The (Re)birth of Direct Democracy – part 2

Mobile polling station. And Amalienbad in background where I first went naked in a sauna.

Something is definitely wrong with me. All across the city, in the run-up to next month’s exercise in direct democracy there are road-side placards and posters championing the policies of the politics of the left the right and the deluded. Many of them boast the smiley yet vaguely sinister faces of the Freedom Party (the FPÖ), the anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-Muslim far-right face of Austrian politics. And curiously it is one message which I find myself grudgingly agreeing with: the “Wischi-Waschi” nature of the questions and indeed the whole process of the impending referendum. (Students of linguistics will know that “Wischi-Waschi” means wishy-washy.) In fact, the wishy-washy nature has been comprehensively confirmed by a Swiss acquaintance. And let’s face it while the Swiss are well known for being cagey about the providence of iffy money, they know a thing or two about people and voting.

In recent weeks, the oft heard reaction to the referendums in Vienna is one of “Why should we do the work of politicians?” At first I thought this was just a normal metropolitan whinge amongst a dissatisfied and listless electorate bored by the profligacies and corrosive nature of modern politics. But now I am not so sure. Indeed, it is difficult to find ANYONE who has any sense of eagerness for the referendums, which is saying something in a city where contempt and derision are highly regarded hobbies. More so that no-one I speak to seems to have any real sense of what is really behind the whole exercise. Tangible information regarding the issues is scarcer than a checkout assistant in a Viennese supermarket and there is real frustration that it is at best a complete waste of money. And you know what? I think I am starting to agree with them.

Not that this has any relevance, of course. Like in January of this year when the nation went to the polls to vote (referendum, style) on whether the current model of conscription should be changed in preference to a professional army, I won’t be able to vote. The only Bundesland (federal state) to vote in favour of abolishing conscription was Vienna. The reason for this, explained to me by a knowledgeable local, was the proliferation of foreign parents in the city who didn’t want their offspring (although mostly likely Austrian by birth) to serve the mother-land. And my first thought was, “But, I couldn’t vote.”

In Vienna I am not one of the estimated 1.15 million people eligible to participate because, like the vote for conscription, I am cursed with a British passport. This seems grossly inequitable especially as Austrian teenagers are allowed to vote and they know nothing, right, for sure? But where the future of the army was a national issue, as a non-national an argument could be made that I had no business in voting either way, although my kids could end up defending the borders from rampaging Germans massing over the border to take Austrian jobs. However, the city referendums are local issues which have a direct impact on my delicate sensibilities. I have lived here for more than a third of my life, paying taxes (the mantra of the dispossessed middle classes) and even eating Schmalzbrot (lard on bread). For that alone I deserve a voice.

But what are the questions? Well, regular readers (and if you are not regular, why not?) of this blog will know that we covered parking in a previous posting. The remaining questions are:

  • Should public services (water, waster disposal, energy, hospitals etc..) be privatised?
  • Should the city invest and build renewable energy sources?
  • Should Vienna apply as the host nation for the summer Olympics in 2028?
Voting paper
Polling cards stolen from mother-in-law

The first two questions seem relatively straightforward although the very fact the Socialist / Green ruling coalition are even venturing to raise the question about privatisation is making me nervous. Does this mean they have already considered it? In short, I would be surprised if anyone votes yes. As for the renewable energy, Vienna is proudly progressive of its green credentials so such moves are hardly surprising. Amongst local voters (in my household) there is tentative support but two fossil burning questions remain: how much will it cost? And can you build it my neighbour’s district? Again, no one seems to really know and no one seems to want to proffer an estimate.

Applying for the summer Olympics, on the other hand, is provoking much more passion. Christian Oxonitsch, a man who seems to get his picture in the press more often than Kim Kardashian, is also the politician responsible for sport in Vienna. He says that Vienna and the summer Olympic Games is entirely conceivable, but is equally clear about the need to ask the people whether they (the city) should invest several billion Euros in hosting the games. Yet word of a 100 million Euro application fee is already giving many people a few sporting heebie-jeebies and there is a growing sentiment that such a scheme is simply political vanity (my theory, admittedly). Speaking of which, Vienna’s generously jowled mayor is also an enthusiastic backer. Yet given the quantity of wine he purportedly drinks in local Heuriger, there is a fair chance he won’t be around in 2028 so what right does he have to vote and I not? In any case, it has led me to the following conclusion: that the whole question is a cunning ruse built around the politics of conceit to get the national stadium renamed from the Happel to the Häupl. An immense, box-ticking, legacy driven public bonanza with the rubber stamp of socialist approval stalking every part of the process. So, I better start training the kids.

In short, the questions seem poorly thought out and lacking real conviction. Like a crap Irish pub. So here are my alternative issues (all yes/no answers):

  1. All drivers who jump red lights banned for a year and fined 5000 Euro?
  2. No more “Italian” restaurants painted red, white and green?
  3. All supermarkets forced to open more checkouts?
  4. Anyone caught letting their dog foul public areas will to spend one week cleaning their district (unpaid)?
  5. Kindergarten teachers given an automatic 50% pay-rise?
  6. Should the state provide any further money for failed banks?

© R. J Barratt 2013

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