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Dear Austria: this is just the beginning

Norbert Hofer looking sad.

Today Austria has given the world a tiny glimmer of hope. It’s tiny in a variety of ways: Austria is not exactly the most influential country in the world, or even in Europe; Van der Bellen’s margin of victory is fairly narrow; and this was an election of a mostly ceremonial head of state. Nonetheless, following Brexit and Trump, and looking ahead at a possible Le Pen presidency in France and fuck knows what in Germany next year, the fact that one small country in the heart of Europe, with a history of fascism, today rejected the far-right is a glimmer of hope. (On a personal note, I haven’t shelved my back-up plans for statelessness – no I’m not joking – but I’m reassessing the probability and time horizon for them, and that’s a temporary relief.)

But here’s the thing, fellow Austrians: this is just the beginning. Well, if we’re being honest, the beginning was some time in the mid-90s, but we kinda missed that one. And the next several beginnings. Because, as I’ve said elsewhere, in Austria, we just don’t talk about politics. Which is how we got to a position back in April where leading up to the first round of the elections, my Austrian Facebook was electoral tumbleweed, and the day after everyone was suddenly in a panic because “OMG we accidentally a nazi!”

The good thing about all this is that we are now paying attention. People who have never been politically engaged in their lives were actively campaigning. Conversations were happening. Heck, I finally registered to vote despite not having lived in the country for 17 years. And the success of this is measurable. I haven’t seen full stats yet but from what I’m hearing turnout was up on May, and Van der Bellen’s majority, albeit still too close for comfort, is up ten-fold. This is what happens when we pay attention. But our work is not done. Our work is just beginning.

The nazis (because, yes, that’s what they are, that’s what they’ve always been, and I refuse to normalise them by using any other name) aren’t going to just give up because they were narrowly defeated in an election for a ceremonial head of state. In the 2013 Nationalrat election nearly one in three votes went to a far right party. This is the platform they are building on, and they will continue building for the 2018 election, and for any and all regional elections they can get their hands on.

We must not let that happen. We must not rest on our laurels, declare the fight won with the election of Van der Bellen, and go back to politely not talking about politics. The way the world is going, we must be vigilant every step of the way, lest next time we accidentally a nazi for real. No matter whether you’re a veteran suffering activist burnout, or someone who only got engaged in politics for this election, stay engaged, stay active, stay vigilant. Take some time to celebrate by all means, and replenish your energy. But then get back to work. Build communities; reach out to the marginalised and those under attack; support each other in any way you can; fight in every single election no matter how local, how minor; and above all, do no stop talking about politics. Have those uncomfortable conversations with you family, your friends, your colleagues. Do not go back to silence and indifference. We simply cannot afford it.


And just in case you don’t believe me, here’s what Marine Le Pen had to say:

(Congratulations to the FPÖ who fought with courage. The next general election will be that of their victory.)


One place where I would start right now is putting pressure on all parties (and particularly the ÖVP) to rule out a coalition with the FPÖ or any of its splinter groups and offshoots, at any level of government. #justsayin’