Monday, 16 October 2017

Austrian election - Post 2

A couple of weeks ago the Burqa ban came into effect in Austria, banning all clothing that covered the face. The first (and so far only) fine issued by the police under the law was to a performer wearing a shark costume whilst promoting the McShark computer chain. Austria's estimated 150 (yes, 150) Burqa wearers stayed indoors. Of course there's no Burqa problem now, say Austrian friends, but look at France, where the Burqa is used as an outward expression of Islamism to say 'FU' to the Fifth Republic. They don't want that to happen here. 


The election has been a single issue business, all about migration. On everything else there's an easy consensus between the parties; Austria is a protectionist, social-democratic republic with a socialist economy and conservative values. This has enabled the conservative OeVP and the socialist SPOe to govern in coalition for most of the years since the war. But it was Germany's stupidity in opening Europe's borders last year that provoked the backlash; until the young Sebastian Kurz took the initiative in co-ordinating the closure of the Serbian migrant route with steel fences, the tsunami of economic migrants all came through Austria, many staying. 

The Austrian Federal government went over the heads of the Länder in dispersing migrants as thinly as possible across the country. They didn't want to create ghettoes in Vienna. Here in my gemeinde we were allocated 74, though fewer than half that number are actually billeted here. The owner of a closed and tired small hotel, last refurbed in the '70s, volunteered his asset to the Vienna government with alacrity. He houses and feeds the migrants twice a day on boiled pasta and rakes in more money than he's made in the past decade. The Afghans shrug off the -20 winter cold and the snow, the Africans shiver in misery under their bedclothes. CAFOD have donated some bicycles (migrants can't drive in Austria) and volunteers now coach ex-Iraqi tank drivers, Afghan helo pilots and Sudanese taxi operators as they wobble uncertainly around the car park like children. 

Muslim migrants in particular have found an immovable cultural barrier. Not only do the valleys tintabulate to the sound of church bells three times a day, not only can you not travel more than 100m without meeting a crucifix or a Marian roadside shrine, only pork and beef can be bought in the shop, and there are no halal foods, but the locals insist on greeting them in public with a cheery smile and "Grüß Gott!". They know damn well that the God being asked to bless them is the Holy Trinity of the Christian Diety and not the sterile Allah of their own death cult. You can see them wince almost imperceptibly at the greeting. They do not respond. 

In dispersing the migrants so widely the Federal government scored a home goal. In those provinces in which most gemeindes had never seen a black face before the dispersal, the SPOe and Green vote has collapsed and the OeVP and FPOe have benefited. The message is very clear; thus far and no further. The migrants here themselves want to leave the rather bleak and isolated Austrian rural areas for German cities, and the Austrian authorities are complicit in turning a blind eye to their leaving; the whole mess was, after all, Germany's fault. In return, Germany is keeping the Austrian border closed - to intercept both migrants and Balkans cigarettes. 

All this has put Sebastian Kurz in the Ballhausplatz. 

I was in the local pub yesterday evening with a couple of young German friends and the place was fairly packed with folk watching the election results. I'd worked out that the full tables in front of us were SPOe until young Katz nudged me to point out an FPOe 'Strache' scarf draped over a chair on the table behind. This is how rural Austria works. There's only one pub, so Labour and UKIP share, and get on politely enough, greeting eachother in the toilet and enquiring about children. They're likely to be related, after all, in an Austria in which extended families have largely stayed in place on the same land their ancestors inhabited centuries ago. And community and cultural identity are always more important than party politics.    

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Austrian election - Post 1

I'm going to spread my reaction to the Austrian election over two or three posts. It really is all far more complex and nuanced that UK commentators are indicating. You'll hear the term 'Nazis' bandied about a lot over the next week, so let's start with that. 

Ulrichsberg, a short drive away, is a small ruined roofless chapel perched on a small peak above the village; on its walls are the regimental plaques of long-gone army units - mostly of the Austrian army as it was absorbed into the German forces after Anschluss. In particular, this was the recruiting ground for the Gebirgsjäger, the mountain warfare troops with the little Edelweiss on their sleeve, the local regiment of which scuppered a much more powerful British force at Narvik and spent the rest of the war in Lapland fighting Russians. Each year the old veterans with their Iron Crosses, their close combat infantry badges and wound badges, all made legal to wear after the war as long as the Swastika was ground off, met for a flag and prayer service of a type familiar all over Europe.


It enjoyed a semi-official approval; each year the Austrian army would lay on vehicles to take the old soldiers up the steep mountain and would maintain the forest track; they would provide a scratch oompah band and a couple of senior officers in uniform, and the local gemeinde would sanction the attendance of the Fire Brigade and use of local resources. All was well until a journalist identified ex-members of the Waffen SS (the ones who fought, but hardly honourably, rather than the ones who operated the extermination camps). Of course there was a stink, the army was ordered to withdraw help, the gemeinde said 'nothing to do with us, guv' and for the past two years the old boys have met in a tent down in the village - unable to get up to their ruined chapel. It was an official move to suffocate the thing - though long known about and tolerated - because of bad publicity. A very Austrian reaction - they are great hiders of unpleasant things.

The point is that these old boys are people's fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, loved and esteemed family members, who were conscripted into the Reich's forces and like soldiers everywhere who have fought, remembered this as the most intensely lived part of their lives. If they shared anything, it was a rather old fashioned belief in service, obedience, discipline, comradeship, self-sacrifice, domestic economy and a loyalty to their family, clan and province. Values still prevalent here in homes of all political persuasions.


In a simplistic Twitter world the shorthand for this sort of treffen is a 'Nazi Rally'. When an FPOe politician said recently that Austrians who served in the Reich forces should stop being ashamed of it, he of course raised a 'Nazi Spectre' storm from Der Spiegel to Guardian Towers. The reality is really far more nuanced than that. We'll hear a lot about Austrian Nazis over the next week.  
 
Values often skip a generation or two. So it seems sometimes with the Millennials, who can seem priggish, over-serious, politically unrealistic and far, far too didactic to we boozy, bloated, fortunate Gen-Xers. Ulrichsberg too was attractive to the old and the young, to the veterans and to their grandchildren and great grandchildren. It's about tradition and culture rather than fascist values, as far as I can see. I could be wrong, but I can see little evil in it. This lieder has had over a million views on You Tube - is it a fascist anthem or a folk song?



Saturday, 14 October 2017

Eight things to do with a whiteboard ......

The further I get from all the corporate crap, only some of which I pretended to understand in the wind-down year before I took the early bath, the more I wonder why there are people who still take it all so seriously. The risible idiocies coming through my professional body have now surely degenerated into self-parody; surely to God, no-one believes this to be serious?

What next? "Using snazzy sounds and transitions in Powerpoint to give evidence at the Construction Court - how to impress!"

I recall I once shared a complex but very plain spreadsheet with a director who gazed at it unmoved. The following week I resubmitted it to his PA with all the cells coloured in and a 48pt header 'Risk Management Dashboard'. He loved it. After that I found that calling anything a 'dashboard' was an instant way of engaging his attention, until 'agile' came along - when everything had to be 'agile'. Well, I was bloody agile at that point. By about a thousand miles.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Shengen isn't working ... broken by smuggled cigarettes?

Friends of mine here in Austria have recently made a couple of trips back to the UK by road, distributing stuff between their two homes. Both times they've been stopped at the border and inspected by the German Finance Police (like the Inland Revenue but in uniform, with pistols). Not looking for Jihadists, Sudanese migrants, Serbian surplus weapons but for cigarettes and tobacco. 

Germany has announced that she will keep her borders closed. So will Denmark, France and Austria, not to mention Hungary and Slovenia. The pretence is terrorism; the reality, I think, almost certainly includes smuggled tobacco products.

Austria is a nation of heavy smokers, and the legal price of ciggies at about €4.50 a pack keeps it that way; bars are mostly smoking-friendly, with only a ban coming next year for food and fags in the same room. It does my heart good to walk into a thick comforting fug of eye-stinging tobacco smoke down the hill at my local gasthaus - keeping alive the memory of pre-2006 Britain. It's not that the Austrian government, under strong pressure from the EU, doesn't want to increase tax on fags; it can't. The proximity of the eastern EU border, with fags coming in from Ukraine at €1.50 a pack, means any tax increase on legal fags will actually lower revenue. Poland's the same, as is Hungary.  Only the UK and Ireland, far from eastern Europe, can increase tobacco duty indefinitely.

So as the Shengen area border posts are reappearing and traffic queues that were recently just a distant memory are now returning on national borders, the nations of Europe are striving to stem the haemorrhage of tax eastwards and halt the tsunami of Chinese and eastern European fags flooding in. 

The prospect makes me chuckle that it's Europe's smokers who may be the final straw that broke Shengen. Now that would be sweet revenge ...  

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The war with the New Left is a fight for Enlightenment values

Following my Atlantic Charter piece below, two slightly unlikely mainstream voices have joined pleas for us to respect these most basic values. Most coherent is Allister Heath in the Telegraph, who recognises the same threat;
Contemporary “liberals” – the dominant group in the civil service, academia, the cultural industries and among young, highly educated urbanites – have all too often become born-again authoritarians.....Forget about democracy, people power and autonomy: the New Left loves authority, elite rule and cultural warfare.
I've commented before on the declining commitment of the young to democracy - of great concern, because even our most fundamental democratic safeguards of universal suffrage and the secret ballot are under attack from the New Left, who favour authoritarian rule by 'experts' i.e. them, for our own good. Big State centralist authoritarianism is something I've fought against my entire life, and just when I thought we were winning we face a new cohort of slavemasters. If you can, please read Allister's piece - it really is worth it.

The second and most unlikely voice is that of Owen Jones in the Guardian - yes, he whom I characterised as whining "The wrong people are using democracy!" after the Brexit vote. In an entirely unexpected piece he writes
I have little truck with pro-independence movements unless a nation is oppressed, like those subjugated by Europe’s former great powers – and Catalonia is not. Supporting Catalonia’s right to divorce does not mean endorsing it. But when democracy comes under attack anywhere, it is our collective responsibility to show solidarity.
Well, well.  

Incidentally, anyone after Quentin Letts' new book 'Patronising Bastards' will find Blackwell selling direct on eBay for £11.99 - the cheapest I've found, unless you know different ...

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

No cheap food or goods from Brexit? WTO deal revealed ...

I'll post the memorandum images below as I have them today from the European Commission. I'll leave it to those wiser than I in these things for definitive comments, but from my first reading it seems:-
  • We'll keep our separate 1995 membership of the WTO
  • On Brexit, we'll apportion EU import goods tariffs and quotas - so the end result for the 27 + 1 is as now for the 28
  • Same for agricultural subsidies
Does this mean that all the talk of Brexit freeing us from EU restrictive import barriers and enabling cheaper food and goods is just twaddle? And how long will we keep in lockstep with the Empire?   



Postscript
++++++++
Ah, pretty much as thought - Guardian has the detail
Guardian's take is that we & the EU have played a flanker in preventing the US dumping its unwanted ag surpluses on us both - but that it's not yet a done deal. I guess there's a difference between choosing to raise quotas and being dumped upon.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Moral courage that shames the dictators of Brussels

The Summer of 1941 was a bleak and fearful one in Britain. We stood alone; the public mood in the USA was against any involvement in the war, our cities were nightly being destroyed by Nazi bombers, Hood had been sunk, Rommel was pushing us back to Egypt in North Africa, Nazi U-boats were sinking tens of thousands of tons of shipping. A beam of hope shattered the gloom in June when the mad Hitler invaded the Soviet Union - and Britain, itself short of every piece of war equipment, with nary a .303 round to spare, under threat of invasion, gamely dispatched convoys of war material to Stalin, beggaring our own forces to do so.  

In August, at very considerable risk from U-boats, aircraft and the spiteful might of the Nazi behemoth, Churchill crossed the Atlantic to meet President Roosevelt to agree the foundation of a postwar world. It was a meeting of the most astounding confidence, with Britain at danger of falling to the Nazi jackboot and the US not even in the war. From it came the Atlantic Charter, a document of hope, freedom and justice, a candle to light the breath of aspiration amid the dark blanket of evil that fell across Europe and Asia.
The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.

First, their countries seek no aggrandisement, territorial or other;

Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;

Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

Fourth, they will endeavour, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;

Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security;
Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;

Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;

Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measure which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.
It was the document that built the foundation of the United Nations, back in the days of its purity and before its corruption by lesser nations and little crooks in league with global corporatists. The right of self-determination was proclaimed unequivocally by the UK - at a time when a third of the globe was still coloured pink. It committed us to the most ambitious postwar programme of independence that the world has ever seen, as people after people, nation after nation, were given leave to exercise self-determination. The Atlantic Charter is an enduring document of the most profound moral worth, a foundation stone of peace and civilisation for the twenty-first century. 

Let us remember those principles of self-determination this week, at a time when the functionaries of the EU act even now to suppress the identity and freedoms of Europe's peoples under a new legal and economic jackboot. Let us also remember the moral courage, the almost unbelievable confidence in the power of Right and Justice, that was displayed by the leaders of the free world in 1941.