Further evidence of rise in far-right crime in Austria

Right-wing extremism increased significantly last year in Austria, according to the latest in a run of statistics suggesting the country has got a growing problem with xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Further evidence of rise in far-right crime in Austria
Identitäre Bewegung Österreich

The latest figures released on Monday by the Interior Ministry show the number of charges involving right-wing extremism increased from 1,200 cases in 2014 to 1,690 in 2015, the highest yearly figure ever seen in Austria.

The Ministry had in April released figures confirming there had been 1,156 criminal incidents involving far-right extremism in 2015, although the latest statistics released this week show that the number of actual charges made is higher.

The latest report also said the number of “extremist acts” from far-right supporters increased from 750 in 2014 to 1,150 in 2015. Some of these included throwing fireworks at refugee shelters and posting hate messages and inciting violence online, although authorities say far-right crimes are increasingly physical.

The growing number of incidents follows the registering of 90,000 asylum applications in Austria last year as a large number of refugees and migrants fled countries around the Middle East and Northern Africa.

In recent months several protests have taken place both against refugees and in support of them, with far-right extremists from the Identitarian group targeting a performance of a refugee play on several occasions.

The first report specially on attacks against Muslims published in April by the Islamic Faith Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) showed that 156 incidents in 2015 targeting Muslims had been documented with the organisation. The vast majority of these targeted women.

“If we look at these hate crimes more closely, we see they aim to create tensions and cause splits in civil society. The police and judiciary must give more attention to this because this context is a special challenge for the security forces,” said head of the BVT department for information gathering and investigations Martin Weiss yesterday.

Dissatisfaction with the current situation in Austria is also thought to have been a reason behind the unprecedented success of the country’s far-right Freedom Party in the recent Presidential election. The party came top in the first round of the election with around 35 percent of the vote.

The government also reported that by the end of 2015, 259 people were known to have left Austria for Syria or Iraq with the aim of fighting as jihadists. Of those, 79 have since returned to Austria.

“The major threat to domestic security in Austria is just as before religiously motivated Islamic extremism and terrorism,” said director of the Federal Office for Constitutional Protect and Counter Terrorism Peter Gridling.


Deputy mayor of Hitler’s hometown to resign over racist poem

The far-right deputy mayor of Adolf Hitler's hometown, whose poem comparing migrants to rats sparked uproar, will step down, his Freedom Party (FPOe) said on Tuesday.

Deputy mayor of Hitler's hometown to resign over racist poem
Christian Schilcher, deputy mayor of the town of Braunau am Inn. Photo: AFP

The poem by Christian Schilcher, deputy mayor of the town of Braunau am Inn in Upper Austria, used the image of foreign rats integrating with Austrian ones to illustrate the dangers of “mixing” cultures and languages.

FPOe leader and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said that Schilcher would quit his job and leave the FPOe “in order to avert any damage to the party”.

The row overshadowed the FPOe's campaign launch ahead of European parliament elections next month.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has led a coalition between the FPOe and his own centre-right People's Party (OeVP) since late 2017, praised Strache's “clear actions”.

“The resignation of the deputy mayor of Braunau was the only logical outcome of this abominable and racist poem,” Kurz said.

Both Kurz's and Strache's parties have run on anti-immigration platforms but with May's elections looming Kurz has come under pressure to condemn outbursts from FPOe members.

The opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) said the coalition should be dissolved to protect “the country's image”.

“There has to be a democratic consensus that human beings cannot be denigrated, insulted or humiliated,” SPOe leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner said on Tuesday.

Strache himself was criticised last week for a Facebook post linking to a site which has published Holocaust denial and various anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

The post was subsequently deleted.

Last week Kurz's predecessor as OeVP leader, Reinhold Mitterlehner, sharply criticised Kurz for the government's current direction, accusing it of scapegoating migrants and refugees.

In March the FPOe came under scrutiny for its ties to the nationalist Identitarian group, which received a donation from suspected New Zealand mosque attacker Brenton Tarrant.

After that episode Kurz demanded that the party break all ties with the Identitarians.