The EURO2008 Revisited in Odessa

27 06 2008

Pictures to follow for this entry shortly!

As Vienna prepares for the Finale of the EURO 2008  – a Football classic Germany vs. Spain – I am enjoying those days far away in the city of Odessa, Ukraine. As my home city prepares yet again for another stream of fans pouring into the city for this coming weekend – presumably at least another 200,000 German and Spanish fans – I had a chance to witness how the EURO 2008 is followed in a country not taking part – the Ukraine.

Naturally, the semi-finale between Turkey and Germany was moderately followed, as the Turkish citizens living and working here made their way home to watch and see their team lose. The game Russia vs. Spain was a different matter in the Russian-spoken Odessa, as Russia has strong support in these parts of the country. So, Douglas, the Irish photojournalist I met here in those days, and I decided to watch the final half-hour after a grand night out at the opera, and treat each other to a double-pack of entertainment.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Chancellor with Expiry Date

26 06 2008

Who Needs Socialdemocrats? – The Austrian Version, Commentary

Photo: Thumbs up for the SPÖ with dual party leadership?

When Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (SPÖ) announced on June 15 a minor reshuffle within the Socialdemocratic government ministers, the political commentators were not particularly estonished. The annoncement of a split between the position of a Chancellor – Alfred Gusenbauer – and the SPÖ party leadership – Werner Faymann, to be nominated later this year -, however, was a major political development, for which Austria has almost no tradition.

“In a time in which Socialdemocrats should prosper as never before, it rarely has gone worse for them (politically). Everyone speaks of fairness, but the Socialdemocrats speak about themselves,” so Heribert Prantl, editor for Domestic Politics at the influential German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on June 14. He was not, however, predicting the political moves of the Austrian Socialdemocrats a few days ahead, but rather analyzing the current state of affairs for the German SPD.

Although both Socialdemocratic parties developed under different political circumstances and conducted their influence in their respective countries in different political constelations, the situation at this point in time is almost identical and best to be understood in a decline of the Socialdemocratic movement within European democracies.

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EURO2008 City Scenes: Turkey, It’s Party Time! Behold the ‘Russian Revolution’!

25 06 2008

Photos: Party Scenes of Turkey supporters in Ottakring district, Vienna, on June 20 – 21, 2008. Pictures kindly provided by Dominik Gubi.

A breathtaking game, possibly the highlight seen so far in the European Football Championship this year, was the match Croatia vs. Turkey on June 20, at the Ernst-Happel-Stadium in Vienna. A game that challenged the 4,000 police oficers in the Austrian capital, because both countries have a considerable minority, besides about 200,000 fans stormed the ciry that day. Melting point of both, indeed was Vienna’s 16th district Ottaking, and some riots broke out after the game, procoked by Croatian supporters, who seemed certain to have won the semi-finale qualification with their goal in the 119th minute. But the rapid response from the Turkish team – we should remember Turkey vs. Czech Republic a few days earlier – brought the equalizer, and the following shoot-out, in which the Turkish team had stronger nerves.

As a few days later in the game between Russia vs. Netherlands, again the stronger team and favourites to win, were eliminated: the Netherlands on June 21 in Basel, Switzerland. I am dissapointed about the departure of the Netherlands, but I am excited about Russia’s success, as this is the first serious showing of the Russian national team in an international competition since fall of Communism.

I remember well, when Turkey, yet again on June 20, turned a game around in seconds, and even the streets near my home went absolutely crazy until 2.00 and 3.00 am. The music went up loudly after the Turkish triumph, and the car horns kept sounding for hours. No sleep for those of us, who were not directly involved.

But a few days ahead of the game, I wandered about in Favoriten, my home district, to collect a few impressions of the games, and the upcoming friendly rivalry between Croatia and Turkey. Just off the underground station U1 Keplerplatz on the pedestrianized Favoritenstrasse, I passed the local ‘institution’, Danas Imbiss (or also known as Danas Hütte), a local Würstelstand (a Viennese version of a Hot Dog stand). The proud owner, a middle-aged Polish lady with long blond hair who runs this facility already for decades, did not hide her Austrian, as well as Polish patriotism with her strong accent. However, in front of a journalist, she would not want to comment, and my enquiry was viewed with suspicious eyes by the clientel consuming beer and hefty Viennese sausages.

Elderly, far-right Austrians are among her core customers, and for those, she has provided a small LCD screen to watch the EURO games. Until Poland’s departure, however, she wore an apron with the Polish eagle on a white background. Under the two large, green parasols with tables and chairs, however, were the Austrian flags affixed.

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EURO2008 City Scenes: Angles Like You and Me

24 06 2008

Photo: The Angles descent in the Stephansdom.

Early June, I passed Stephansdom at about 9.30 pm, and I noticed that the cathedal gates were wide open. I stopped and had a look inside, ad as soon as I passed the threshold, the view was out of this world. Heaven, it seemed, has descended to earth.

In fact, the seating area was, except for services held, fully accessible that night, and people wondered about, stood in amazement or just contemplated in the dimmed light. I entered the main nave and was immediately caught by the calm atmosphere, created by the partial illumination of statues and baroque side altars, underlined with medieval chant – as it turned out, not live sung, but played unobtrusively from loudspeakers.

Only when I approached the front towards the magnificent high altar, built in exquisite marble in the 17th century, was completely covered by white panels. As I looked closer, I realized that those large panels had the shape of a dove or an angel. Preceding the sanctuary, there were more triangular panels hanging up a few meters above the ground between the massive, Gothic columns, and images close-up faces were projected onto them, fading in and after a few seconds fading out.

While I am standing in amazement and watching the light-sculpture evolve, I received a tab on my shoulder and one of the church wardens handed me a leaflet, which, he indicated with a gentle gesture, referred to this event.

‘Es müssen nicht Männer mit Flügeln sein, die Engeln’ (It does not to be men with wings, the angels) is the title of this project, realised by German artist Stefan W. Knor, and on display from May 30 to June 29, 2008 after the late evening mass from 8.00 – 10.00 pm every day. Admissions is free, and the project is formally, of course, an independently sponsored event. The timing, however, considering with the European Football Championships taking place right now, is not entirely accidental.

The warden explains that this temporary installation, is an addition to the ongoing football events and hopes to invite spiritual contemplation for some of the 100,000s visitors. And, of course, they cathedral hopes to raise more small donations for its refurbishment.

However, I wonder what the face projection means and what the relation is to the angel symbolism. As I glance through the leaflet, I find the explanation for the concept in a foreword by clergyman Toni Faber, when he says:”that even we as ourselves can be angels for other human beings.” He invites all everyone “to discover and experience the cathedral in a new, different way: Heaven and Earth touch each other there.” So, I sit down on on one of the wooden benches and imerge in the spiritual atmosphere.

This is an excerpt, the full article will be published in July 2008 in The Vienna Review.

A Clear Parliamentary Majority Needed – But What For?

23 06 2008

The Current Austrian Political Crisis can be Solved by Changing the Electoral System, Conservatives Argue – News Analysis

Photo: Proponents of the Initiative Mehrheitswahlrecht at a press conference at Presseclub Concordia, April 24, 2008. Heinrich Neisser seated in the center.

Throughout April and May 2008, some of the predominantly Conservative Austrian political elite, led by the Initiative Mehrheitswahlrecht (Initiative Majority Voting System) and its chairman Heinrich Neisser and ventilated by the Conservative daily Die Presse, reopened a public debate with a proposed change of the Austrian electoral system for general elections.

Ever since the country has a new Grand Coalition between the Socialdemocrats (SPÖ) and the Conservative ÖVP since January 2007, critical voices not only from its opposition but also within both parties voiced their doubts on the effectiveness of the current government, which regularly seems to disintegrate and at the verge of collapse.

Neisser, former Conservative MP and Second President of the Austrian Parliament, as well as other influential proponents of the committee, including former ORF General Intendant Gerd Bacher, Socialdemocratic Historian Norbert Leser and Profil-Columnist Peter Michael Lingens, believe that a clear parliamentary single-party majority is essential for a stable government, able to tackle the critical problems, like healthcare and pension reforms, or a the overhaul of the Austrian Constitution.

The current grand coalition government, led by Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (Socialdemocrats) and Vice Chancellor Wilhem Molterer (Conservatives), though supported with a large parliamentary support of almost 70% – the SPÖ gained 35.3 % and ÖVP gained 34.3 % of the votes in the October 2006 General Elections and jointly they are able to push though constitutional changes for which a 2/3 majority is needed – however, in the eyes of the Initiative, it has not seriously touched on any of those projects so far since in power in January 2007.

In a press conference, held at the Presseclub Concordia on April 24, Gerd Bacher referred to the government’s overall performance that “within the history of quadriplegic grand coalitions, the currently is the worst of its kind.” Consequently, the proponents blame the current situation on the electoral system, which brought, in their view, no clear a result, but instead limited coalition options, forcing parties from the contrary political spectrum into one government.

Therefore, the Initiative strongly proposed for the proportional electoral system to be abolished and a voting system based on personal representation, as in the United States or Great Britain, should be introduced.

The Initiative’s manifesto, published also on the Internet, states that they aim for the realization of a “personality oriented and minority-friendly majority voting system” by which all five political parties represented in the Austrian Parliament today would still be present. However, there is no specific reference as to how this “protected species regulation” for the smaller parties, as Gerd Bacher provocatively termed it, should be realized in practice.

“It is important that all parties, whether useful or not – and in my understanding most are, however, useless – remain (in Parliament),” he added. Read the rest of this entry »

EURO2008 City Scenes: Russia and the Turkish ‘Siege’

19 06 2008

Photo: Russian flags dominate the Tivoli-Neu Stadium on June 18 against Sweden, kindly provided by

I lost yet another bet, however, one I did not regret losing: I was certain that Sweden would beat Russia tonight at the Tivolo-Neu Stadium in Innsbruck, Austria. Not decisively, because the Russian National Team had a strong performance in the previous games. So, in my opinion, the deservedly win tonight, and surprising clearly.

When I left our newspaper office at the Webster University Campus in Kaisermühlen it was about 9.30 pm. I realized by checking on the Internet that Russia led by 0:1, so the favorites to win lost the control over the game and seemed certain to leave the EURO2008 empty-handed. I walked towards the underground station U1 Kaisermühlen, when I notice a couple of cars with Russian flag. Indeed, this district has a substantial Russian community, so I was not surprised, though I haven’t noticed any other yet anywhere else in the city.

As I passed a bus stop, a teenage couple, heavily entangled, the girl also held a flag in their hand, but certainly not waiving it. Then I notice their dog in the dark, a beautiful, young light-brown boxer. And then I regretted not having my camera read: the kids evidently had painted little Russian insignias on his fur. Very cute indeed, calmly standing and watching the street! But, in any case, I should not have disturbed the teenage couple in their personal moments… Read the rest of this entry »

EURO2008 City Scenes: Turkey’s ‘Miracle’, the Dutch Determination and Austria’s Farewell

17 06 2008

Photo: Turkish Fans: Disappointment followed euphoria after a breathtaking finish against Czech Republic, ending 3:2 on June 15 in Geneva.

Although Turkey played so far only in Switzerland, the Turkish community in Vienna certainly followed with great excitement the games. I live in Vienna’s 10th district, Favoriten, which has a more substantial Turkish minority: Of the approx. 170,000 inhabitants here – this is Vienna’s most-populated district – 3.9 % are Turkish (the foreign citizens are overall about 20% here).

So, for most of the match on June 15, the Czech Republic clearly led the game and goals, 2:0, and so when I left my apartment at about 10.00 pm, I was sure that this won’t change. I began to realize that I possibly lose another prediction – I was betting that Turkey would reach the quarter-finale.

The world was a quite a different one 30 to 40 minutes later: I took a short walk around Stephansplatz when I made my way back down to the underground U 1, where the security staff received their final orders: “The match just finished – we stay here in the station. That are our orders,” their supervisor instructed the 5 somewhat youngish men, wearing yellow security vests. I was confused: Was there a match in Vienna that night? No. But then the result of the match Turkey vs. Czech Republic appeared on the TV monitors showed the final result – where did those three goals come from?
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EURO2008 City Scenes: Austria Survived, Just About – A Chat Review

15 06 2008

Photo: Polish supporters in Vienna; not to be confused with Austrian supporters, who dress red-white-red!

The final crunch test for the Austrian team approached on Thursday, June 12, 2008. Having lost against Croatia the Sunday before (0:1, though with a strong performance in the second half), another loss would have meant the end of the Austrian participation in the tournament. Would Austria’s fate that evening as its co-host Switzerland the day before?

Fate had another path that night, though for long stretches of the game it seemed that the end of Austria’s EURO2008 dreams of reaching at least the semi-finale was rather unlikely. If your German is good enough, you should read the lovely commentary by my colleagues of on that game; some of them were actually watching the game live at the Ernst-Happel-Stadium. According to the writer, there were four acts to the day and the game, with an unknown enthusiasm (Act II) from the Austrian fans for their national team, for about the first 30 minutes. Their attack skills in particular captivated the fans – the execution of scoring evidently less, because no goal was scored then. A picturesque passage I would like to quote here (in my English translation):

“Team and Fans became one, the emotions on the pitch and on the echelons merged to one collective though of the sea of senses and yearning for the first success in red-white-red at the European Championship emerged with every attack yet again to a national football delirium.”

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EURO2008 City Scenes: Kick-Off in Austria

9 06 2008

Photo: The ‘little’ great Croatian supporter wandering in the streets of Vienna. Photo Credit: The picture was kindly provided by – see also P.S. at the end of this entry!

I guess, you would need to call this the day in recent Austrian football history, Sunday June 8, 2008. The kick-off to the European Championship took place in Switzerland the day before, but on that Sunday evening, the match Austria vs. Croatia marked the first test for the Austrian team at the Ernst-Happel-Stadium in Vienna.

Switzerland had lost the day before against Czech Republic, so would Austria – the second host nation – face the same fate? Just before 8.00 pm that evening, it turned out, yes, Austria just lost 0:1 against the clear favorites Croatia. But the Croatian fans seemed disappointed, as most of them evidently expected a much clearer result. Unlike in the afternoon, where around 7,000 fans celebrated in the city center at Stephansplatz, in front of the Cathedral; the singing, chanting and shouting continued right into the underground corridors and trains, when the ecstatic crowd made its way to the Stadium at about 4.00 pm. Read the rest of this entry »

EURO2008 City Scenes: How Many Guests Expected?

4 06 2008

Last Sunday, when traveling on the underground U1 towards Leopoldau, I happen to sit next to a young Viennese family – a couple in their mid-30s and their son of about 10 years of age. I was reading the weekend edition of Der Standard, and paid no attention to their conversation.

However, when reaching the stop Praterstern, the conversation inevitable turned to football and the upcoming European Championships. Last but not least, at Praterstern, the U1 meets the newly extended underground line U2, which goes right up to Ernst-Happel-Stadium, where on June 29, the decision on the new European Champion will be decided. I was not left with any choice: I stopped reading my paper and followed the arguments. Read the rest of this entry »