Friday, March 30, 2007

running some figures

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.


Andrew said...

This is very interesting. As a onetime resident of Vienna (I lived there late 80s/early 90s when I was in high school) I was frequently astounded by the unambigous xenophobia and racism. My circle of friends was notably diverse and the stares some of them would get were...unbelievable. And then of course being there when the wall came down and hearing the ranting and raving about the dirty slavs, etc pouring across the border. And noting Waldheim's continued popularity...
Well, let's just say my romantic notions of good old Vienna (though I love the city still and for completely other reasons) were thorougly shattered.
I've been enjoying this blog and getting a vicarious thrill out of it. Thanks for that!

pat said...

Hello, Andrew, and thanks for saying hi!
Unbelievable is right. The racism and the sexism in Vienna are also really unreflected-upon--men say things that are astonishing, straight out of planet 1957.
Of course, all of our friends here are lovely and perfect. As am I.

Fresh Air said...

I couldn't agree more. One feels that this Central-European region is condemned to failure. Somehow it is in people's genes here to be suspicious of and jealous of each other. It's basically the same thing in Hungary, the only difference being that Hungary is a lot poorer country and it suffered from 40 years of foreign repression (which makes racism more understandable here perhaps). I have always thought that if Austria's recent history would have paralled Hungary's then the two societies would be very similar today. Anyway, it’s unfortunate to have strong racism in a country where a certain Hitler was born not that long ago…

more cowbell said...

Interesting post. When we lived in Hungary, it was odd how the Hungarians adored the Black Americans, but at the same time, their attitudes toward the Roma people were like something from 1930s America. Racism toward the Roma is the norm. It is completely blatant and acceptable there, and not just by "backwoods/ignorant" people. I heard shockingly racist things from educated people, people who were my friends. When I brought up the discrepancy, they'd come back with, "You don't understand our history. Black Americans are nothing like the Roma! The Roma are [lazy, loud, dirty, thieves, don't take care of their kids, don't want to work...]" When I said that some people in America say those things about people of color, they were genuinely surprised. They couldn't understand how we could have a racial problem in the US since the "Black Americans are so wonderful". It was very frustrating.

Sometimes Hungarians would mistake my kids for Roma. If their American identity came out, it was amazing to see the about-face people would do, apologizing, like it was ok to treat them badly as a Roma, but inexcuseable to treat an American that way.

Art Nouveau said...
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Art Nouveau said...
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Art Nouveau said...

(Art Nouveau was formerly Fresh Air)

I don't want to disillusion anybody about the attitude of some (actually a lot of) Hungarians towards Blacks but... This Thursday an article in a popular right-wing weekly (Demokrata) appeared which said the following:

'On the 15th of March I noticed something very peculiar. There was a nigger coming through the crowd with huge steps, his hair rasta, his clothing tawdry, his feature arrogant, he was impatiently walking around the Hungarian citizens immersed devoutly in celebrating the National Festivity. I wondered if I were in an African country walking through an armada of locals just musing with religious devotion on their liberation from oppressive colonialism, and I, instead of a banana in my hand, with the Bible and the Árpád Flag would shove away the behemoth black people with contempt, well, I don't know how long I would stay alive. And this one here doesn't give a damn. He behaves like this, because he feels he has the right to do so.'

Now ordinarily I wouldn't be posting fascist propaganda here, but... this weekly where the article appeared is one of the favorite weeklies of a certain Viktor Orbán (the president of the main opposition party in Hungary). He has been telling his supporters to subscribe to this along with a daily called ‘Magyar Nemzet’ which is also a racist, antisemite, far-right news source. And there are writings like the one I quoted above every week in Demokrata (Democrat, ha-ha).

Ed Ward said...

Interesting thread. One interesting distinction is between African-Americans and black Africans in Europe. The latter are often perceived as illegal immigrants (and, indeed, the Spanish spend about half their time picking up boat people and sending them back), while the former, whose skin-color definitely sets them apart from the African Africans, are perceived as...Americans.

Whereas in America, black people are often perceived as, you know, niggers, while Roma are exotic, colorful Gypsies, playing violins and dancing!

As Europe becomes more of a melting-pot we can expect to see more of these xenophobic racists arise in the political arena (hell, LePen's making another stab at it in France at age 78!), especially among the younger generation, who are the first in a lot of these countries to grow up with raw capitalism and basically don't have a map with which to navigate it.