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Racism in Austria at its highest level in years

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Racism in Austria at its highest level in years
Maria Elena/Flickr
09:59 CET+01:00
Racism in Austria is at its highest level for years according to an annual report released by the anti-discrimination organisation ZARA.

An increase in the number of racist remarks made on social media is thought to have contributed to the high figure for 2015.

Last year 927 cases of racism in Austria where registered with ZARA, compared to 794 in 2014 and 731 in 2013. Twenty percent of the incidents in 2015 took place online, compared to 17 percent in the previous year.

Two thirds of the racist remarks or acts referred to refugees, and were directed towards either asylum seekers or people supporting them. The ZARA statistics are only a guide to the extent of racism in Austria as they just reflect the number of incidents that were registered by people with the organisation.

The report, however, supports data released by Austria's police intelligence agency (Bundesamtes für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung) last November, which showed they received 1,201 criminal complaints about racist and xenophobic crimes between January and September, compared to 750 in the same period last year - a jump of 60 percent.

Some of the online incidents documented by ZARA included people calling for the re-opening of concentration camps for refugees or posting made up stories. For example, one woman posted that a young sick Austrian was not treated in hospital because it was full of refugees, which was shared 5000 times although the hospital and patient concerned dismissed the story as false.

The organisation also expressed concern at the number of political representatives who were supporting racist ideas, such as banning asylum seekers from swimming pools or promoting anti-Semitic slogans.

Just a few days ago, state prosecutors decided to charge the chairman of a right-wing group that has links to Austria's Freedom Party with racism and inciting hate against a minority group.

Cases such as workplace discrimination against people with darker skin or who wear headscarves appear in the report every year, as do incidences of every-day racism. Last year, for example, when a black man held the doors of a U-Bahn train open, a Wiener Linier employee announced over the loud-speaker that “we must be considerate of our drug dealer”.

Journalist Ingrid Brodnig, who has written a book about the topic, says often people can feel they are in the majority when they are make such comments online. She believes it is important that people react to hate comments by voicing alternative opinions.

“Studies since the 1960s show that the moment somebody expresses another opinion to the supposed majority, in that moment where only one voice objects, many people think ‘ah maybe I should think about my words a bit,” she said in an interview with the ORF.

The report follows the introduction earlier this year of stronger penalties for publishing content that incites hatred, now punishable by a jail sentence of up to three years, extended from two.

The stronger punishments have not yet been used, however, as the first two incitement cases that have appeared in court since the changes were made were not deemed serious enough.

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