Street Action

Is Racist Graffiti Smearing Vienna’s Reputation? An American Academic Hopes to Draw Attention to What She Sees as a Pervasive Problem

Passing out posters on Stephansplatz | Photo: Mazin Elfehaid

Racist graffiti is not uncommon in Vienna, even in the inner districts.  One can find it smeared on walls and buildings, often a two-word slogan both primitive and simple in message:  Your kind isn’t wanted here.

Some people, like political artists Eva Grudin and Yossi Gutmann, think the problem is so pervasive that something drastic must be done about it. That is why, on a chilly November day, they decided to print and distribute posters featuring photographs of the graffiti to tourists milling about on Stephansplatz.

“We want to shame the city of Vienna into doing something about this problem,” Grudin told The Vienna Review.  Though there is an ordnance to remove racist graffiti, such as the “Neger Raus,” that is found around the city, Grudin said that it is rarely enforced.

“Graffiti is a form of intimidation,” Grudin said.

“It’s the same as “Juden raus,” Gutmann agreed, referring to the slogans painted on walls under Nazi rule,  “It’s the same language the Nazi’s used.”

Grudin and Gutmann met at a reconciliation group, an organization where children of holocaust survivors and children of National Socialists would get together in hopes of creating dialogue between the two.  They were with this group for four years, until 2000 when disagreement about what Jörg Haider’s winning the election mean for Austria caused them to break away.

“They wanted us not to march in protest against Haider,” Grudin said in amazement,  “They told us that anti-Semitism is an old issue.”

The breaking point came when the group members told Gutmann and Grudin not to worry because “if it ever comes to concentration camps again, you can count on us to protest.”

“If people in such a group can act like that, we wonder about the inherent problems in this city,” said Grudin incredulously.

Gutmann and Grudin then founded Counteract, an organization to combat racism in Austria.  Because, they say, Austria hasn’t dealt with its role in history like Germany has, many things are left bubbling under the surface.

“The police reported that in 2005 there were 35 examples of racist graffiti in all of Austria,” Grudin says.  “We found 120 in three hours, just walking around Vienna. This says something about the way Austria deals with racism.”

In addition, according to Grudin, all Africans, no matter how well dressed or good a job they have, are stopped several times a day by policemen asking them for their ID cards.

So, on that day, Grudin and Gutmann had enlisted the help of two Africans, who were standing in different parts of Stephansplatz passing out the posters.  One of them, who wished to remain anonymous, had lived at the Traiskirchen refugee camp before becoming an Augustin salesman.

“I feel that people [here] are racist,” he said quietly, looking around the crowd and shifting the posters in his hands, “I think 80% are racist.”

The man said he had been hassled by police on several occasions.  This was, however, a new phenomenon.  He wasn’t checked often in the past, but there was one policeman who decided to make his life difficult.

“The same man is controlling me every day,” he said.  “He says he doesn’t want me here.  I’m here four years now, and it’s the first time I have [a police] control.”

The man, a Nigerian, said that seeing racist graffiti made him sad every time.

“I think people that do that I really don’t understand,” he said, shrugging “It’s ok [though].  That’s life.”

According to Gutman, Grudin and their colleagues that day, something would have to change in people’s attitudes before this Graffiti would disappear.

“People say ‘Vienna is so nice, why do you have to look only at the ugly things?’” Grudin said, as she gave another poster to a passer-by.  “The idea that you don’t look at things you don’t want to see bothers us greatly,” she added.

It was for this reason that they had decided to pass these posters out today, in order to give visibility to what they see as a problem in Vienna.

“I think it changes something,” the Augustin salesman said before he turned away to pass out more posters.  “That’s the reason I’m happy to give people this paper.”

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