Summer has indubitably returned and neutral Austria, in spite of the best efforts of its teddy bear President – Heinz Fischer – has seemingly made an enemy of Bolivia. Which is the official line. Rather than being kidnapped as is claimed, my diplomatic sources reassure me that Evo Morales simply seized the chance to stop in Vienna and stock up on a couple of crates of Ottakringer (local beer) and some of those wonderful, calorie busting cakes from Aida. In any case, I can think of worse places to spend 13 hours to watch the sun come up. But let’s face it, as much as I like the cuddly, charming and dignified presence of President Fischer, he isn’t exactly Julie Delpy.
But how would you know summer has arrived? In the number one city there are several key indicators:
1. Politicians, policy makers, (theoretical) educators and general busy-bodies (in German: ein Gschaftlhuber) feel it necessary to bemoan the length of school holidays – in Austria 9 weeks. The thrust of such views adopt one of three tangents: firstly, how is a hard pressed parent to arrange day care? Secondly, it is a waste of public money for schools to stay closed for two months (although there is no mention of parliament doing the same during the summer recess). And thirdly, teachers are a product of the darkest depths of Hades.
2. Traffic on the streets is noticeably less and it is easier to find a parking space in the city if you insist on driving, you petrol-headed freak.
3. An absence of children on the street. It reminds me of the town in Vulgaia from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (no bad thing) where the streets are eerily devoid of zee Kinder, all hidden nearby out of reach of the delicious child catcher. On the plus side also it means the buses and trams are mercifully free of children and is why this blogger – if he were not a parent – would be campaigning for a 52 weeks of school holiday.
4. Cafes empty out and you can get a table inside away from the people that try and flog you flowers and a certain magazine which I have never seen anyone buy.
5. The appearance of “back to school” adverts from bastard retailers living in the future, who are intent on bamboozling parents, already suffering from no child care for 9 weeks, with their sinister marketing message of: “Buy now, before the world implodes!”
6. The manifestation of political billboard campaigns in readiness for the autumnal elections (this year a general). The timing of this has always puzzled me. The reason I say this is that my interest, in fact, anybody’s interest in politics, incontrovertibly ceases once thoughts turn to flip-flops, summer G’spritzters and sitting outside being harassed by mosquitoes. Indeed, like my insect flying adversaries, I find the idea of political campaigning in summer rather repellent. Moreover, how am I supposed to exercise a bit of Hugo inspired carpe diem when our political rulers are constantly urging me to live in the sodding future? Yet as I write the city is adorned with the smiling billboard pictures of our political leaders, air-brushed more than a Playboy centrefold, with their simple messages of persuasion and fear. Which given that I masquerade as a scholar of language, it is these messages that tickle my linguistic intellect. So what are they saying?
As a preamble: In Austria, this year, there are 6 main political parties. I say ‘this year’ because the leader of Team Stronach – Frank “I made a billion in Canada” Stronach – is older than the Austrian second republic, and might not be here next year. But the parties and their main rhetorical thrusts are as follows:
The Socialists – imagery and language of turbulent times with the need for a steady hand on the controls of a runaway tram. Gigantic billboards of leader and current Chancellor of Austria Werner Fayman, displaying impressive hair deliberately greyed to aid gravitas and intellectual prowess.
The Conservatives – the conservative are cash strapped so their advertising is more muted (i.e. small) but the desperate rhetoric is all about how the Socialists are taxing the poor Austrian into oblivion. Important to point out is that the red and the blacks have been in a coalition for the last 4 years so they must have had a say, and a few biscuits, when discussing tax policy. In any case, we needed all that money to rescue those conservative influenced banks from the financial meltdown, but they seem to have forgotten this. Language includes: “Is your parents home safe?” or my favourite, “And tomorrow, Granny’s savings book?”.
The Freedom Party – run by the utterly charmless, witless and nauseating Heinz Christian Strache the FPÖ continue their printed oratory with attacks on the EU, the Euro, and Greece, whilst championing rights, money and protection for Austrians! Billboards disturbingly contain several picture of smiling, thumbs up teenagers, with the oily leader in his characteristic frat-boy look of light blue jumper draped over his bigoted shoulders. In a recent TV discussion he was pushed for a yes / no answer about Austria and a Euro exit. All he said was that it would be discussed with “our partners in the EU”. Which tells you all you need to know. Interestingly, Nobody ever admits to voting for the FPÖ but they are a 20% + force in Vienna.
The Greens – powerful in Vienna (vice mayor is a Green) but less so in the provinces. Largely escaped the political corruption and business sleaze of recent years and have positioned themselves accordingly with language to match. Should rename themselves: the White party.
Team Stronach – headed and bank rolled by flamboyant self-made billionaire Frank, Team Stronach are shaking up the establishment. Which establishment we are not sure. Frank has no idea what he is doing and really should be enjoying his capacious wealth like Hugh Hefner or pottering about in comfortable shoes. Needless to say, the message changes weekly (he is one of the people, he is the saviour of the working class, he is an outsider) but in reality it is all about deregulation, bashing the social contract, low taxation, anti EU and pro-business. Also, in his billboards he has managed to make himself look 30 years younger, which if he makes that a central plank of his political vision for all residents of Austria, then he gets my vote.
The Orange Party – a spin off from the Freedom Party, the BZÖ campaign pushes the notion of “genug gezahlt” meaning we have paid enough (taxes). Yes, yes Mr Bucher (the BZÖ leader without any other policies) that may well be so. But if we want to reduce the total tax burden then surely a good place to start is to halve the salaries of politicians? Intriguingly, no mention of this.
To conclude, you might be thinking, if you haven’t nodded off, that a blog about Vienna has little to do with an Austrian national election. I wouldn’t want to say it outright that the provinces of Austria are irrelevant, at least not when I am sitting up a mountain next to a couple of farmers sharpening their pitchforks. But Vienna is the pivotal election battleground for Austria given the capital’s size and financial muscle compared to the rest of the nation. So yes, the provinces are irrelevant. Ciao for now.
© RJ Barratt 2013