On Austria, and Disagreeing Democratically

On Austria, and Disagreeing Democratically

30 May 2016

On May 23 2016, a historic election took place in Austria. Alexander Van der Bellen, the candidate of the green party won the elections for the presidency against Norbert Hofer, the candidate from the far right wing FPÖ by less than 40.000 votes.

A day before I was asked to hold a speech at a small rally. In a country so split between left and right, looking back at my own history, I tried to put these thoughts into words:

Every time, I find myself here at the Heldenplatz, I can't help but to reflect, especially so in the recent days, about the different shades of grey in my own family's history.

My Jewish grandmother lived in Prague, until she was 16 years old. She fled to England, with a forged birth certificate, which she received from a catholic priest.

My Jewish grandfather lived in Vienna, until a German soldier helped him flee to Belgium.

Two human beeings, who didn't respect the rules. Who did the right thing at the right time, saved the lives of my grandpatents. In the eyes of their colleagues, friends and maybe even their families, this was simply treason.

I have allways been raised to ignore societies expectations.

My father, also Jewish, was the former Secretary General of the FPÖ under Haider, and came out publicly, supporting the Green candidate Van der Bellen in this election.

And my German grandfather, was a soldier in the Wehrmacht, shooting at allied planes in North Africa.

Because of this personal history, I have allways struggled to categorize the world into good and bad.
I always had to make an effort, discussing what is right and what is wrong. Entertaining a thought withouth accepting it. Respecting an emotion without sharing it.

In my daily life at the Muslim Jewish Conference I often deal with young Muslims and Jews, who are made to feel like traitors in their own communities, because they had the „revolutionary“ idea to talk to each other instead of about each other.

And thats why it concerns me, when in a democracy, in 2016, in the middle of Europe, we use language, that belongs in dictatorships.

If we make the historic mistake to brand the voters of our political opponents as traitors, instead of defeating them with reason within the sphere of political debate, then we have a problem, even though Van der Bellen won.

We are not better people, because we voted for a different party. The same way we are not better people because we are Jews, Muslims or Christians, or because we are from Syria, St Moritz or Salzburg.

We differ, according to religion, origin, tradition, colour of skin, language, and yes also political affiliation. But neither the one nor the other side must use this do divide society into good and evil.

We wont be able to pull this off alone. None of the upcoming, complicated problems can be solved by simple answers.

If we don't create innovative networks of cooperation, which are based on mutual respect, interaction, information and cooperation, we have a problem - even though Van der Bellen won.

We must be able to face conflicts and disagreements democratically. To engage in dialogue with those that are willing, but also identify those that are not. And if we walk into walls, at least let us run into them full speed. We will loose some of these debates, and maybe even the next election, but we can not be threatened by issues anymore. We have to face them, discuss them, loudly, competently and in the midst of the society.

We need to raise the level of political debate once again, so let us make history, for the next generation of Austrians, no matter where they come from, no matter who they pray to, or who they happen to fall in love with.

We need to demand real political ideas from our leaders again, so that the ones they are selling to us wouldn't not be as empty as a sketch book.

I voted for Van der Bellen, because he stood for something instead of just being against everything else. But if we all do not take politics seriously again, and work towards a society that tackles our future challenges together, we will have a massive problem.

No matter who wins the next election.

Ilya Sichrovsky is the Founder and Secretary General of the Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC). He lives and works in Vienna. To find out more about MJC, visit www.mjconference.de

Image credits: Dominik Bartsch

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