Attitudes Toward Minorities

Attitudes Toward Minorities

Although Austria had a negligible Jewish population by the early 1990s, anti-Semitism remains a prejudice among some segments of the population. Social scientists disagree about the reliability of surveys taken during the 1980s, but the consensus among specialists is that between 7 and 12 percent of the population of Austria holds consistently anti-Semitic attitudes and can be considered "hard-core" anti-Semites. Around 25 percent of the populace is mildly anti-Semitic, and approximately 60 percent is neutral or philo-Semitic. Surveys also reveal that anti-Semitic sentiments are more pronounced among older Austrians than younger ones, increase as one moves from the left to the right of the political spectrum, and tend to be more pronounced in rural areas.

Surveys also reveal that there was a decline of explicitly anti-Semitic sentiments among some sections of the Austrian population during the 1980s. The decline could derive from the worldwide controversy surrounding the nomination and election of Kurt Waldheim as Austrian president in 1986 and the public discussions of the fiftieth anniversary of the Nazi Anschluss in 1988. Both events caused a critical reevaluation of the role of Austrians in the Third Reich, as well as an open debate about Austrian anti-Semitism.

The opening of Eastern Europe beginning in 1989 and increased immigration to Austria were events that also influenced the structure of Austrian attitudes, anxieties, and prejudices. The special status Austria enjoyed as a neutral state between the two power blocs gave Austrians a sense of security that disappeared after 1989. It was replaced by the widespread concern in the early 1990s that Austria would be overwhelmed by foreigners as a result of open borders. For example, a survey in 1992 found that 38 percent of those polled believed that the greatest threat facing Austria was its being overrun by eastern refugees. The weakest social groups in Austria, the elderly and the retired, and low-income groups--who had the impression that they were competing with foreign workers--tended to feel most threatened by the changes that accompanied Austria's new position in Europe.

The role of immigration became a very sensitive political issue because of the erroneous but common perception that legal immigrants and foreign workers are a burden instead of a demographic and economic benefit. The influx of illegal or "economic refugees" from the former communist states of Eastern Europe exacerbated the situation. An increase in crime stemming from illegal refugees who entered Austria as "tourists" led to increasingly hostile attitudes toward all foreigners from Eastern Europe, the Balkan Peninsula, and Turkey and the propagation of negative stereotypes. The results of a Gallup poll taken in the fall of 1991 showed strong xenophobic sentiments toward Gypsies, Serbs, Turks, Poles, and Romanians that considerably surpassed anti-Semitic attitudes in Austria. The manner in which Austrians learn to cope with immigration and integration will likely play an important role in domestic politics in the future.

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