Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vienna, Austria: Nazis and Cowards, but Not All of Them

You don't need to read a Philip K. Dick novel to see what would have happened if the Nazis had won--just come to Vienna, Austria. I've never seen so much informal racial segregation in my life. Go on the subway--not a single group of people, whether two or five, has diversity. People of Turkish descent, whether citizens or not, are with other Turks. Blacks are usually alone. Chinese are with other Chinese. And so on.

"But wait," you say, "Austrians can't be influenced by the Nazis--the Nazis wouldn't have given equal citizenship to non-whites!" At first, perhaps, but after war comes peace, and peace involves daily drudgery. Victors need people to do work they don't want to do, preferably for free or low wages. In this regard, the Austrians have mastered the race to the future. Almost every single person in the city center working with his hands or in lower wage professions is not a white Austrian. 

Go to Naschmarkt, an ordinary and forgettable outdoor market--observe the people actually lifting the crates. None of them are blond or white. Go to a fast-food restaurant in the city centre--none of the workers are white Austrians, though you'll see the occasional white manager. I've been to this McDonald's--where they serve beer--three different days, at different times. All the customers have sat with the same race, regardless of the group's size. I've just now seen my first mixed couple, a single Austrian and his British-accented African-Austrian girlfriend, in the entire city in the past three days. 

Trying to discover the cause of so much informal segregation, I've chatted up Persians, Turks, Serbs, and Chinese residents, and none of them could give me a definitive answer. One white Austrian told me I was in the city centre, where it was expensive, and I needed to go to districts 10, 11, 12, etc. to see mixed couples. He, a real estate developer, was the only Austrian I met who had invited non-whites into his home. I'll tell you more about my experience in the "lower" districts later. For now, let me summarize a few conversations I had with non-white residents. 

Persian female newspaper/magazine shop keeper. (Conversation in Farsi.)

Me: "I don't like it here. Why do you think there are so few mixed friendships here?"

Her: "I don't know. They [the Austrians] are [says Persian word I don't know]." 

Me: "What's that word mean?"

Her: "It means they keep to themselves, they're not open like us. We are talking now, and we just met. There's no spontaneous conversation like this with Austrians."

Me: "Are you a citizen?"

Her: "No. I've been here over a decade, but I work part-time here. To get citizenship, you have to work full time for seven or eight years." 

Me: "Have you had any problems here because you're Iranian?"

Her: "No. The newspapers publish lots of stories of crimes by refugees, usually Afghans, Gypsies, and Syrians--they haven't made their way to Iranians... at least not yet. If you tell Austrians you are Iranian, they will like you."

Me: "Are you the owner of this shop?"

Her: "No--the owner is Iranian. In fact, this entire street is majority-owned by Middle Easterners. Are you thinking of moving here?"

Me: "God no!"

Her: "Oh, good! Don't do it!"

Me: "You cannot run away from history. It is in the ground and the soil does not forget." 

Her: [Nods her head.]

Me: "Are you married to an Austrian?"

Her: "No. An Iranian."

African museum employee, Austrian citizen

Me: "Do you like it here?"

Her: "Yes."

Me: "Do you notice all the lower level workers in Vienna are non-white?"

Her: "The people who work in museums are usually university students. I have a Master's degree."

Me: "Well, how many of your professors in university are non-Austrian?"

Her: "One."

Me: "Really? Where's she from?"

Her: "France."

Me: "Oh, a black professor from France?"

Her: "No, she's French. She's white."

Me: "There are lots of black French citizens, but ok. So zero non-white professors at your university."

Her: "Yes."

Chinese restaurant waiter, in English. 

Me: "Why do you think it's so difficult to mix here?"

Him: "The Austrians aren't used to our food. We eat chicken feet and other things they find strange."

Me: "Are you a citizen?"

Him: "Yes. I've been here many years." 

Turkish Uber driver, in English

Me: "I can't believe almost everything closes at 10pm in the capital city." 

Him: "Yes, it's a quiet city. Everyone goes home and relaxes at home after 10pm." 

Me: "Do you like it here?"

Him: "It is ok."

Me: "Are you married?"

Him: "Yes." [Proudly displays his phone's background photo, which has a photo of an adorable baby girl.] 

Me: "Is your wife Austrian?"

Him: "No. Turkish." 

I could go on, but you get the point. Not a single non-white with whom I spoke was married to anyone except his or her own ethnicity. Worst of all, when I would have these conversations--in which I got progressively louder with each passing day, unable to believe that it was possible for a capital city with so much diversity to have so much social segregation--the Austrians around me looked surprised. To them, there were no issues, it seems. I'm not surprised far-right candidates are winning in Austria, and I think it will get worse. In Prague, which successfully integrated 60,000 to 80,000 Vietnamese immigrants, when I mentioned their most famous far-right politicians, the younger generation openly voiced opposition. In Vienna, the younger generation shrugged their shoulders when I asked similar questions. After I explained this difference to one of the younger women, she said, "We are not so much into politics." 

That's when I realized these people are like Germans, but without the guilt. They think their situation is perfectly fine, even as far right candidates rise up. They don't care. To them, Nazis are something that happened next door in Germany, "not here." But of course it happened right here, which is why the buildings are so pristine, and the museums so wonderful. 
From the military history museum, which includes the car in which Archduke Ferdinand was shot & a Howitzer.

When I remarked the gold in the Imperial Treasury of Vienna must have been stolen, the real estate developer I mentioned earlier argued most of the gold "wasn't stolen," "maybe only 2 to 3%," and the artifacts were collected under the Habsburgs. He didn't respond when I said that doesn't account for what Nazi officers brought into Austrian territory after it became clear Germany would lose WWII. (I did not add that if it talks German, acts German, looks German, eats German food, and drinks German beer, it's an Austrian Nazi.) 

When Hitler--an Austrian, not a German--invaded Austria, his birthplace was first on his list of country collectibles. I don't know much about European history, but I suspected Austria--one of the few countries in Europe that still speaks German as its primary official language--didn't put up much of a fight. Sadly, my suspicion was confirmed. From Wikipedia: 

On the morning of 12 March [1938], the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria. The troops were greeted by cheering Austrians with Nazi salutes, Nazi flags, and flowers. For the Wehrmacht, the invasion was the first big test of its machinery. Although the invading forces were badly organized and coordination among the units was poor, it mattered little because the Austrian government had ordered the Austrian Bundesheer not to resist. [Source: Albert Speer recalled the Austrians cheering approval as cars of Germans entered what had once been an independent Austria. Speer (1997). Inside the Third Reich, p. 109] 

Even Austrians themselves don't seem to deny they are cold people. Actual conversation with an Austrian woman:

Me: "You like it here?

Her: "Yes."

Me: "But the Austrians are such cold people."

Her: "Not all of them."

Me: "Well, not all Germans were Nazis either." 

Perhaps the far right voters are the ones who know exactly what the ethnic minorities, including the citizens, think of them and are uninterested in collaboration or progress. And yet, the far right, under current circumstances, has absolutely valid points. Why allow a permanent underclass to exist in your society? Why shouldn't you deport people who don't appreciate your culture, regardless of disagreements about its warmth? How is it good for a country to have a growing segment of society only there for money? 

Remember the blond, blue-eyed real estate developer who told me to visit the lower districts, where I'd find mixed couples? I asked him to input the name of a place in Google Maps, and I got an Uber and went straight to the spot. Here's what I found: 
Basketball hoops in poorer neighborhoods look similar.
Note the inscription under the sign.

I had entered a place indistinguishable from a Turkish neighborhood. (I should know, having recently spent a month in Turkey.) Sure, there were a few non-Turks, but they could have been mistaken for tourists.

When I walked into a German, er, Austrian restaurant, every single person sitting down was white. They stared at me as soon as I walked in, and I slowly backed out like a cowboy who'd entered the wrong saloon. When I chose a Turkish restaurant, there were non-Turks inside, but no one was white. I ordered a large tea in Turkish. (Say "finchan chai" to blend in if you're a brunette like me.) The food was fantastic. 

At this point, I thought the Austrian real estate developer was messing with me, but then I realized he probably doesn't come to this neighborhood. He's heard of it, but as an affluent person, he has no need to come here unless he really likes Turkish food. (We met in an upscale coffeeshop in the city centre.) 

When the far-right talks about "refugees" creating dangerous neighborhoods, they mean the lower districts in Vienna, about 20 minutes by car from the city center. The problem is, these people aren't refugees. They're just racial minorities. Instead of Chinatown, they've created Turktown. The Lebanese, Chinese, and Indians have established homogenous neighborhoods all over the world, but if the newspapers are consistently highlighting crimes by x minority group, I can see why the far right is gaining ground--again--in Europe. 

I can blend into Turktown at least a little, and I love good, reasonably-priced food, but I did not like the neighborhood I saw. I'd go back to the restaurant, because the börek was too damn good--better than Turkish food in Istanbul--but the vibe is strange, just like the vibe in the city centre. People aren't as comfortable speaking English in the lower districts--they prefer German--and like most Austrians, the Turks don't smile unless you make the initial effort to socialize. It's as if both racial groups have taken on each other's worst traits and added a "hesitancy" clause to tolerate each other without any actual integration. Imagine the Tower of Babel, but in reverse--everyone speaks the same language, but no one talks to each other. 

How does all this help you, an aspiring tourist? It doesn't, so let's change that. The Museum of Natural History (Naturhisorisches Museum) is incredible. It covers geology, anthropology, astronomy, and everything else in between. Its exhibit on the creation of the universe is one of the best highlights of any museum. 

You've got to see Schönbrunn, the old palace grounds. It was there, surrounded by art from all of the world, imported by the Dutch East India Company, I realized governments used to derive their legitimacy through artists and trade. Trade (aka business) would generate taxes to pay for the military, but also access to knowledge of other cultures and art. Since only royalty could afford expensive goods--often with debt that sometimes had to be paid off by melting down gold--they had access to knowledge unavailable to the general public. Historically, successful governments used their power to promote knowledge, but today, anyone with a laptop can gain equivalent knowledge and goods. In such an era, especially when private charitable foundations can promote sports, arts, and theater even better than politicians, how do governments stay relevant besides through the military? How should governments adapt in ways to gain voter support but without getting involved in an increasingly contentious and costly arms race aka the protection and surveillance technology racket? (By the way, I skipped Belvedere, but if you have time, I hear it's nice.) 

The military history museum (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum) is also worth a look. Lots of Nazi memorabilia, if you're into that kind of thing. To save money and get convenient access to the major sites, you can buy a multi-day pass from Vienna Sightseeing or Big Bus. I used Vienna Sightseeing and appreciated the convenience.

When arriving at Vienna's airport, you will see a few kiosks with CAT (City Airport Train) tickets sold. These kiosks also allow you to buy a 72 hour pass to buses, trams, and trains throughout Vienna. Get the combo pass--it's a great deal and applies to everything except horse-drawn carriages. When you use the 72 hour pass for the first time, you will push the ticket into one of of the boxes prior to entering a subway, which will provide a timestamp. You may take the CAT from the airport to a subway station in the city centre. (By the way, I should have mentioned this earlier--the word "Vienna" is uncommon in Vienna. The proper word for the city is "Wien.")

My last evening in Vienna/Wien, I took the subway again and saw a group of police officers converging on a group of Turkish teenagers. I can't be sure what happened, but the Austrian-Turkish teenagers didn't resist or look concerned--in fact, they looked used to this kind of treatment. I took a photo far away from the "action," but it confirmed my suspicion about countries that pass miscegenation and segregation laws, whether Nuremberg or Jim Crow: oppression always backfires on the oppressor. 

When you attack or seek to isolate or humiliate your neighbors, history does not forget. Either your neighbors' hopes and dreams take root, or their blood seeps into the ground, through the cement, and stays there. You feel it, too, and you spend your gold not on art or trade, but combating your own fears. A circle of suspicion generates, then a self-defeating cycle. Yet, the fear isn't coming from the people you are policing, but the ghosts of your own history, your own failure to resist, and your own inability to realize you have created a country that isn't normal. 
November 22, 2017. Note the teenager surrounded by all-white police personnel.
I don't think Austria's tourism board would be very happy with my suggested slogans, but I'll give it a shot anyway:

1.  Come for the Museums, Avoid the Nazis.
2.  Vienna: Where to Feel Proud to be American.
3.  Hitler's Birthplace: How the Germans Got a Bad Rap. 

4.  Yes, the Trains Run on Time. 

And so it goes. 

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (2017) 

Bonus: I just saw a white-skinned and dark-skinned teenager together. The dark-skinned teenager didn't look like he knew the process for returning a McDonald's tray (it's different from America--Vienna has table service and/or a specific cart for the tray instead of a garbage can), so maybe he's not Austrian, but it's a good sign. At least some people from different backgrounds are talking to each other. 

Double Bonus: it's now 12:05AM, and a group of four young adults, three whites including an Asian, just sat down next to me. Maybe there's hope after all for Austria. 

Triple Bonus: even the Hungarians despised the Austrians. Check out what I found at the Hungarian National Museum. 

P.S. Believe it or not, Austria is essentially a petrostate, though nowhere near the same scale as Norway. Its largest company is the OMV Group, followed in size by several banks. OPEC's HQ is not in the Middle East, but right here in Vienna. 
Seen in Budapest, Hungary.

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