I sometimes tell people that Austria is politically progressive, but socially conservative. I think they call that a sugar-coating.
Last week, the Viennese anti-racism organization Zara released its statistics about racism in Austria in 2006. According to one local newspaper, Zara "documented more than 1,500 incidents of racism in Austria last year, the highest number in the seven years the group has been active." Spokespeople for Zara also said "the increase may reflect a growing awareness of racism, rather than an increase in attacks."
As a white American who grew up with racism all around him, my initial reaction to that statistic was cynical. It seemed kind of cute that someone would actually document each discrete incident of racism. So I dug around a little bit for a corresponding figure for the incidence of racism in the US, and found that, according to one US Department of Justice report, there were 9,035 hate crimes committed in the US in 2004. Of these, "intimidation accounted for 31.3 percent; destruction, damage, or vandalism comprised 31.1 percent; simple assault, 19.4 percent; and aggravated assault, 11.5 percent."
I don't know how Zara defines a racist incident, but I assume it doesn't match the US DOJ's definition of a hate crime, so it's risky to compare the two figures. Nevertheless, let's do a little sloppy math here: the number of racist incidents that Zara recorded is about one sixth that of the number of hate crimes documented in the US two years ago. Assuming that, at most, half of the Austrian incidents could be qualified as hate crimes, let's say that Austria experienced about one twelfth the amount of racist incidents. But here's the thing: Austria is about one hundredth the size of the USA. So proportionally, it's--well, relatively speaking, let's just say Austria's got a real problem.
Running these figures set me back on my heels, once again, about racism and bigotry here. Zara's report isn't news to any of the immigrants living in Austria, nor to any natives who have done much traveling to more racially mixed countries, nor to anyone who has seen the preponderance of racist graffiti all over Vienna (more on this later). But as Zara says, their findings may indicate "a growing awareness" of racism." In my experience, some Austrians think that using the German word "neger" for black people is actually okay. I think a lot of them believe this is a progressive and tolerant country. Oh well.