“The successor to the Austrian right wing populist Jörg Haider (see blog entry from 10th of October), Stefan Petzner, has shocked the staunchly conservative country by revealing in a tearful interview that they shared a “special relationship.”1 The news in today’s ‘Guardian’ would only appear to confirm what a lot of people have suspected for a long time. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that Haider was a man who voted against lowering the age of consent for homosexuality, a married man with two daughters and a man who led Austria’s far right. Granted, the double standards and hypocrisy of the far right is par for the course and not only in Austria, therefore, today’s news should hardly be surprising even for those who didn’t suspect Haider’s sexual preferences. Nevertheless, there is an extra sociological cum psychological cum historical dimension that can be applied to the Haider case that gives it an added interest. In Austria a petite bourgeois “Weltanschaung”, a hangover from the Hapbsburg Empire, mitigates against any assumption that a respectable member of the community could commit a serious crime or even deviate from the norm. That means that, while Haider’s “coming out” or should I say, never coming out, is hardly a crime, it does require an attitude that can facilitate crimes such as those committed by the anti-social technician, Wolfgang Priklopiln, who kept Natascha Kampusch in his cellar for eight years until she managed to escape, and the respectable Engineer, Josef Fritzl, who managed to keep his daughter in a cellar for 23 years where she gave birth to seven of his children …. eight people living locked in a cellar and the neighbours never noticed? Two incidents within the space of less than two years and how many more have remained undiscovered or have yet to be discovered?
Of course, England had its Freddy West and the shenanigans in Belgium are known to all and sundry. Nevertheless, this is about Austria and it’s about a class that creates its own little world and whose members don’t tolerate outsiders prying into their business. It is a world where, more or less, everything is hunky-dory and and I remember when I was driving back to Munich from Budapest once and I had an argument at a service station on the “autobahn” between Vienna and Linz when on complaining about something I was told in no uncertain terms, ” Wenn es dir hier nicht gefällt, dann hau ab” (if you don’t like it here, then piss off). In little Austria, with its great cuisine and beautiful scenery, stuck somewhere on the “Autobahn” between Budapest and Munich, I am, of course, an outsider and an insider like Haider is hardly likely to tell the good citizens of Carinthia and Austria that he might just be a wee bit different from most of them.
There is an identity crisis in the Second Austrian Republic, a collective schizophrenia that denies the country’s nazi past or even sees the people portraying themselves as victims of nazism. It is a schizophrenia that sees its people withdraw into their “heile Welt”, their land of milk and honey, where they mind their own business and they expect you to mind yours. Of course, it should be added that for a lot of people, Austria is, indeed, a land of milk and honey, a truely beautiful country, clean, efficient, wealthy and with a lot to be proud of. Nevertheless, it is also a place where it is better for public figures not to come out as homosexuals and a place, where you might want to think about emigrating to if you are planning to lock a few people up in the cellar. Mind you, if you don’t want to be noticed, you should have an Austrian passport or at least be white, outwardly petite bourgeoise and German speaking and maybe even capable of whiping the masses up to such a frenzy that they will want to invade a neighboring country. Could almost be describing someone here but then he was actually an Austrian that came to Germany a few years ago.
Finally, to the Alpine republic’s credit though, it should be emphasised that “coming out” is not a crime like it is in Saudi Arabia where, I believe, they bury you alive. Moreover, it is a crime in Austria to father seven of your daughter’s children and it is also a crime, unlike in some countries, to keep people locked up in cellars and if the police do get to hear about it, as they obviously occassionally do, you will get locked up. Furthermore, in Graz and Vienna in particular, there are little areas where everything can be hunky-dory even you are a non-white foreigner, a ranging left winger or outrageously gay. There are a lot worse places than Austria but, if you have a darker skin than most of the Austrians, be prepared for people staring at you in parts of the country … oh, and be careful who you pick up at a disco, you don’t want to end up in a cellar, do you?
The picture is of Hallstadt, on the beautiful “Hallstadtersee” in beautiful part of Austria, where everything is hunky-dory, everbody is white, everbody is straight and the houses have big big cellars.