Frankie Goes to Ottakring

One of Austria’s most successful émigrés turned his sights on immigrant voters in Vienna’s 16th

This time Stronach left his shirt on, but a Puls4 journalist got naked instead | Photo: F. Zoidl

This time Stronach left his shirt on, but a Puls4 journalist got naked instead

This time Stronach left his shirt on, but a Puls4 journalist got naked instead | Photo: F. Zoidl

At Brunnenmarkt in Ottakring you can get a kilo of ripe tomatoes or juicy peaches for €1 – a decent price, that makes Brunnenmarkt and nearby Yppenplatz popular with immigrants and young hipsters who enjoy their late-afternoon breakfast at one of the market restaurants. 

Its melting pot character has also made the area a battleground for politicians: Half of Vienna’s 1.7 million inhabitants were not born here.

And after all, even though not all the parties support immigration, it’s hard to win an election without immigrant votes – a fact that even the FPÖ, fishing for voters in the Serbian-Orthodox community, has come to understand.

The only party leader with an actual “immigrant” background, however, is Frank Stronach, an Austro-Canadian self-made man, who emigrated to Canada in the 1950s and later made a fortune as the founder of Magna International, an international automotive parts company.

Ever since his first appearance in Austrian politics in 2011, he has made questionable headlines with his criticism of the “system”, his proposals to introduce a different euro for every country and – most recently – to establish the death penalty for professional killers in Austria.

The billionaire was scheduled to speak at Yppenplatz on one of the first days that felt like fall in early September, and hours before, his team was already handing out free pens, mints and stickers. Even though the vegetables, halal meat and clothes there are a bargain, free stuff always wins.

 

Bread and Circuses

The stage was set, loud music (“Steirermen san very good – oba net nur drüben in Hollywood” – “Styrians are very good, but not only in Hollywood”, a version of the Volksmusik classic) was blaring out of the loudspeakers, interrupted by videos telling Stronach’s life story.

A scattering of people had gathered – mainly party members, but also elderly immigrant women and men sitting on benches, and children playing soccer. Campaign workers announced that Frank would be late, and within minutes, countless boxes of Faschingskrapfen appeared and quickly dispersed to the thin crowd.

“Frank hasn’t made the best impression in the ORF debates,” said a man in his 50s from Styria as he handed out the pastries, “but in real life, he’s just a great person.”

“Self-made man”; “He started from scratch”; “He has great ideas for our economy” – the same phrases kept recurring among his supporters. And in all of this sugar-fuelled enthusiasm – most people went back for a second and third serving, or even brought plastic bags to take some of the Krapfen home – they almost missed the opening remarks, as some of the slate of candidates were introduced.

Finally Stronach entered the stage, accompanied by “a Turkish friend” – in fact a staffer, he admitted. “Say something. Hallo, anything,” he urged the stylishly dressed woman with highlights in her dark hair, and handed her his microphone. With a smile she took over for a few sentences addressing the few Turkish voters who were still around. Then she dutifully gave Stronach his microphone back.

“That sounded good,” he praised her, having (like most of those present) clearly not understood a word.  “Ottakring has a good name, where all the beer is so good”, he added, launching into his well-rehearsed speech on how the system had to be changed, his childhood and his “from rags to riches” life story – in fact, he only mentioned Turkish immigrants once, praising how they are known to be hard-working and innovative. Perhaps this was because there were so few of them that evening on Yppenplatz.

 

Dressing down for the system

In the end, his “Turkish friend” didn’t get to say a whole lot – something that happens often when Stronach is around. Even his deputy, Robert Lugar, introduced him saying: “Frank Stronach is here now, so I guess I’m done.”

Which was clearly business as usual. Stronach next interrupted Kathrin Nachbaur, his right hand and number two on the electoral list (Bundeswahlliste), coming back on stage with a TV journalist and self-proclaimed comedian. The young man doffed his shirt revealing the slogan “Jetzt Frank” painted on his chest, then started unbuttoning Stronach’s shirt – a reference to photos taken by the daily Kurier in summer, in which the 80-year-old showed off his bare chest.

Buttoned up again, Stronach began signing campaign materials, shaking hands and being photographed with supporters, when a homeless man, clearly tipsy, approached.  Stronach reached into his pocket and slipped him a €100 note.

“With my vote, you’ll get 30 percent,” the drunk slurred and shuffled off.

After all, it’s about changing the system.

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