Reportage. About 10,000 Austrians, including students and activist groups, demonstrated Monday as the government unveiled a reactionary, neoliberal program with harsh measures against refugees.

Austrians march against a government bent on division

The ministers of the new Austrian “black-blue” government are all sunshine and smiles, but their program of 183 pages is just the opposite, thoroughly marked by the aim to divide society into class, ethnic and religious groups.

A measure that stands out is the stated intention to give Austrian citizenship to German-speaking Italians in the South Tyrol, which would create a situation of dual citizenship, not allowed in Austria precisely because of the opposition of the parties that now want it for South Tyrol. On Monday, Werner Neubauer, the official of the nationalist FPÖ party responsible for relations with the South Tyrol region, announced in Bolzano that the South Tyrolese will be able to apply for Austrian citizenship in 2018. Thus, according to Neubauer, among other effects of this measure, South Tyrolean athletes will be able to compete for the Austrian national team in the future.

Meanwhile, as the government made up of the conservatives and the extreme right was being sworn in Monday, dozens of different organizations—Offensive Against the Right, Bike Block/Critical Mass, the college students of the Austrian Students’ Union (ÖH) as well as high-school students, Asylum Coordination Austria, associations of the radical Left, the Antifa movement—all gathered starting from 8 a.m., in nine different spots in the city. In the afternoon, the “feminist bloc” protested and in the evening the university students in Salzburg.

Some 1,500 police in riot gear were mobilized, and traffic was blocked in most of the city. “No to the extreme right in the government” and “allerta antifascista” (“anti-fascist alarm”) were heard, and “Bella Ciao” was sung by the crowds. The largest part of the demonstration departed from the Platz der Menschenrechte (Human Rights Square), featuring the university students of the Österreichische Hochschülerinnen- und Hochschülerschaft (Austrian Students’ Union – ÖH).

The ÖH is an official institution of social partnership that the new government wants to downsize. The students’ banners proclaimed that “Culture is Resistance,” and featured rhymes against the extreme right, against neoliberalism and against the introduction of new tuition fees ordered by the new government. An angry majority of young people and even children were marching in the procession. When the inflows of protesters all met in Heldenplatz, next to Ballhausplatz—the seat of the government and the point of focus—they numbered around 10,000. A clamor of shouts and whistles rose up during the ceremony of the swearing in of the new ministers.

As serious as the issue of dual citizenship in South Tyrol is, it is nothing compared to what we find when we read the government’s program regarding migrants and asylum seekers. In the future, those who ask for asylum will have to hand over all the cash at their disposal, which will be used to cover the costs of asylum procedures. In addition, applicants will have to give their mobile phones to the authorities, handing over their personal information and social media accounts. Applicants will no longer receive any financial aid, not even pocket money, but only services.

The situation will also be clearly worse for recognized refugees, who should have the same rights as Austrian nationals. The “black-blue” program includes a cut to the Mindestsicherung (guaranteed minimum income) awarded to them, from €840 per month to €365 with a possible bonus of €155. This measure has already been introduced regionally in Upper Austria, where the Popular Party governs together with the FPÖ. The Kurz-Strache tandem intends to enact a new law to force regions that don’t discriminate against refugees, like Vienna, to fall in line.

And that is not all. The children of asylum seekers will no longer attend regular classes but special classes, so-called “bridge classes,” to be held at their accommodation facilities until they have learned German. As is well known, the best place for them to learn and integrate would be regular school, but, as the opposition politicians and organizations are accusing, integration is precisely what the government wants to prevent. Furthermore, in schools one always finds strong opposition and mobilization of students and teachers in cases of classmates being deported with their families.

And there is yet another anti-integration measure planned: Families and private houses will no longer be allowed to host unaccompanied minor refugees—because, obviously, experience shows that the results are too good, the spirit of the new government being to avoid any “pull factor” for migrants whatsoever.

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