peter Pilz, the protest movement within the law enforcement agencies against Einem amounts to no less than "an attempted rebellion of the political police against their Minister. The right-wing police are out for a putsch, they want to overthrow Einem and make the law enforcement apparatus pave the way for a right-wing Republic. Einem will only survive if he clears out these pockets of insurrection".

Indeed, there is cause for concern. At least some of the accusations against Einem relating to terrorism seem to be based on a STAPO-file on Einem, set up in the early 70s by the then young police commissioner Sika. Ironically, Mr Sika is now the General Director of the Department for Public Security, and thereby one of the most senior officials at the Interior Ministry.

Initially, the STAPO, in a blatant lie, told Einem that they had no file on him, but in the course of the campaign for his resignation, copies of the non-existent file were leaked to journalists.

 

Extreme right infiltration of law enforcement agencies

The rebellion against Einem appears to be the work above all of AUF, a police association close to the Haider movement which has rapidly grown since its creation in 1991 and now represents almost a third of Austria's law enforcement officers.

Haider's populist black and white painting seems to appeal to many police who suffer from antiquated work conditions, high professional risk, and a pitifully poor image among the general public.

AUF president Michael Kreissl has declared war on Minister Einem, his superior. If Einem remained in office, police officers would demonstrate their "lack of motivation" by serving "strictly according to regulations", Kreissl threatened. And the police officer left no doubt about whose orders he obeys: "My boss is Jörg Haider". The Vice-president of AUF, Josef Kleindienst is known for his friendly relations with illegal extreme right circles.

Among other things, AUF has demanded that the Austrian police be equipped with pump-guns.

The WEGA (Wiener Einsatzgruppe Alarmabteilung), an elite special task force in the Vienna police), is among the strongholds of AUF. Fifty per cent of the 435 WEGA members voted for AUF in the 1991 election of the police personnel representatives. The government ordered an inquiry into WEGA, following growing accusations of nazi activities and violence within the unit. Indeed, since 1991, WEGA officers were involved in 137 established cases of maltreatment, and stories are circulating about WEGA men singing nazi songs at parties. One WEGA police officer acts as a body-guard for Haider in his spare time. The officer was however removed from WEGA to a less prestigious task as a guard of the Vienna police barracks and is now under investigation, after nazi pamphlets were found in the guards room at the barracks.

Some 50 WEGA officers are organised in a particular neo-nazi association, PSV-Polizei Böhse Onkelz, called after the German neo-nazi rock-band Böhse Onkelz. They distinguish themselves from their fellow officers by a

"blockhead" haircut and by masking their faces when on duty at demonstrations.

In particular older Austrians are concerned about the surge of right-wing extremism in the elite unit of the Viennese police of all things. They still have in mind that of the 120 pro-German nazi police who occupied the government building and murdered Chancellor Dollfuss in 1934, about 80 were members of the Alarmabteilung, the predecessor of WEGA.

 

clearing out the nazi nests

Caspar Einem appears to be aware of the danger. One of his first acts in office was to replace the commander of WEGA. The new WEGA chief, Werner Brinck, is a member of the conservative ÖVP. He is said to be a declared anti-fascist and enjoys high reputation among rank and file policemen. Hardly had he taken office, did he make it clear that WEGA was no place for "American TV heroes" and that further cases of maltreatment would not be tolerated.

 

Reforming the police: Minister Einem's charm offensive

Einem himself has resorted to a strategy of his own, nick-named "buddy-visits" by the Viennese, to improve his image among rank and file police. For several weeks, he has been spending a lot of his time making unannounced visits to police stations throughout the country. On such occasions the Minister, rather than making speeches, mostly listens to the questions, complaints and demands of the officers, just as he listened to marginalised kids when he was a social worker.

In recent weeks, support for AUF has crumbled and Haider's policemen were forced to give up their unconditional opposition to the new commander of WEGA "in the interest of our colleagues".

 

Asylum and Immigration: a liberal back-lash

Einem is moving just as fast in the fields of asylum and immigration policies. Commenting on current legislation in the field, Einem said: "laws and ordinances which provoke appeals by thousands just can't be good". At the end of May he decided that the temporary stay permits of Bosnian refugees will be prolonged by a whole year (instead of only half a year, as under Löschnak). Moreover, pending a reform of foreigner legislation, exceptions will be made to Löschnak's restrictive residence law with respect to aliens' children born in Austria and to family members if and when the bread-winner has an unlimited work permit.

In view of the planned reform of foreigner legislation, Einem has announce a "period of discussion" until October. Within this period, the Minister invites interested parties to tell him of any concrete cases causing undue hardship. Observers fear that, as a result, the Ministry will be overwhelmed with complaints from aliens. As a consequence of recent restrictive legislation introduced by former Interior Minister Löschnak, of the only 2,500 asylum applications examined since the beginning of 1995, some 80 per cent were rejected. More than 50 per cent of the rejectees have appealed against the decision. In May 1995 alone, around 10,000 deportation procedures were initiated, and currently, 1235 persons are detained pending their deportation.

To the astonishment of many observers, even Einem's humanitarian approach to the problem of asylum and immigration appears to be gaining sympathy among a general public hitherto thought to be largely supportive of the "foreigners out" slogans of the Haider movement.

The Vienna weekly, Profil, claims to detect a liberal backlash. According to the weekly, the trend reversal might be due to the fact, that in the traditionally multi-cultural Austria, almost everybody has been confronted with tragic individual cases of bureaucratic harassment and deportation involving "friendly neighbours", "the children's nice class mates" or "the well-accepted foreign workmate".

 

Sources: News No.18, 19, 21/95; Profil No.20, 15.5.95; Der Standard, 13/14.5.95; Kurier, 31.5.95; our sources.