schneefink: (FF River and Kaylee)
The constant terrible political news is exhausting, and I don't even live in the countries most affected. Currently, every bit of positive political news feels like a torch in a cave, so if you are like me, have something that is currently cheering me up: at least for now, the planned surveillance laws in Austria failed.

Some background: this got longer than planned )

This was meant to be more cheerful. Also shorter... Ah well, I already typed it up.
schneefink: Teyla and Sora with drinks, laughing (SGA Teyla and Sora cheerful)
Austria just elected the left-wing instead of the right-wing candidate president! And it wasn't close, a 6% difference, ten times as much as in the original run-off election. Even bigger voter participation too. I'm so, so relieved.

I still don't think the Constitutional Court decision to repeat the election was correct, but in hindsight it was probably a good thing. If they hadn't the FPÖ would always keep the rumors alive that Van der Bellen only won because of manipulation, and like this it's unambiguous.
schneefink: (ahsoka)
Tired of US presidential election drama? How about something different: Austrian presidential election drama! Not so over the top that you would have thought it was too ridiculous to even make up a year ago, and with WAY fewer global consequences. Practically relaxing, by comparison.

Some background. The first round of this presidential election was back in April (!), then we had a run-off election between two candidates – one from the left-wing (Grüne), one from the right-wing (FPÖ) opposition party – in May. Fortunately, the candidate of the Green party won by 31.026 votes.

OR SO IT SEEMED. The FPÖ then challenged the election before the Constitutional Court, Austria's Supreme Court (more or less.) They claimed the election had been manipulated. The Court discovered that in several districts there had been instances of sloppiness when counting the votes, like opening the postal votes too early or not getting all necessary witness signatures. However, there was no proof and no indication of manipulation.

You'd think the Court would maybe order the votes to be recounted, something like that, right? Nope. The Court ruled that the election had to be repeated in full, because "there was a theoretical possibility of manipulation" – which the law doesn't even cover, the law clearly presumes an influence on the result! Mathematicians proved that the chance the votes affected by irregularities would have changed the result of the election was one in eight billion. The judgement was plain wrong. (one of many articles (in German.))

Nothing we can do. Repeat the election at the beginning of October. EXCEPT! There was a problem with the envelopes for the postal votes, which are very popular. Some of them opened on their own, making the votes invalid. The glue was faulty. The fucking glue.
ETA: The FPÖ briefly tried to use this to start a "get rid of postal votes" campaign, because they usually do very badly with postal votes, but fortunately that met with so much opposition that it died down quickly.

So the election had to be postponed again! This time, at the beginning of December. (In the meantime, btw, the office of president is being fulfilled by the three leaders of the National Council. The president in Austria, while in theory having not insignificant power, is traditionally not very involved in day-to-day politics.) A new law was necessary to even make that possible. The new law also stated that while in the repeat election in October only the people eligible to vote in April could participate, in the next repeat election everyone who is eligible by December can participate, changing the electorate.

Ahh, but it gets more ridiculous. The weekly newspaper "Falter", which published several articles criticizing the Constitutional Court judgment, recently interviewed one of the judges of the Constitutional Court. He didn't really say anything new, but one interesting detail was that he said he believes FPÖ leadership had prepared to challenge the election result even before the election. This unsurprisingly led to outrage among the FPÖ, who "didn't have a choice" and have now sued Judge Schnizer on multiple counts because of libel and related charges.

There's still a month and a half to go until the election! Let's see what else happens. If we're lucky it'll be the last one for this presidential election. There's a very real possibility that the FPÖ candidate will win in December, which would mean that a political party lost an election, appealed to have it overturned because of formalities so they could try again and hopefully win this time, and it worked. That would be absolutely infuriating. It's bad enough now: I'm so angry at the Constitutional Court, like, what the fuck. Thinking that the highest Court in the land isn't competent doesn't feel good, btw. (Of course I knew judges are fallible, but still.)

Sometimes when I'm frustrated with Austrian politics and the election in particular I tell myself that at least we don't have it as bad as the US, where that orange asshole became the presidential candidate for one of the two major parties despite… basically everything he's said and done. (Fortunately the chances of him actually winning seem very low right now.) Dear Americans, best of luck with the election, with keeping up your health and nerves until then, and fingers crossed that after the first election there aren't any additional complications.


May. 23rd, 2016 04:04 pm
schneefink: (FF Kaylee in hammock)
The Austrian presidential election was decided by 31.026 votes, 50,3% - 49,7%. Over 72% voter participation. The most important thing: the right-wing candidate lost. Though it's way too close for comfort; I've seen some international headlines "Austria rejects right-wing candidate" and you can't say that after he got almost 50% of the votes. (3,6% of the votes were invalid, more than enough to potentially decide the election.)

Just to clarify, the most important election in Austria is the election of the national parliament, which determines the government and the chancellor. The president has traditionally had a mostly ceremonial role. However, he does have some important powers and the right-wing candidate said "people will be surprised what is possible." Ugh. It's suspected that he planned to fire the current government to get a new election sooner, which would favor his right-wing party.

Some context: there were five candidates for this presidential election, four from the bigger parties and one independent. Austria used to have two big parties for decades, the conservative ÖVP and the socialist SPÖ, but they lost a lot of popularity due to several different factors. The biggest opposition parties are the left-wing Green party and the right-wing FPÖ.
We had a run-off election between the Green party candidate (Van der Bellen) and the FPÖ candidate (Hofer.) The election was on Sunday, but it was so close that the final result wasn't known until about 1-2 hours ago. (Did it have to take so long to count all the votes? Seriously, Innsbruck? The Pens lost yesterday so not even that was a good distraction.)
A very accurate quote from I-don't-know-who/multiple sources: "100% of Austrians think 50% of Austrians are idiots."

The majority of women, people living in cities, and people with high school degrees voted for VdB, by the way. The majority of men, people in rural areas, and the overwhelming majority of workers voted Hofer. Nobody tell me again that not every single vote counts. Oh and right-wing voters already have their conspiracy theories: this is proof that people are brainwashed at Austrian universities, clearly, and also that the votes were manipulated etc. etc.

I'm SO RELIEVED. It was so close, and the prospect of having a right-wing president was scary. As it is I'm already nervous about the next parliament elections. Hopefully this close outcome will lead to positive reforms in the center parties. DO NOT WANT right-wing chancellor H.C.Strache *shudders*
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)
It's winter, so there are much fewer refugees arriving in Europe currently. A much needed break to figure out how best to deal with the situation. A recent mayors' conference in Austria came up with the slogan "after a 'welcome culture' we now need a 'welcome structure'", accurate.

The Austrian government had the great idea to set an "upper limit" of how many refugees the country will accept, or a guideline of how many people the country is currently able to deal with well, they're still fighting about that. Some politicians apparently think that you can count people and say "oh sorry, you're late, human rights don't apply to you because we don't want to spend money on you don't have space left." I absolutely get being annoyed at countries like England that are unwilling to take on refugees, but at the same time other countries take on more people by an order of magnitude and people are still drowning.

It's hard to get a good picture of what the situation here actually looks like because both sides, pro- and anti-refugees, exaggerate and/or obfuscate, so I try to be very careful. There have been some cases of refugees harassing people, especially women, and there have been some ugly racist actions.
From my family I know that the family the parish is housing is nice. LB says it's starting to be discouraging to the several people in the parish who are spending a lot of time helping them out with learning German, school, shopping etc. that they feel like their help isn't appreciated; gratitude is an important reward for volunteer work. I wonder how much of that is communication issues though and I can imagine that it'll change.

I knew cross-cultural communication difficulties would crop up, and one I did not anticipate are handshakes. Apparently in Syria/Arab countries unfamiliar men and women don't shake hands, for cultural/religious reasons. However here handshakes signal respect, and if someone shakes someone else's hand but not yours it's generally seen as a sign of disrespect. I know it bothered LB quite a bit, and we talked about if people who are living here should be expected to adapt, without really coming to any conclusions. On the one hand I don't think anyone should be forced to touch someone they don't want to touch, on the other hand socially it's an insult. In Graz a teacher is actually suing the father of a student: in a professional setting he shook all her male colleagues' hands but not hers, which she says is an insult and gender-based discrimination. I can definitely see her point, and I'm very curious how that lawsuit will go.
schneefink: (Hängebrücke)
The EU Commissioner for Migration praised Austria's refugee camp Traiskirchen: "certain things could be improved in the next days, but all in all it's a hospitable and orderly environment. […] refugees are treated in a very humane way", and that Austria should be lauded for establishing this camp. (transl. by me) This is barely a month after Amnesty International visited the camp and reported inhumane conditions because of self-inflicted total systematic failure. During that time from what I can tell some conditions were improved, there are now a bit fewer people there and new management, so at least that's something, but I'm skeptical things changed this much. Since the latest wave of Syrian refugees coming from Hungary the media are reporting a lot less on those already here.

The outpouring of help for the refugees in Vienna + surrounding areas is beautiful. There are a lot of donations, one time when I drove by the train station ten minutes from my home half the pavement was full with refugees and helpers handing out stuff. Currently they're mostly still looking for money to buy tickets. There was already one big demonstration for treating refugees better (unfortunately I couldn't go because I was sick), and so far there has been surprisingly little xenophobia even from the political right and in the public discourse. Unfortunately I'm sure it won't last.
Isn't it interesting how public perception of refugees is much more welcoming when they're not staying here? Maybe I'm becoming too cynical.

I'm actually feeling mostly positive about my country in this regard right now, which is nice. There are many incredibly helpful people who are doing good things, the current wave of refugees is treated relatively well by a combination of volunteers and public institutions (thank you ÖBB), and even politicians seem to not be screwing this up yet. Austria is one of the leading European countries in accepting refugees per inhabitants (4th in 2014, according to UNHCR. 1st is Sweden, 2nd Hungary and 3rd Montenegro, while Germany and Turkey lead in refugees accepted per GDP/capita. data)

On the other hand I'm frustrated with several aspects of public discourse (what else is new.) For example there seems to be this idea that this is all happening very sudden. Maybe this particular group, but Europe has had a refugee problem for years that it refused to acknowledge, and people warned it would get worse and still nothing happened. People talk about the photograph of the drowned Syrian kid as if they only just found out that refugees are drowning on their way to Europe. This has been happening for years, thousands of them, and after every bigger catastrophe for a week people would remember this problem exists and then forget it again. (Props to Italy for actually financing a program to save people. Now the EU has a program but it has a much smaller budget.) That makes it hard to believe that this time a sustainable solution will be found instead of another temporary patchwork fix.

Or how so many seem to put all the blame on Hungary for not treating the refugees better. Hungary has finite resources, is shouldering a large part of the refugee crisis, and that after a recent economical crisis, and many EU states just can't agree on what to do and do very little. When Austrian journalists are talking about how terrible the situation at Keleti is and how terribly the Hungarian police is treating the refugees there's always this self-congratulatory undertone of how Austria is doing much better and acting in a much more humane way. Selective perception.

Unfortunately I have only a limited ability to deal with the refugee topic despite the fact that it's extremely important. (Also since I moved out of my parents' place and don't get their newspapers anymore it's been harder to stay well informed in a non-stressful way.)
Some "regular" political absurdity to end this post: Ursula Stenzel was a member of the ÖVP, Austria's moderate conservative party, and has been for ten years the political leader of Vienna's first and central district despite the fact that the whole city has been firmly in SPÖ, i.e. socialist, hands for years. She's known for not liking fun, like street artists and festivals etc. For the next city elections in October the ÖVP didn't nominate her as their main candidate again, so she recently announced that she will run for election as an independent candidate – on the list of the FPÖ, Austria's right-wing party, the party that the ÖVP has been trying to distance themselves from whenever politically convenient, which is always except when they desperately need a coalition partner. Politics.
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (A:tla Iroh make tea not war)
This is an unpleasant topic, but unfortunately not one I can avoid. Have a short list of some things currently going wrong in Austrian politics. (I don't think "most things" is an exaggeration just because it could theoretically be even worse. Okay, some of that is probably media bias.)

Cut for: Who can find the lost billions, what do you mean corruption is illegal, don't actually shoot them (we think), we don't need no information, let's go buy a party, and media, what do you mean media? )
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)
I'm still sick, I forgot how much I hate that. Especially the headache and the inability to think or feel motivated to do anything - like write about my trip to the UK, because at the moment it would probably read like a story of one almost-disaster after the other, it was that kind of trip. But it was fun! See, that's why I can't write about it yet, too gloomy.
Today is Austria's national holiday, so at least I don't miss any lectures. I already cancelled my weekend plans (choir weekend *cries*) and the relatives who come to stay with us for a few days hopefully know not to expect me to do much. I should at least do my homework instead of writing pointless dw updates, but who cares, I'm sick, I can post self-indulgent whining if I want to. I need more tea and maybe another aspirin, then I'll feel better.

Anyway, today I found an article about the world's most prosperous cities that starts with the sentence: "The world might want to look to Vienna, Austria to solve all of its problems." This is all kinds of hilarious, especially since I spent my morning reading about various Austrian corruption scandals and the rich-poor class difference, but we do have it pretty good here. For example because of the food and water, or the music and culture, or the public transport, or the public infrastructure in general, or the parks, or the weather. I love my city :)

Impressions of Vienna: 10 minutes slow-motion video about Vienna with great camera perspectives
Wien Österreich - this and the next one have a bit more everyday life
Vienna in Austria
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)
I normally don't read online newspapers, and I'm not yet good or patient enough to try the Russian papers. But today I was bored enough checked. Apparently there's a crazy person driving around in my home town shooting people with an air rifle. O.O

(Not in our district, fortunately. I wonder what the tabloid headlines look like?)

The current corruption scandals are almost too many to list them all and certainly too many to keep track of, which kind of says everything necessary about Austrian politics. Personally I love this song, which lists scandals to "We didn't start the fire." It will make no sense to people not familiar with Austrian politics, but I think it's hilarious. And the "list of inspirations" in the google docs file is very sad.

Also there's currently a "Slash Film Festival". Horror movies were not what I first thought of.
schneefink: (Feldgatter)
I hadn't planned to write about Austrian politics, but I need to rant.

Our vice chancellor, finance minister, and head of the People's Party stepped down yesterday because of health-related reasons. He was not completely incompetent (and so much better than Grasser, who was stupid and corrupt), so I'd say it's a loss.

The problem is that he didn't name a successor. Meaning they're already fighting for his positions. It becomes painfully obvious that we're lacking competent politicians who could step up.

1) Please, please don't promote Mitzi Fekter. She's minister of the interior and either paranoid, stupid, or trying to steal the voters of the right-wing party with her immigration policies. Okay, no, I guess it's just genuinely her belief. Which is even more frightening.

2) Hopefully whoever steps up will fire Bandion-Ortner, minister of justice. She only got the position because she was a judge in one of the largest business trials, and by now they found out how many grievous legal mistakes she made in that sentence. A minister of justice should not make as many mistakes about law as she constantly does. She's not even sure if she's attorney general or not and seems to get involved with ongoing trials arbitrarily or at least depending on how the media reports on it. About the recent discussion - separation of powers, anyone? And hey, here's a thought: if you think the prosecutors and judges aren't working fast enough, how about appointing more of them instead of less? Everyone working in the legal system says we need at least twice as many public prosecutors, especially for business trials, but not, the state wants to save money in that area. Fair trials are a basic principle of constitutional states. This includes actually making going to trial affordable for everyone instead of continuing to raise all sorts of legal fees. And the fight against corruption everyone is talking about will not work without prosecutors who, you know, bring corrupt people to court. How can they not get that? I thought we're not in Italy! (Sorry, Italy.)

3) Just heard on the radio that Spindelegger, the foreign minister, will become vice chancellor. I don't know much about him, which means he didn't do many rant-worthy things. And he says he'll re-arrange his team, so - maybe?

4) Still no word who'll become the new minister of finance. My guess is they're having trouble finding someone. This is the party that didn't appoint a candidate for presidency because they couldn't find anyone willing to take the risk with a chance of success. If the two former major parties continue like this, Strache's right-wing party might become even more powerful. Ugh.

And this is not even half of the administration. There's much more to rant about. Sad.

Think positive - it might get better! Yeeeah, right. Maybe.


schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)

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