The adventures of the brave little Gaul, Asterix, and his big friend, Obelix, resisting the Roman occupation are well known to most German-speaking children, or at least were until recently. Each of the popular comics written by Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny begins with the famous words: “Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely … one small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders.” This is more or less the current plight of a million Austrians, to which, after two years of seemingly endless propaganda and lockdown, a new dimension was added when the COVID-19 Compulsory Vaccination Act was passed in the Austrian parliament on the 20th January.
At the same time it seems that the majority of leading Austrian politicians apply the introductory words of the Asterix comics to themselves, believing their own narrative that COVID, now primarily extant in the contagious but harmless Omicron-variant, is a dangerous alien invading the bodies of their citizens, which it requires drastic measures to eliminate. Meanwhile, Great Britain and Ireland are taking back their measures, Spain and Israel are changing their strategies and relaxing restrictions, and the Czech Republic has just relinquished plans for a mandatory vaccination in social services. Sweden, of course, never had a real lockdown. Additionally, it has become very clear that vaccinated people can also be infected, something which happened, ironically, to the Austrian Chancellor, Nehammer, just before the passing of the law. Many Austrians—including vaccinated ones—see no need to make vaccination obligatory. But few dare to speak out, as divisions grow between friends and within families. Confidence in politics is dropping drastically and the Austrian elite begin to resemble the naked emperor, flaunting his new clothes.
How is it possible that beautiful little Austria, known for its music, its rich culture, and great Habsburg tradition, has taken the decision to govern the bodily fluids of its people? It is not widely known that, after WWII, and allowing for a short phase of Soviet influence, two parties, the once Catholic-conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Socialist Party (SPÖ, renamed the Social Democratic Party in 1991), took over all power in the country and distributed all positions and functions among themselves.
For instance, the public radio company initially came under the influence of the ÖVP; but then television grew in importance and became dominated by the SPÖ. Only in 1995 were private television companies allowed. Not only were the different chambers distributed between the two parties, but the two existing automobile clubs had their party affiliations. School headmasters are appointed by their party memberships, and the same accounts for almost all civil servants, including those in the juridical system, the secret services, and the Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Twice, under Wolfgang Schüssel in 2000, and under Sebastian Kurz in 2018, the ÖVP has dared to form a government with the right-wing-populist Freedom Party (FPÖ), attempting to break the leftist dominance in the media and state apparatus which was built under Socialist chancellor Bruno Kreisky in the 1970s. Twice this coalition has failed because of the ÖVP’s selfish powerplays.
This particular ‘democratic’ system gave Austria a lot of political stability and won many admirers. But it had a shady side. It not only gave rise to a big paternalistic state; it also fostered a static, corrupt, and arrogant mediocracy, together with its thoughtless followers. It was not so much qualifications as party membership which counted in your career. Your loyalties belonged to the party: you merely had to get along and make sure (morally) better qualified people did not get a good position. Only the Freedom Party was opposed to this Proporz-System, which partially explains its success. Being a Marxist party, the Green Party was also in opposition to ‘state capitalism’, but would abandon their idealistic principles when they joined government.
With Kreisky’s permission, the Freedom Party was founded in 1950. After 1945, the official narrative was that Austria had been Hitler’s first victim, and former National Socialists who wanted to remain politically active actually joined the two reigning parties, the People’s Party and the Socialist Party, whose presidential candidate, Adolf Schärf, in 1957 campaigned with the slogan: “Wer einmal für Adolf war, wählt auch Adolf dieses Jahr” (“Who was once for Adolf, is this year, too, for Adolf”). All of this should be considered in the light of the dominant ‘anti-fascist’ narrative which is constantly used against all anti-COVID measures demonstrators and right-wingers, including Herbert Kickl, the current leader of the Freedom Party. One should ask whether the Compulsory Vaccination Act has revealed that anti-fascists are in fact totalitarian and only projecting their subconscious desires onto their political opponents. Indeed, leftists are in principle totalitarian, as are liberals (as Ryszard Legutko has shown).
But is this reason enough to explain the passing of a law which undermines human dignity and individual freedom? There might be more factors to be considered. One is the complete failure of the Catholic Church and its leaders, who have followed a policy of appeasement, in some cases even actively suppressing opposition to the leftist agenda. Cardinal Schönborn recently dismissed the police chaplain for criticizing the mandatory vaccination. Another factor is the unique existence of an official Presseförderung: the sponsoring of the Austria media by the state, in the name of the ‘preservation of diversity’.
Additionally, in the last 15 years journalists have been indirectly sponsored on a large scale through the advertisements of state companies, a practice Sebastian Kurz was blamed for, but which was introduced by his colourless predecessor, Werner Faymann of the SPÖ, who was never seriously accused of it. Faymann’s policies led to the creation of two major newspapers, both full of nudity, which more or less ‘explain’ the government’s position to the people, particularly regarding the COVID-measures. Another factor is the lack of any higher principles in the Austrian constitution, which was written in the spirit of the legal positivism of Hans Kelsen, in which most Austrian politicians were educated at university. In comparison, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) of Germany begins with a reminder of our responsibility towards God, and in article 8 declares: “The dignity of man is untouchable.”
From Plato one knows that any political regime is connected to the state of the soul and that expresses itself in deeds. What happens if the rulers lose a sense of right measure and balanced judgement? Democracy turns into tyranny. What if corrupt people try to compensate for their mediocrity in delusions of grandeur? They unleash lust for power over their subjects, demanding from them gestures of obedience. Politics becomes only about oligarchy and power. When man loses the sight of God, he loses sight of reality and justice, believing himself to be omnipotent and unaccountable. What lesson in political philosophy is taking place before our eyes, and how was it forgotten so soon?
In Goscinny’s originals, Asterix’s village was never conquered by Imperial Rome. Our Imperial Rome would be, in Orwell’s terms, the ‘oligarchical collectivism’ which has seen so many get the jab so as not to lose their jobs. But, though defamed by the media, a peaceful resistance is forming, comprised, among others, of doctors, lawyers, midwives, policemen, army servicemen, teachers, and the private TV-channel, ServusTV, which has reported on the vaccine side-effects, hitherto covered up. Even some former leftists have suddenly found themselves in opposition to mainstream opinion. Quite recently, the Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH) even submitted questions to the Ministry of Health wanting to know the exact number of those infected, hospitalized, and deceased—in order to know how justified the regulations have been. So questions are beginning to be asked.
The secret of Asterix’s success was a magic potion which gave him superhuman strength. For us, perhaps this is the potion of truth, which, boosting an already healthy natural immune system, will once again grant us freedom and happiness.
Christian Machek is an Austrian-Belgian teacher and scholar of religion and political philosophy, and member of the Renovatio Institute.