Blog: The End of Democracy (2013-07-22)

Commonly, Austria is referred to as a democracy (according to Wikipedia in fact a "federal parliamentary republic"). We have elections, and they are surely fair when considering how elections are done in other nations. Nevertheless, in particular the draconic reaction to "unpleasant" activism, for instance in the form of the Tierschutzcausa or the general reactions of homeland security to animal rights protests, started to spark first doubts about the actual political freedom we enjoy here. It seems to end more and more as soon as economic interests of "the elite" like owners of large industrial or agricultural companies are in danger, and there's surely a lot of corruption (pardon, lobbying) going on with the major parties of ÖVP and SPÖ who form a grand coalition in the current government. In particular the first regularly shows lots of ignorance towards majority opinions as soon as they fear for their clients and "friends". There are a lot of good discussions on Martin Balluch's blog, who is one of the fore-fighters of animal rights in Austria, and also responsible with his VgT for many improvements in animal protection laws during the last years.

But recent developments are even much more scary: According to a verdict of the appeals court in the Tierschutzcausa, it is coercion to ask companies to stop selling fur products and "threatening" to inform their customers truthfully about how the fur sold in their stores is produced. Not damaging any products or even intriguing customers trying to enter the store, just informing them. I (and the authors of the linked articles above) can't really understand how that can and should be a punishable crime; after all, aren't such information campaigns one of the very core tasks of an NGO? You know, independent supervision for the benefit of society and such. Thus, legal threats like this undermine democracy at its very heart! But the VgT fought back: It started a campaign for citizens opposing this interpretation of the law to file charges against themselves for coercion, which as of now has more than 1,900 supporters already, including also for instance Austria's famous comedian and actor Roland Düringer as well as lawyers, among simply courageous citizens fighting for democracy and an independent and fair legal system. Their view is also shared by law experts and it will be interesting to see what the prosecuting attorney will do about those charges.

Now to the bottom line: I also participated in this action, but since it is far riskier than ordinary online petitions (since it is not clear whether or not criminal charges are really prosecuted and if they are what the outcome will be even though it seems absurd to assume that this interpretation of coercion will hold scrutiny), I really thought hard about it and hesitated before supporting this campaign. Thus even if everything will be dropped and nothing more happen about it, whoever is behind it succeeded in spreading fear among supporters of human rights, political freedom and animal rights, as I found out by my own experience. And precisely this is the point where I seriously question whether or not we have already crossed the end of democracy since fearing about consequences before supporting political campaigns or even before performing legal protests as those now assumed to be "coercion" is in my opinion in contradiction to everything I see as important for a democracy. So, have we already crossed the line?

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