The following report by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff scrutinizes the recent coalition government formed in Austria by the ÖVP (Österreichische Volkspartei, Austrian People’s Party) and the FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, Austrian Freedom Party), paying particular attention to the provisions on domestic security in the coalition’s program.
Updated analysis on the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition pact
by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
Vice President of Wiener Akademikerbund (WAB)
December 20, 2017
After 51 days of negotiations, the ÖVP and FPÖ finally concluded their talks on their coalition pact. These 51 days might seem like a long time; however, statistics show that this time frame is about what previous governments needed to reach their pact. What set these 51 days apart from other coalitions in the past was the lack of infighting between the two partners: the so-called grand coalition partners (SPÖ and ÖVP) began their government bickering, and ended it with open hatred. Never before have I seen two parties argue so little and work so quietly and successfully. This alone gives cause for hope.
The finalization of the coalition talks was presented in a hotel on the Kahlenberg, the very site that saw King Jan Sobieski begin the liberation of a Turkish-occupied Vienna. The new chancellor was asked by a German reporter whether he was aware of this historic site and whether the choice was intentional. He replied: “I was in charge of many things, but not the choice of venues for the presentation.” In any case, the Kahlenberg was a telling choice.
Gatestone notes the following:
A 180-page document [pdf] explains the new government’s agenda between now and 2022. It promises to crack down on political Islam; to crack down on illegal immigration; to speed up asylum decisions and to sponsor an EU summit on immigration when Austria holds the EU presidency in the second half of 2018.
The document also pledges to give Austrians more opportunities to vote in referendums — although it explicitly refuses to allow a referendum on the country’s continued membership in the European Union.
In addition, the document promises to: require migrants to learn German; require migrant kindergartners who have insufficient German language skills to repeat kindergarten before progressing to the first grade; increase the legal penalties for sexual crimes; strengthen Austrian defense; hire more police officers; reduce the bureaucracy and not raise taxes.
My analysis will comprise solely the chapter on “Domestic Security”, as this is the only one of concern to CJ allies. (For those who know German: I urge you to read the original document.)
In its introduction to the part on domestic security, the program says: “Parallel societies may not develop in this country. We must prevent subversive extremism and subversive radicalization […]”
WAB: This can be interpreted as constitutional combat of those holding disagreeable views, i.e. us.
The subchapter on “Combating subversive extremism and subversive radicalization, especially to prevent terrorist activities” notes specifically, “As in prior years, the greatest danger for Austria’s domestic security stems from Islamistic [sic!] terrorism.”
WAB: Thank you, this is very explicit and clearly stated.
Program: “new threats and challenges (transnational terrorism, foreign agitation, migration)”
WAB: what is foreign agitation?
Program: “Amendment of the Law on Association in order to combat extremism and terrorism as well as strict execution of legal provisions in order to shut down extremist-religious places of worship.”
WAB: The above point warrants a closer analysis.
|1.||A place of worship cannot be extremist, only people can.
|2.||When the Law on Islam was passed in 2015, thanks to the support of FPÖ, WAB was closely involved in the constitutional and parliamentary process. Even back then, WAB strongly criticized the weakness in this specific point of the proposed law. As noted by Christian Zeitz in his critique:
“The necessary dissolution of mosque and prayer groups which have been established in a rampant, unmanageable process in recent years, and have overspread all of Austria with a dense net of 460 such institutions. The reality of the practice or pursuit of a religion in completely unaccounted-for organizations is incompatible with the idea of a legally recognized religious society which is responsible for its actions and its practitioners and therefore enjoys legal protection and privileges.
So now WAB’s predictions have come to fruition. Unfortunately, no one from FPÖ team called Zeitz to ask for suggestions on how to fix the law. Here are the suggestions:
Revision of the Law on Associations:
By this is meant standardisation of a general prohibition on the exercise of corporate freedom of religion or the management of a religious establishment based on the legal structure of an association. At the same time a measure must be adopted which also ensures that those religious communities which do not satisfy the requirements for the approval of a legally recognised religion can exercise their rights in the context of the general freedom of religion. Therefore:
Revision of the Act concerning the Legal Personality of Religious Confessional Communities [Bekenntnisgemeinschaftengesetz: BGBl. I Nr. 19/1998]
This law — as a law on special associations, since the law encompasses this category — should enable a low-threshold access to the utilisation of corporative freedom of religion. In addition, the obligation for proof of a prescribed minimum number of members (presently 300) should be removed.
At the same time the Act pertaining to a prohibition of foreign financing of societies approved by this law should be supplemented in a way analogous to the corresponding standardisation in the Islam Act. In this way, the fact that this regulation is not limited to Islamic communities could be given expression. In order to be certain of accomplishing the task to be solved here, an adaptation of § 1 must be made, which excludes legally recognised associations of religious adherents from the choice of legal structure.
Supplement to the Draft of the proposed Islam Act.
This law should be supplemented by an introductory provision, which, based on the introduction of Article I of the “old” Islam Act, is directed towards all adherents of Islam, regardless of their denomination. These should first of all be invited to participate in the building up of the common good and in the cultivation of the constitutional quality of the Republic of Austria and to contribute to the preservation of the cultural foundations, which make for a worthwhile life and a prosperous polity in Austria.
In addition, they should be invited to make use of the opportunity of entering into a religious community of a legally constituted religious society or a confessional community, or to establish such entities.
Finally it should be pointed out explicitly in § 3 (4), that (corresponding to the Law on Associations) all Islamic associations, which operate a religious establishment, or more specifically, which are collectively actualised within the framework of the prescribed ritual acts in Islam, are dissolved (§ 23).
Program: “Provisions in the criminal code against political Islam (to be developed in the criminal code).”
WAB: Impossible to do!
Program: “Introduction of aggravating circumstances for religious-fundamentalist motivated violence.”
WAB: How will elements of the offense be collected, especially in view of the lack of knowledge of Koranic and other instructions?
Combating Political Islam
Program: “Austria guaranteed freedom of religion and belief, but combats political Islam. We understand political Islam to be [sic!] groups and organizations whose ideological foundation is Islam and whose aims are the change of the political and social order to the point of rejecting our constitutional state and the implementation of the Islamization of our society. Political Islam leading to radicalization, anti-Semitism, violence and terrorism have no place in our society.
There is a distinction between political Islam — with the goal of undermining our society — and the religion of Islam. The overwhelming majority of Muslims who live peacefully according to our values here in Austria must be protected from the influence of political Islam.”
WAB: First, we appreciate the definition of “political Islam” as presented by the current Austrian government. It is beautifully circular and therefore addresses Islam, rather than the “political” part, and we propose the tactical use of the definition in international forums.
Second, however, we must criticize the second part of the definition as it completely destroys the actual definition.
Nevertheless, the tactical use of the actual definition can be helpful and we should employ it.
- Call for the comprehensive disclosure of the tenets of faith, including the text of the important sources of belief (Koran), according to § 6 Law on Islam.
- Strict monitoring of the ban of foreign financing of religious enterprises as well as verification of clubs and societies. The Department of Cultural Affairs is responsible for the entire implementation. The Law on Associations will be amended in order to reinforce prevention and prevent bypassing constructions.
- Permission for police to shut down places of worship for having terrorist propaganda as well as for the proclamation of broad concepts and theories supporting terrorism.
- Call to conveying constitutional values [these don’t exist in our constitution!] from day one, as this aid the prevention of radicalization. Focus on Austrian values, traditions and culture. In case of default the minimum benefits will be reduced. [in bold: sic!]
WAB: The first three bullets are OK. The last one is — to put it mildly — spurious. The final two sentences are completely without any sense. Austrian values and traditions are never defined. If a migrant starts eating Sachertorte or pork roast, is he integrated? If he doesn’t, will he lose benefits? Finally, it is not the State’s duty to convey any values; it should concern itself only with fundamental rights.
The final point I will address in this analysis is likely the most important one: freedom of speech. During the coalition talks we witnessed yet another conviction of a critic of Islam. This prompted the WAB (Christian Zeitz and me) to start earnest lobbying for the inclusion of the lifting of blasphemy laws stifling freedom of speech in Austria. In late November, in the midst of the coalition talks, Christian sent the following e-mail to Mr. Strache (FPÖ):
[Excerpt] The present coalition negotiations must be understood as the last possible chance of revision of this development! Without freedom of expression, i.e., the unhindered right to speak the truth about Islam, the mass immigration madness and cultural socialism, all attempts at a renewal of Austria are doomed to failure.
It is vital
- to remove without substitution §§ 188 (disparagement of religious teachings) and 283 (incitement) from the Austrian criminal code,
- to thoroughly revise the completely off-target Islam Law of 2015 which has contributed measurably to an intensified Islamization,
- and in the medium term to work on re-dimensioning anti-discrimination legislation.
These projects are, of course, not only politically highly sensitive, but require everyone’s consciousness of the landmines along the way, consideration of current and previous adjudication and its execution, as well as cognizance of the convoluted legal and Islamological relationships of these complicated, legal, political and ideological matters which, furthermore, are enmeshed in foreign policy and intelligence connections.
On the institutional level, among other things, it would be vital for the FPÖ to receive the department of cultural affairs and allocate it in a specific ministry, as well as equip and finance it as in the forthcoming federal ministry law. [Thank you to JLH for his translation of the e-mail]
Surveying the procedural practice and jurisprudence with respect to “denigration of religious teachings” and “incitement”.
WAB: Apparently, this was the maximum concession FPÖ was able to get from ÖVP. Remember, ÖVP campaigned on tightening speech laws, in line with the EU’s wishes.
We are quite happy with this part, as there is at least some political movement, albeit not any legal movement. However, 1. without WAB this part would not be addressed at all; and 2. the competent authorities can now be officially tasked (by WAB!) to do something, anything, like press conferences, prepare statistics on how many people have been convicted for incitement re Islam, re Christianity, etc.
As analyzed above, the coalition program of the new ÖVP and FPÖ government can be characterized as one that makes efforts to effect change in Austria. Many of the points addressed can be considered a step in the right direction, while others are sadly amateurish. It remains to be seen whether WAB will be in a (financial) position to push for the relevant points to be addressed in reality, i.e. a revised Law on Islam, statistics and surveys on convictions under “incitement to hatred” and “denigration of religious teachings”.