On 2 March 2005, Austrian Parliament debated, in plenary, a motion tabled by the Green Party to set a deadline for finally putting their motion of March 2003, to include homosexual victims in the Federal Nazi Victims Compensation Act (Opferfürsorgegesetz – OFG), on the agenda of the Parliament’s social affairs committee where the original motion had been parked since 2003.
Once again, the conservative/extreme right ÖVP/FPÖ majority defeated the motion. MP Walter Tancsits, speaking in that debate on behalf of the People’s Party (ÖVP), defended and justified his party’s refusal to amend the OFG. For more than two decades, HOSI Wien has been fighting for the recognition, in the OFG, of the Nazi victims persecuted on the grounds of their homosexuality, granting them a legal entitlement to compensation. Until today, this group is treated as second class victims who can only get some charitable alms from special funds in case they are poor and needy. For more information on the non-recognition of homosexual victims under the OFG, read here.
As a reaction to this vote of 2 March, HOSI Wien, in a media release dated 4 March 2005, criticised the position of the People’s Party as “taking ideological views of the Nazis” (“vertritt nationalsozialistisches Gedankengut”) in general and Tancsits’ statement in particular (“It’s a disgrace for the country that even today mental descendants of the brown Nazi myrmidons, such as Tancsits, are sitting in the Parliament.” – last sentence of the press release).
True, those are quite strong words but – according to the established jurisprudence of both the Supreme Court in Austria and the European Court of Human Rights – they must be considered as legal and “fair comments” in a political debate, especially since the authors of these formulations explain why they have come to these conclusions. In Oberschlick vs. Austria, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had ruled that a journalist can use even insults such as “idiot” (which Oberschlick had used to describe Jörg Haider) if he argues in a plausible way why he has come to such a conclusion. The verdict of the Court is available at:
It’s not only ridiculous but also not at all convincing that Mr Tancsits now pretends to be so deeply hurt and offended by our comments that he feels forced to bring both civil and criminal action against HOSI Wien, its president Christian Högl, and its secretary-general Kurt Krickler. In the civil action he applies for an injunction and the retraction of our statement, including the publication of that retraction; the criminal action is a classical defamation/libel suit.
However, we suspect that the real reason behind these legal actions is to intimidate and to financially damage a critical NGO, and more so as HOSI Wien has been a decided opponent and a most vocal critic of the right-wing government in power since 2000. We did not hesitate a second to join the broad resistance movement that year (read more here), and Kurt Krickler indeed headed the Platform of European Social NGOs’ delegation that met with the EU-14’s three wise men Ahtisaari, Frowein and Oreja in Heidelberg in 2000. Paragraphs 97-103 of their report actually describe and heavily criticise how the ÖVP’s coalition partner FPÖ had systematically used libel procedures to suppress criticism – and that’s exactly what the ÖVP is now doing in this case.
The criminal court procedure will take place in Vienna on Thursday, 28 April 2005, and we cannot exclude a political show trial in the present political climate in Austria, which in the past years has taken a strong turn into a very authoritarian and anti-democratic direction. In view of the established case law it does not really make sense to bring such actions to the courts – unless one is speculating and hoping to find willing executioners in the justice system who would “automatically” decide in favour of a government MP and against critical homosexuals.
With all our negative experience with the Austrian justice system in the past, we only have little trust and confidence in it, and so we are quite concerned whether we will get a fair trial, and therefore, we have asked both foreign embassies here in Vienna, Members of the European Parliament and human rights organisations such as the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and amnesty international, to send observers to the trial on 28 April.
If we are sentenced, we are of course determined to appeal the case and, if necessary, take it all the way to Strasbourg, but it will cost us a fortune, as we would not only have to pay our lawyer but also Tancsits’ lawyer, and of course we could be heavily fined, or sentenced a prison term – although even in today’s Austria the latter may still be an unlikely option – but who knows?
Please, read more here how to support HOSI Wien’s campaign “SOS Freedom of Expression”.