Living in the Netherlands as an Austrian, there is this constant temptation of comparing the two countries. After all, the striking amount of similarities sets the stage for a reasonable comparison: Sizewise, politically, and economically, Austria and the Netherlands are quite similar to each other—broadly speaking. However, I have this strong feeling that the Netherlands’ performance of keeping its international reputation is head and shoulders above Austria’s. On occasion of the Netherlands’ outstanding introduction to Donald Trump, here’s a short guide on how to mess up a country’s reputation—put together by an unfortunate Austrian.
Miserable history: The stepping stone.
No matter how many times I have already tried to introduce Austria by naming all of the things I like about it (meaning: Schnitzel), it never seems to be fully appreciated. The more enthusiastic I get for not being mistaken with Australia in the first place, the more depressed I get when people start to shine with all their Austria-related knowledge as response: “Did you know Hitler was actually born in Austria?” (No way! Please, tell me more about it.) “I heard about this girl who was kept in a cellar for eight years.” (Right, and there was also this other guy, who kept his own daughter in captivation to have seven kids with her.) “Austria … so, basically Germany, right?” (No. Just no.)
To sum up: Your country of origin’s recent history is a very bad pick for small talk when you happen to be Austrian. The issue: Talking about current affairs doesn’t make it better—but maybe even worse. When consulting my friends to discuss this article and some of Austria’s recent failures, their flow of words was untameable: From almost a year-long struggle of electing a new president to our foreign minister’s suggestion of keeping refugees on Mediterranean islands instead of letting them enter Europe, there’s an uncountable amount of misfortunes, especially in Austrian politics.
Consistent failure is the key
When a country’s history is already full of miseries, it is best to keep up the good work and continue with constant failure. So why not give half of the presidential election’s votes to a far-right populist who strongly believes in cooking women, ruling men, and a fulsome portion of nationalism? “You’ll be surprised about all the possibilities”, former candidate Hofer said when asked about a president’s capabilities. Been there, done that. No thanks. (After all, it only took the Austrians a year to realise what they were about to head into)
Even though Austria has already gained quite a lot of international media coverage for acting that poorly in its previous election(s), it is of high importance to constantly outline a country’s mischief whenever the opportunity is given—especially in an international environment. This is bound to an immediate decrease in reputation, considering the whole world is able to enjoy the fun. In fact, Austria has two fairly recent cases exemplifying this last step to reputational success glamorously.
Taking on former presidential candidate Hofer, his fellow politician Johann Überbacher (FPÖ, freedom party) gave his best at an interview with Russia Today. When asked about sexual assaults in Innsbruck, Überbacher charmingly starts the answer by wishing the Russian people a merry Christmas—because “it is important to me”. Not only is he struggling to adequately express his thoughts in the English language, Überbacher also mixes up some facts: In the interview he claims that Innsbruck, a city with a population of around 120.000 people, “is the most important tourist centre in Europe”. Apparently, his disastrous appearance caused too big of a reputation loss for the freedom party—Überbacher is now restricted from doing any further PR work. Decide for yourself whether this decision is justified or not …
Believe it or not, Austria is more than just right-wing populists struggling to make their points. In the previous EU election, the Austrian neoliberalist Angelika Mlinar was elected to be a Member of the European Parliament. Having put lots of effort into women’s rights and gender equality, Mlinar wanted to take it one step further and become Vice President of the EU’s Liberal Democrats (ALDE). To stand out from the crowd, Mlinar courageously decided to cover “Let it be” by the Beatles—transforming the original lyrics to “Vote for me”. Mixed with some verses that do not suit the melody at all, her decision might have been courageous, but certainly not pleasing for the listeners’ ears.
As I can feel your immediate need of listening to “Vote for me” right now, I am more than sorry to disappoint you: The video was made private just days ago, meaning you can unfortunately not enjoy another example of Austria’s failure in political PR. But regardless of its awkwardness, Mlinar’s strategy worked—she got elected and still is the ALDE’s Vice President. Maybe, Austria’s international reputation is not that screwed after all.
Cover: Karsten Würth (modified by author)