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VEADA STOFF: I’ve been hit in the stomach by an older woman who just told me to get out of her way and to get out of her country. I’ve had children throw stones at me and make remarks like I should go back to the jungle.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, racism in Austria. And later, the Middle Powers Initiative.
TOM GRAHAM: I fear that until political leaders are willing to sit down and look afresh at the dangers and the very limited benefits of nuclear weapons, these specific proposals are not going to go very far.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The alarmed reaction of European leaders to the entry of the far right Freedom Party into the Austrian government was in part a warning to their own citizens. A fear of the “other” is helping far right parties across Europe gain votes. In France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark, right-wing parties are demanding a halt to immigration and refuting the idea of a multiethnic society. In Austria, immigrants from Central Europe, ex-Yugoslavia, Turkey, as well as many Bosnian refugees, make up about ten percent of Austria’s population. In addition, Austria has ethnic minorities of its own: Croats, Slovenes, and Roma Gypsies, who have lived there for centuries. How do minorities in Austria feel about the Freedom Party’s access to power? Common Ground correspondent Karen Engel asked many of them.
JOHANN SZEGU: Good morning ladies and gentleman. And welcome to Vienna. My name is Johann…
KAREN ENGEL: One of Vienna’s most seasoned tourist guides, Johann Szegu, is leading a group of intrepid sightseers on a walking tour of the city. Szegu is not Viennese himself. In fact Szegu came to Austria as a
Hungarian refugee in 1956 when Soviet troops put down the Hungarian Revolution.
SZEGU: I’m living in Austria for more than forty-two years. And I haven’t felt anything about xenophobia, however. I came to Austria in 1956 as a refugee. And I think as a former refugee you can never accept xenophobia or xenophobic statements and speeches in any form. But if you ask me, I had absolutely no bad experiences.
ENGEL: Szegu feels at home in Austria, but he’s worried that the diplomatic sanctions against Austria and Austria’s negative image abroad will hurt the tourist industry and his own income. He points out that most Austrians—seventy-three percent—did not vote for the Freedom party, and that the country remains a democracy.
SZEGU: Even now, having a new right government, we have the same constitution; the newspapers are criticizing the government, so we have the free press. In the parliament there are discussions and struggles between the government and the opposition, so we have a free opposition in the parliament. You see the demonstrations against the government, so we have the human rights. We are no dictatorship and we have no persecutions, and we have no civil war. We have one of the lowest crime rates. So I don’t see any reason for foreigners not to come to Austria.
ENGEL: But if you’re not a paying tourist, some Austrians don’t want you. Strict immigration laws are keeping non-EU citizens away. Those laws were only recently put into effect, not by the new government, but under the prior Social Democratic one. Rainer Munz is a demographer at the Humboldt University in Berlin and co-author of a recent study of xenophobia and migration in Austria.
RAINER MUNZ: I have my doubts as to whether we are witnessing a rising xenophobia; at least my own data and results show that there is no increase. It might have become more visible because we now have some twenty-seven percent of the population supporting Mr. Haider’s Freedom party. And this is a party that has been more explicitly xenophobic in its electoral campaigns than the other two major parties, which are the
Social Democrats and the Christian Conservatives.
ENGEL: A study based on interviews with thousands of residents concluded that Austrian views towards foreigners have hardly changed in the last ten years. That xenophobia was always there and strong, not only
among the ranks of the far right, but also among Social Democratic voters.
[A selection of radio announcers and programs from Austria and neighboring countries]
ENGEL: You only need to turn on your radio in Austria to realize how close you are to the border. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary are only an hour’s drive from Vienna; Slovenia just a skip across the border from the manufacturing centers of southern Austria and Graz. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Austria experienced a wave of new immigration from Central Europe, who joined the ranks of older immigrants from ex-Yugoslavia and Turkey, who competed for unskilled jobs that are now disappearing. Although Austria is the third-richest country in Europe, with a low unemployment rate, many are afraid they will lose their jobs in a rapidly changing economy. Demographer Rainer Munz.
RAINER MUNZ: We tend to overlook that even within a rich society, there can be losers, there can be people who are poor, who are at least poorly educated, and have to fear technological and other changes in the future. It is the weaker segment of the society; it is more likely to be inclined in to share xenophobic attitudes.
ENGEL: Aida Stavich didn’t come to Austria as a tourist or in search of a better income. She came here as a refugee nine years ago from Banja-Luka, in northern Bosnia, as nationalism started to flare up in former Yugoslavia. Austria took in more refugees per capita than any other European country. A Muslim from a well-integrated and educated family, Aida said that at first no one in Bosnia could imagine that the country would collapse into civil war. Although Austria isn’t like Yugoslavia, she says, it all sounds so familiar: the nationalistic rhetoric, the hefty debates in Parliament, the demonstrations. Now she has two small children of her own, the new political climate in Austria makes her feel uncomfortable.
AIDA STAVICH: [via a translator] “I found a new home here,” she says. “And I personally feel very unsecure now. No one threatens. Maybe it’s my own problem because of experience in Bosnia.” “But,” she says, “I don’t want to go through something like that again. And I’m afraid I will.”
SZABO HORVATH: [speaks in German to his dance class]
ENGEL: Szabo Horvath is giving dance lessons to a young group of children. A specialist in dance and physiotherapy, Horvath has lived in Austria for ten years and is an Austrian citizen. But he can’t get a regular job here, he says, because he’s still considered a foreigner.
SZABO HORVATH: [via a translator] “Szabo is my name,” he says, “and it’s not an Austrian or a German name, but a Hungarian name. And I’m not even considered for a job because, you see, right away from my resume that I’m a foreigner and that I have an accent. And that creates again, a negative action. I have tried everywhere”, he says, “from Kindergartens to old-age homes, but I still can’t get a job.
[A vocalist singing a song with piano accompaniment]
ENGEL: The cantor of the Graz Jewish community, Richard Ames, joins Austrian jazz musicians here in an unusual recording called “Jewish Ethno Meets The Alps.” A former opera singer, Ames is very active in Jewish-Christian dialogue groups in Austria and Germany. Lately, Ames has been working with the local government to help rebuild the Graz synagogue, after it was burned down sixty years ago, a project financed by public funds. A resident of Graz for decades, Ames doesn’t feel that anti-Semitism is a problem here.
RICHARD AMES: In the entire building of our new synagogue here, not one anti-Semitic remark, not one anti-Semitic letter or bomb threat, or anything, neither anonymously nor up front. We have been bombarded by secular and religious groups of all kinds, in all faiths, asking if they can help us in any way.
ENGEL: Freedom party members sit on the Graz city council, as do Social Democrats, Conservatives, the Greens, and two Communists. Ames says that in everyday real politics, the local Freedom party members have been supportive of the local Jewish community.
AMES: There are a lot of people in the Freedom party, also active politicians in the Freedom party, who have been much more helpful in many ways, to Jewish people, than a lot of the politicians in the Christian Democratic party and in the Socialist party.
ENGEL: But Ames agrees that racism is a problem in Austria.
AMES: What I fear very much is that with the amount of African students and Arab students, that they have become the new target. I’m not fearful as a Jewish person. I fear that they have replaced us as a target.
[sound of African students singing native songs]
ENGEL: For weeks now, a theater group from South Africa has been performing to sold out audiences at Vienna’s English Theater. The musical, “Cat And The Kings,” describes how apartheid thwarted the careers of the talented so-called “colored” rock group. Tertia Botha is one of the performers. She says race is an issue in Vienna offstage as well.
TERTIA BOTHA: When I get into the train everybody is staring. Like, I suppose they are thinking to themselves, “Where do you come from?” “Who are you?” “What are you doing here?” I mean, because I obviously
don’t look Austrian.
ENGEL: You rarely see skinheads in Austria. No homes for asylum seekers have been burned, no paramilitary neo-Nazi groups march down city boulevards. But African residents in Austria say they experience racism in the everyday way people behave towards them. Veada Stoff is an Afro-American who has lived in Graz for twenty years. She works with many Nigerian and Ghana refugees who have problems dealing with bureaucracy, housing, visa, or job problems. When she first came to Graz, Veada says people were friendly and inquisitive. But as more black refugees came to the city, the attitudes of local residents changed.
VEADA STOFF: I’ve been hit in the stomach by an older woman who just told me to get out of her way and to get out of her country. I’ve had children throw stones at me and make remarks like I should go back to the jungle.
FRANZ FUCHS: [speaking German loudly and angrily]
ENGEL: The voice of Austrian letter bomber Franz Fuchs shouting racist slogans during his murder trial last year. Fuchs was found guilty of killing four Austrian gypsies with a pipe bomb in 1995, and of injuring dozens of people in a series of letter bombs between 1993 and 1996. It was one of the very few violent racist incidents in Austria, and it shook the country. Rudolph Sarcruzi is a spokesman for the Association of Austrian Roma Gypsies. He says Austrian Gypsies today are still marginalized, especially in the country. They have the poorest incomes and lowest educational levels. And thousands of Austrian Gypsies died in Nazi concentration camps. Rudolph Sarcruzi was born in one.
RUDOLF SARKOZI: [via a translator] “When I speak to someone who survived Auschwitz or Ravensbruck or Bergen-Belsen,” says Sarcruzi, “those people are definitely afraid. They are afraid about the small group of former Nazis who are active in the Freedom Party. It may be a democratically elected party,” says Sarkozi, but he says, “it’s like a genie in a bottle that’s corked up. You never know when that genie is going to escape.”
ENGEL: The alarmed reaction of European leaders to the entry of the far-right Freedom party into the Austrian government was in part a warning to their own citizens. Far right parties in Belgium, Denmark, France, and other countries are gaining votes with xenophobic messages and calling for immigration bans. But as demographer Rainer Munz points out, immigration and multicultural societies are a reality Europe is going to have to accept.
RAINER MUNZ: When we look at demographic figures, a growing life expectancy, yet at the same time very low birth rates all over Europe, we see that things will never go back to normal as we have been used to, and immigration will become more constant, a more regular phenomenon. Now society as a whole has to adapt to this, not only by implementing mechanisms, how to deal with immigrants, but also by changing it’s self-perception.
ENGEL: That process has already begun in Austria, where one Austrian journalist quipped that the country had moved from being the heart of Europe to the ass of the world. Whatever one’s views, the Freedom party’s access to power has led many Austrians to reassess their social and political values. For Common Ground, this is Karen Engel in Austria.
MCHUGH: Coming up, the Middle Powers Initiative.
DOUGLAS ROCHE: The idea of a nuclear weapons-free world is neither pollyanish nor dangerous; it is realistic.
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
PORTER: Two years ago a handful of organizations specializing in nuclear disarmament formed a consortium called “The Middle Powers Initiative.” The chairman of the group is Canadian Senator Douglas Roche. The initiative attempts to persuade middle power nations to take a more active role in nuclear arms control issues. Senator Roche explains what they mean by “middle powers.”
ROCHE: These are countries that are not in major status in the Security Council, but they’re much more important than the range of small countries, so they got the bulk of the UN membership. And we are trying to help them, to encourage them to move forward and use their access to the nuclear weapons states, getting them to make an unequivocal commitment to commence negotiations leading a program for nuclear disarmament. So the Middle Powers Initiative sends delegations to several countries and we publish material, we’ve held strategy consultations, and we are, I suppose in a way, still a tender plant, only being two years old. But we see a particular role for our work in the diplomacy and political process.
PORTER: Tom Graham also joins us, and he’s the vice president of the Second Chance Foundation. Tom, tell us something about the importance of the Middle Powers Initiative. Is this a worthwhile movement?
TOM GRAHAM: It’s a very unique movement, which could be quite effective, because in general in the United Nations system, the countries that have nuclear weapons tend to keep the UN as far away from this issue as possible. And out of the Cold War they’ve developed a gridlock where the countries that have nuclear weapons are talking past those that don’t. The Middle Powers Initiative represents countries that are, in general, quite friendly to the United States and are countries that understand the social systems in nuclear weapons states. And so the effort is to improve serious discussion and dialogue rather than continuing the process of two ships crossing in the night.
PORTER: Senator Roche in addition to this commitment to enter negotiations that will lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons, we also talked about the fact that you wanted to encourage people and nations to break free from the Cold War mindset, and also encourage nations to commit to taking some steps that will reduce nuclear dangers, including no first use, and de-alerting weapons. Let’s talk about each of those. What do you mean by “breaking free” from a Cold War mindset? What does that mean?
ROCHE: The nuclear weapons states are, unfortunately, still mired in the thinking that prevailed during the Cold War, when nuclear weapons were seen as a necessary deterrent to the potential for aggression from an adversary. And it led to the famous theory of Mutual Assured Destruction, in which one side would have sufficient weapons in order to be able to counter any attack by its adversary, and thus the adversary wouldn’t attack because it would then have to sustain unacceptable damage. I mean, this is what’s known as MAD, and we got through the Cold War without the use of nuclear weapons, for which we should be eternally grateful. But now that the Cold War is over, or ostensibly over, the maintenance of nuclear weapons without the super power rivalry system prevailing, because of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, then one has to ask oneself, why we are still keeping nuclear weapons in a world in which global security is now seen in multilateral, multidimensional ways; that nuclear weapons cannot bring security. They cannot be used so they cannot provide security. As a matter of fact, the more they hang around the more dangerous the world becomes through the possible use of nuclear weapons through accident, or terrorism, or miscalculation. And all manner of studies have shown that the danger to the world is really unacceptable today by maintaining nuclear weapons.
PORTER: Now the two steps you talked about for reducing that danger were the no first use and the de-alerting the weapons. What do we mean by that? What do mean “no first use” and by “de-alerting” weapons?
ROCHE: Well, China and Russia—Russia had a no first use policy; China still has one; but the Western countries have not been able to accept a no first use policy because they maintain that nuclear weapons are essential to their military doctrine, and would have to be used in a last, what’s called a last-resort. The International Court of Justice has swept that argument aside by calling for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons through negotiations. On de-alerting, the, there are some five thousand nuclear weapons that are kept on a constant alert status. That is to say they could be fired on fifteen to thirty minutes notice. And that’s too narrow a margin. And I was greatly moved in this respect by General Lee Butler’s words to us on this. As you know, General Butler commanded the US strategic forces and is a man who really knows what he’s talking about, and he said that no president—he was talking about his own country—no president should be ever put in the position of having his officials come up to him and say, “You’ve got five to seven minutes to decide on whether this report of an attack has to be responded to.” He said that is absolutely inhuman and we have to move away from such perilous procedures in the name of security.
PORTER: Tom Graham, works very closely with General Butler at the Second Chance Foundation. Tom, these goals of a no first use policy and de-alerting weapons, are these realistic goals?
GRAHAM: In the last five years there have been at least a dozen major international efforts by individuals who’ve served their governments for decades, that have suggested a whole series of steps that they think nuclear weapons states could take. These two specific proposals are, have been listed in many of those reports. Unfortunately today there seems to be a gridlock in terms of nuclear weapons policies, both within countries and across countries. So that I fear that until political leaders are willing to sit down and look afresh at the dangers and the very limited benefits of nuclear weapons, these specific proposals are not going to go very far. And that’s why the process of getting people who are not talking with each other to stop talking past each other, which the Middle Powers Initiative represents, is so important. It’s a process, not just a recommendation on a set of policy recommendations.
PORTER: Senator Roche, there are a few countries that you might think of as middle powers: Israel, India, and Pakistan…
ROCHE: Yeah, in your trilogy there…
PORTER: In my trilogy there. Who have not joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. You might think of these as middle powers. But I assume that they’re not part of your consortium here.
ROCHE: They’re not on our list. Of course they’re in a special category because they do have nuclear weapons. And they might well be considered middle powers if they would join the Nonproliferation Treaty as nonnuclear states. I don’t see that happening. And thus our programs that look at those three countries are in a different category than our regular programs, in which, as Tom Graham has said, we try to foster and extend dialogue with like-minded countries. That’s why the New Agenda Coalition countries of, countries such as Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden, those countries are truly middle power countries that are like-minded and are friends with the United States particularly, in the sense that they have good channels of communication and these countries have good track records themselves in human rights issues and development issues and disarmament issues. And we can work a lot with them. As a matter of fact, the Middle Powers Initiative is working closely with the New Agenda. We are supporting them, we are promoting their resolution at the United Nations which calls for an unequivocal commitment to commence negotiations. And so this synthesis between the advanced wing of civil society that the Middle Powers Initiative represents, working with like-minded governments that are middle powers and themselves have an influence and access to the nuclear weapons states, that’s a powerful combination. And as that continues to develop over the next few years, it gives me some hope that we can make an imprint on this terribly complex nuclear weapons situation.
PORTER: Tom, Senator Roche mentioned the New Agenda Coalition. In 1998 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution titled, “Toward A Nuclear Weapon-Free World: The Need For A New Agenda.” What are your thoughts on the New Agenda Coalition and its relationship with this Middle Powers Initiative?
GRAHAM: It turns out that a number of countries, including Canada, have pushed the state of the art in seeing how civil society and governments can actually work creatively with each other. And that this effort of
having a nongovernmental group representing civil society from middle countries where their governments are also engaged in parallel, I think represents a new state of the art. And it’s an experiment, but I think that in order for an issue as complicated as this to move forward we need the creativity of private citizens and we need the expertise and the access of governments. And so being able to get this kind of an organization with a hybrid characteristic is very important.
PORTER: Senator Roche, the ultimate goal of the Middle Powers Initiative is to start negotiations which would lead to elimination of nuclear weapons. During the Cold War a lot of people rejected that idea as pollyanish, I guess at best, and dangerous at worst. Has the atmosphere changed since the end of the Cold War? Are you now finding more support for this idea that perhaps we could have a nuclear-free world?
DOUGLAS ROCHE: The idea of a nuclear weapons-free world is neither pollyanish nor dangerous, it is realistic. It is both feasible and absolutely necessary to move the world’s security system away from such perilous resort to weapons of mass destruction. We are talking about the imperiling the life of humanity, civilization. What we have lost site of is the sheer horror, as the former president of the World Court called it, the “ultimate evil” of the nuclear weapons, and the power of their destruction through radiation and the continuation of that destruction into future generations. It is a nightmare for which there are no facilities in the world that can deal with it. And so it is, I regard this as realistic.
I will tell you who the idealists are. The idealists are those who think you can keep the present situation going with some states arrogating unto themselves the right to hold nuclear weapons while proscribing their acquisition by everybody else. That’s idealism. The realists are those who say this is far too dangerous a situation in a multilateral world, when everybody wants in to the determination of security systems and we have to move. And therefore I maintain that the nuclear weapons question is addressed with realism by the New Agenda Coalition, by the Middle Powers Initiative.
PORTER: That is Canadian Senator Douglas Roche of Canada. He’s Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative. Our other guest was Thomas Graham, Vice President of the Second Chance Foundation. The Second Chance Foundation works to reduce nuclear dangers around the world and is headed by retired General Lee Butler, former commander-in-chief of the United States Strategic Command. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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