Austria: Socialist players suspended from football club for anti-fascist activities

Far right football club president moves against socialists

On Monday, 27 October, CWI members, Margarita Döller, Lucia Döller and Irene Müller were suspended from Hellas Kagran, the football club they played for in Vienna whose President is Martin Graf, a prominent far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) member of parliament. This was the day before Graf, who is also a member of the extreme right student fraternity Burschenschaft Olympia, was elected as Third President of the Austrian Parliament. Graf was given this position with the votes of the Social Democrats (SPÖ), the Peoples’ Party (ÖVP) and Austria’s Future (BZÖ, founded by Haider) as well as FPÖ members of parliament. The formal argument of the SPÖ and ÖVP was that it is “a tradition” that the third strongest party gets the Third Presidency.

Just hours before their suspension, these three socialists took part in an anti-fascist demonstration against Graf’s nomination for this position. When they arrived at the football ground for training, they were told that they had been suspended from the club for taking part in the demonstration and for campaigning against Graf.

Previously Graf organised an FPÖ rally, described as a barbecue (‘Spanferkelessen’), of the local FPÖ youth organisation (Ring Freiheitlicher Jugend – RFJ), on the football ground during the recent elections. Margarita, Lucia and Irene showed their opposition to this by not taking part in the training that took place at the same time. They then organised an anti-racist bloc of fans during a match two days later, only to find Graf and a number of what seemed to be either FPÖ or RFJ members, present at the ground. Graf’s entourage kept making sexist comments about the players and comments about ‘the left’.

The three women went public about Graf’s abuse of his position at Hellas Kagran. With the media taking up the issue and his election to this parliamentary position due, Graf obviously felt threatened and suspended the three. This is indicative of his idea of ‘democracy’. Now, an ex-coach of the youth team of Hellas Kagran, encouraged by the resistance of the three women against Graf, has also gone public about his expulsion from the club in the past. He had also been expelled for criticising Graf’s role as president of the club. Hellas Kagran had previously been a member of the ASKÖ, a football association close to the Social Democrats, with an anti-racist and anti-fascist tradition. During Graf’s presidency the club had left the ASKÖ – with most of the club’s members not being informed.

Neo-nazi links

Olympia, the Burschenschaft (student fraternity) that Graf is a member of, has links with the German neo-nazi NPD and invited David Irving, the famous ideological figure of the far right, to Austria where he was arrested for “denying the Holocaust”. Olympia can be considered as the far right fringe of the already right-wing Burschenschaften. They regarded Norbert Burger, an Austrian neo-nazi who was responsible for bombings in South Tyrol (part of Italy but regarded by the far right as part of Austria) as an “outstanding” Olympia member. Graf himself has praised Burger as “a good father, an upstanding tax payer and a respectable citizen” and while claiming that he did not support all Burger’s views, said he “always respected him”.

The FPÖ gained support for their ‘social’ sounding and pseudo-anti-capitalist rhetoric during the recent election and now feel stronger, on the basis of their election win and the hype around Jörg Haider’s death. In the wake of this, violent neo-nazis are also gaining confidence. The number of attacks on anti-fascist demonstrations and other events (concerts, meetings) by neo-nazis is increasing. CWI member Jan Rybak was injured during an anti-FPÖ demonstration before the elections. On Sunday, 26 October a left youth club was attacked. Members of the far right Burschenschaft Olympia attacked a demonstration against Graf the day after his election.

SPÖ and ÖVP are currently negotiating about going back into government together. If they form another government, it will be one of attacks against the working class A bank rescue package of 100 billion euro has already been agreed. With rising unemployment, the economic crisis will lay the basis in which racists can gain ground, if there is no left political alternative. The FPÖ and far right will benefit from this situation, unless there is resistance from the workers movement.

The three antifascist footballers will not accept their suspension. They made it clear that they want to play, but not with Graf as president of their club. They will continue to oppose Graf and the FPÖ and to build a campaign against the far right and the politics they stand for. They have already won press attention, as well as a number of messages of solidarity from fans and players from other teams, and from their own club.

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October 2008