A photo essay of a political show. Photographs: Matthias Wurz
Austria’s Social democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann felt the need to celebrate on Dec 2, 2009 at the imperial Hofburg. Österreich.Gemeinsam (Austria Together) was the title of Faymann’s speech, the occasion was the first anniversary of the current Austrian government, led by Faymann since December 2008 at the time of economic crisis. The message was simple: all is well at home. Faymann’s skill as public speaker was impressive, evidently inspired by U.S. President Barack Obama in its delivery. But Faymann’s speech – unlike those of the current U.S. President – had only one fault: Staging a political show that demonstrates the art of talking a lot but saying very little.
All’s Well That Ends Well is one of William Shakespeare characteristic plays, first published in 1623; its title refers to a proverb whatever the troubles, as long as the outcome is a good one. It seems that the Austrian Social democrats have adapted the theme of Shakespeare’s comedy, signalling that the international economic and financial crises are well in hand. Business as usual, made in Austria.
“Approximately every seven minutes a child is born in Austria. In other words, in the past 12 months 75,000 children were born in this country. We all are responsible, how our children grow up. In a country, in which either the respect or human dignity counts or greed and quick financial profit. In a country, however, where despite all differences in opinion the common good is stronger than the divide.” At 10.16 am, Faymann opened his speech with a sense of the dramatic: No initial welcome of Austria’s President Heinz Fischer, or the President of Parliament, Barbara Prammer, or all the other members of the government and other 1,600 eminent guests. The theme was effectively set before protocol.
Nevertheless, while the warm welcome followed in due course, Faymann seemed to have ‘forgotten’ one thing: Human dignity evidently is not part of Austria’s legal code. Conservative Interior Minister Maria Fekter takes on the responsibility of “abiding by the law” in case of Arigona Zogaj by ripping a well-integrated family apart. And the Social democrats – unlike in winter 2007 – agree with the the though ‘law-and-order’ approach. Those, who contribute significantly to the welfare of Austria, but are not Austrian or other EU countries are evidently second-class citizens. No surprise, Fekter was one who responded very positively on the chancellor’s speech.
The chancellor’s characteristic smile: conquering his audience with charm, demanding support for the weak – “The real strength of our country will be measured, how well the weak do” – but avoid the specific. The word health reform – one of the country’s most pressing issues – Faymann does not drop in his speech, for example: “We have much discussed about the health system, and we have not reached the end of it yet. Nevertheless, we secured additional 700 million Euros for the restructuring of the public health insurance funds; at the same time commit them to a retrenchment of 1.8 billion.” How, is no matter for occasion now. Unlike Barack Obama or former british Prime Minister Tony Blair, Faymann missed the opportunity of delivering a concept and rallying public understanding for “tough choices” (Tony Blair). The touch political choices Faymann has passed on to the bureaucrats and replaced it by a non-binding smile.
All is well indeed….? In many way it is, Faymann indicated. The success of his government, he added, is that what he as a politician has promised has been delivered or is in the process of doing so. “When one says ‘Less quarrelling, more achievement’ then also true for me is also ‘Less promises, more keeping them.'” And that has enabled Austria – apparently – to have one of Europe’s lowest unemployment rate, and also among the youth. “It is the best certificate that we can issue after one year, because those who combat unemployment create a future for those people.”