Austria's Anti-immigration Party Slams Poem Written by a Local Official Comparing Migrants to Rats

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who governs Austria with the far-right Freedom Party as his coalition partner, calls the poem that appeared in a local publication of the party 'abhorrent, inhuman and deeply racist'

FILE PHOTO: Christian Schilcher, deputy mayor of Braunau am Inn and member of the local branch of the far-right Freedom Party, who penned the poem, February 13, 2017
AFP

An anti-migration party that serves in Austria's government has called a poem written by a local official that compared migrants with rats "tasteless."

The ditty titled "The Town Rat" appeared in a local publication of the Austria's far-right Freedom Party in Braunau. It warned against mixing cultures and drew strong criticism from the center-left opposition, as well as Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Kurz, a conservative who governs Austria with the party as his coalition partner, demanded Monday that its branch in Upper Austria province distance itself from the poem and said that "the choice of words is abhorrent, inhuman and deeply racist."

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File Photo: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium March 22, 2019.
Toby Melville / Reuters

Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said Christian Schilcher will leave the anti-migration Freedom Party and resign as deputy mayor of Braunau am Inn, the Austria Press Agency reported. The town on the German border was the birthplace of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

A top official with the Freedom Party's regional branch, Erwin Schreiner, later Monday said that "the allegory of rat and human is historically loaded, and so tasteless and to be rejected."

Schreiner said the fact that the author himself wrote from the perspective of a rat "doesn't make things significantly better" but also argued that the poem was "ultimately a failed attempt to address a serious issue in verse form."

The poem said that "just as we live down here, other rats who (came) as guests or migrants, including the ones we didn't know, must share our way of life! Or get out of here fast!"

Strache said Schilcher, who said on Monday that he had meant to be provocative but not to hurt anyone, was resigning of his own accord "to prevent damage to the party." He said the deputy mayor's behavior was not in accordance with the Freedom Party's principles.

In 2018, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen confirmed that he asked Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to consider normalizing relations with the Freedom Party, which Israel is boycotting.

A statement sent to Haaretz from the Austrian president said that he had specifically requested that Rivlin normalize relations with the Austrian foreign minister.

Karin Kneissl, the foreign minister, represents the Freedom Party but is not herself a party member. She is an expert on the Middle East who studied for a while at the Hebrew University, and is also boycotted by Israel, not only because she represents the Freedom Party but because she compared Zionism and Nazism in a book she wrote. She has also criticized the Israeli army and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Haartz reported that Rivlin refused Van der Bellen's request, telling his counterpart at length why he objects to normalization of relations with those ministers, given the party’s anti-Semitic roots and the current accusations by Jewish leaders in Austria that the party is stoking anti-Semitism.

Furthermore, the far-right party admitted to Haaretz in 2018 it had deleted the anti-Semitic cartoon posted six years ago by Strache to his Facebook page. The post was defended by Strache in a televised debate with a Jewish student leader in Vienna, but it has since disappeared without explanation.

A spokesman from Strache's party responded to a query by Haaretz and said the post was purposefully deleted by them. It still remains unclear what the immediate background for the decision to delete the post was and whether it was a response to pressure by the local Jewish community.