Rough Welcome

A Vienna Newcomer is Harrassed by Skinheads

In early March, the annual report of ZARA (the Verein für Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit, not the store) arrived in my mail box. The report of the Austrian NGO, meticulous in detail, describes pages of incidents – 1,500 in 2006 – of daily racism against minority groups, especially blacks, living or visiting Austria.

The report caught my attention because of the following incident, which took place on Mar. 19, 2005:

After a pleasant evening out with friends at the Spittelberg area, I made my way home, traveling on the U3 towards Stephansplatz. It was about 10.30 pm, the car was reasonably full. While sitting comfortably, my thoughts adrift, three well-built and very drunk skinheads entered the train at the Volkstheater stop. They circled around an elegantly dressed black gentleman of medium height in his mid-forties, and sat down around him, preventing him of getting up. My mind immediately focused.

A resolute Austrian woman who was standing nearby white, middle-aged, of medium height and dressed in a dark-blue coat, came to his aid, stepping in between the seated men and pulling him out of their grip. The sudden movement caught everyone’s attention, and the skinheads, annoyed at the interference, expressed their frustration in loud voices.

In the meantime, I had moved from the other side of the carriage towards the scene, and stood next to the woman. By this time the skinheads were infuriated, swearing and threatening us, supported by unmistakable gestures and Nazi vocabulary.

Finally, the train arrived at Stephansplatz, and we all got out. But I felt little relief as the skinheads followed us out, shouting as they exited, “We get him outside.” Instinctively, I asked the black gentleman where he needed to go. He indicated the U1, and I accompanied him to the train; he had just arrived in Vienna by train on a business trip and seemed unsure of the way. And the woman had left by now in another direction, with a hasty good evening.

But I knew that none of us could have withstood any physical attack by the skinheads, had they tried. In the end, it was they who decided to let it go.

But perhaps the most disturbing part came after I had gone on to continue my journey home, when a middle-aged Austrian man who had witnessed the incident, recognized me asked what had happened. I did my best to explain.

“The skinheads think they are being funny,” he concluded, “but in fact they are stupid.” But the incident was serious and could have ended differently if no one had intervened. That was the point, and that was when I decided to report what had happened, which I did on the contact form on ZARA website.

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