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A group of some 150 gnome collectors from across Austria have pledged to meet at 11:00 am on Friday morning on the Ringstrasse in front of parliament, and plan to present a petition to Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner which has already gathered almost a thousand signatures.
The government has said it plans to increase the tax on garden gnomes from 20 percent to a whopping 30 percent next year as part of wide-ranging tax reforms.
The reforms aim to boost sluggish economic growth by lowering tax rates on low and middle incomes, but the burden of financing them lies partly on consumers and retailers, with the lowest rate imposed on goods and services to be raised from 10 to 13 percent.
“This is really hitting people who collect gnomes hard, and it’s very short-sighted of the government,” Bernd Dörfler, from the Austrian Gnome Appreciation Society, told The Local.
“Garden gnomes are an important part of Austrian garden culture that we want to maintain. There are going to be a lot of lonely gnomes, I fear, as people won’t want to buy them any more as they will be too expensive,” added Dörfler, from Wiener Neustadt.
“They are the guardians of our flower beds, the protector of our homes, and should be viewed as national treasures,” gnome collector Doris Flötenspieler, from Linz, said in an interview with her local paper.
Garden ornaments have become increasingly popular with Austrians in the last few years - with an estimated three million gnomes now adorning back gardens and window sills.
Last year 400 garden gnomes belonging to the Social Democrats (SPÖ) in Vorarlberg went missing - amid suspicions that they were kidnapped by political rivals the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) in the run-up to provincial elections. The gnomes, known as ‘Coolmen’ were used as part of the SPÖ’s election campaign.
Ornamental garden gnomes first became popular in 19th-century Germany, where they became known as Gartenzwerge (garden dwarfs).
They are now a must-have accessory for many Austrian gardens, particularly in suburban areas, and come in all shapes, sizes, and outfits.
Salzburg’s historic Mirabell Gardens boasts the oldest gnome collection in the world - featuring 28 marble statues of dwarfs who were modelled on real people who lived at the court of the Prince Archbishop Franz Anton Harrach between 1690 and 1695.
Since the mid-19th century the classic garden gnome figure was usually inspired by the figure of the gardener or miner - complete with apron, a shovel or pickaxe, lantern or wheelbarrow and wearing a red stocking cap.
They fell out of favour in Austria in the 1960s, when they were considered petit-bourgeois and kitsch, but since the 1990’s have been experiencing something of a rebirth with new, more provocative designs appearing on the market - for example of partially naked or gun-toting gnomes, or some modelled after contemporary politicians.
A recent limited edition range of gnomes styled as Eurovision Song Contest Winner Conchita Wurst sold out within weeks.
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