INSTITUTIONAL RACISM                                                                                 The project "Institutional Racisms"
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"Institutional Racism" by Helmut Draxler

Interviews on the Politics of Exclusion

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In Austria, Germany, and other EU states the increase in offensive as well as subtle racist discourses and practices in recent years has become obvious. 1997 was declared by the EU as “The European Year against Racism”, whereby state racism played no meaningful role in this context. The emphasis was lain in the first instance on xenophobia and right-wing radicalism. Conceptions of racism as peripheral or fringe phenomena delegate political responsibility for racism onto single groups and persons.
Thus, in general, racist institutionalised practices towards migrants, refugees, and members of minorities are little considered. Often it is only extreme and violent racist attacks which draw the attention of the public. Such reduced modes of perception and observation define racism as a trivial problem. Through this process its present socio-political meaning is marginalised and ghettoised. While racism is seen as disassociated from the structure of the power relations in our society, its institutional achorings remain filtered out. Hand in hand with this goes the disregard for the social consequences of institutional racisms for migrants, refugees, and minorities. These viewpoints contribute to the reproduction and establishment of racisms.

In order to bring institutional racisms (in the form of state regulated racisms) into the focus of public attention, we placed a 3 x 3 x 3 m large poster object in the Viennese city centre on the Herbert-von-Karajan Square in front of the State Opera from 14.10. - 27.11.1997.
As this site is visited by numerous tourists, the poster object showed a sober text, superimposed over a photographed house facade, about the Austrian practice of remand pending deportation in German, English, and Italian. This facade is part of a police prison on the Rossauerlände, one of the two Viennese prisons for remand pending deportation, in which 50 % of all prisoners on remand pending deportation are locked up. The fourth side of the poster object informed in more detail (also in three languages) about the practice of remand pending deportation in this country under the headline “Interesting facts worth knowing about Austria”.

The poster object was part of the project “INSTITUTIONAL RACISMS”, which was continued as an exhibition in the Exnergasse Art Gallery. Among other things, a video was shown there with leading officials from Austria and Germany who we interviewed on remand pending deportation and other exclusion mechanisms. In it the Head of the Department of Aliens Branch of the Police in the Ministry of the Interior, Dr. Widermann, and the Head of the Austrian Federal Asylum Office, Mag. Taucher, and a Ministerial Director of the Department for Asylum and Alien Affairs, Dr. Lehnguth, and the Ministerial Director in the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Dr. Rupprecht, attempt to justify their work and the exclusion politics of the state.
Supplementing the video, selected information materials from anti-racist publications lay freely available for taking on three wood pedestals in the form of pads of sheets stuck together at one side. On a total of 54 pages an offensive stand against different forms of institutional racisms is made, among other things for an immediate abolition of prisons for remand pending deportation. A form of criticism which only independent, radical left, and thus generally low-circulation magazines achieve. 
In contrast to the above, the criticism in most of the “liberal” media is limited to coverage of the conditions surrounding the execution of remand pending deportation. It reduces itself to the human rights violations taking place in the prisons. Yet the abolition of remand pending deportation is never called for, and the legal requirements and practices, which reglement the dealings of the Austrian state with people labelled as “foreigners”, “economic refugees”, or “illegals”, is never termed as racist. 
While the media thematise the problematic only on the basis of particularly crass individual cases, they provide the state and its representatives with the opportunity of defending  a system of racist exclusion both internally and externally. In such a way the few abuses which become public can be portrayed as exceptions by the official sources. The promise to rectify these abuses is then always accompanied by an emphasis on the necessity of the practice of remand pending deportation, with the ultimate effect of creating additional acceptance for the state regulated discrimination against migrants. In such a way, criticism articulated about the conditions in Austrian prisons for remand pending deportation often has the effect of, for example, the Minister for the Interior wishing to improve the appearance of this institution by including various NGOs, in order in the long run to make the enforcement of remand pending deportation, which is intended ultimately to guarantee deportation, more frictionless and efficient.
The racist police practices of classifying people with dark skin colour as potential drug dealers and subjecting them to permanent police controls are accepted as necessary by the liberal media, with the exception of blatant racist events (such as when a coloured government official from Uganda is suspected of being a drug dealer whilst drinking pineapple juice in the underground and is maltreated at the police station. “At best”, in such a case, the behaviour of the respective police officers is criticised; the system which produces such practices remains untouched yet again.
The press coverage limited to these “isolated instances” strengthens these mechanisms, thus produces further “isolated instances”, until the media loses interest in it. For fates which are too similar to each other lose their sensation value; they can't increase circulation and viewing figures any more. “That doesn't interest the readers any more”, “We've already reported on it very extensively”, etc. were the sayings we could listen to from journalists and editors again and again in the course of our work.

“All politically persecuted persons enjoy now as before a right of asylum”- this often used phrase covers up how Austria really deals with migrants. For the right of asylum is enjoyed only by all those who correspond to the flexibly determined (depending on the economic and political situation) criteria - in Austria in 1996 only 716 of the 8732 asylum seekers were recognised as refugees. So, for example, (civil) war refugees, who refused military service in their country of origin, do not count as politically persecuted, although the forced repatriation to their country of origin can mean death for them. For, refusal of military service does not count here in this country as a political act. As a result the only possibility that remains is to enter Austria “illegally”. Then on the “green border” the Austria military is already waiting, armed to the best degree with the night sight devices and helicopters, to hunt down so-called “illegals”. If as a result of these politics of exclusion an unarmed Rumanian is shot down on the border, then reports describing the incident appear in the media, without the principle of armed border protection being fundamentally questioned in the process.

Our intention was to counter this media coverage which ultimately backs up state and everyday racisms. The project set its goal in highlighting institutionally and state embedded racisms, by for example describing the institution of remand pending deportation as racist. Obviously racism can not, in contrast to the conditions reigning in the jail houses, be “improved” or “reformed”. The goal has to be the abolition of the institution remand pending deportation.
That provided the opportunity for numerous discussions in front of the poster object and in the media. In the live radio program, “Von Tag zu Tag” in Austrian Radio1 we discussed with Peter Huemer and several callers whether and to what extent the Austrian state acts in a racist way when it operates prisons for remand pending deportation for the purpose of deterrence and exclusion. Of course the print media also reacted to this reproach launched by means of the poster object. While the news magazine Profil posed the open question of who the racist is here, the leading editor of the new right weekly newspaper, Zur Zeit, accused  the project of SOS-Mitmensch (S.O.S. for Fellowship Platform) Populism in his article entitled “State racism” and expressed regret that the state should be discredited as a result.
These and other criticisms did not detract from our concern to make the contents of the project flow into the media discussion. The text of the poster object was printed in various print media or read out in radio programs, and additionally the project provided the grounds for several journalists for programs (1) and articles about remand pending deportation and racism, for the purpose of which they met us personally (2).
In the Art Gallery Exnergasse we discussed institutional racisms with school classes which we invited to exhibition conversations. An 8th class of the Viennese Grammar School in the Hegelgasse was inspired by their exhibition visit to work further on the theme in their (German) lessons. In an initiative coming from the pupils, some of the anti-racist information texts from the exhibition were copied again and distributed in all the classes of the school. Pupils also created an advertising column with the texts.

The concept of INSTITUTIONAL RACISMS was criticised a number of times on the basis that we ourselves were in a certain sense also exclusory, in that in a project against racisms we didn't emphasise the positions of anti-racist migrants and migrant groups enough. Our reply to this partly justified criticism is that the project was conceived in the first instance as a supplement to the anti-racist resistance of migrants and anti-fascists. “Exhibiting” migrants and migrant initiatives - on the grounds that the latter are “directly” effected by racisms - can easily lead to migrants and migrant groups being declared yet more responsible for the fight against racisms, by which means even more responsibility can be delegated. In the worst case it can occur with such an approach that strategies, idea and the labour of migrants is used for an anti-racist project, from which it is subsequently only the organisers who cream off cultural capital. The concept of a networking of different anti-racist (migrant) initiatives also leaves open the question of how far the latter need such a network, or who in fact profits from it, if it is a success. Although (or precisely because) we have the privilege of Austrian citizenship, we see it as necessary, under our authorship as cultural producers, to make a stand against the legally regulated racist practices of the Austrian state.


(1) A selection of the media in which the poster object was shown and the texts of the poster object reproduced:
Welcome Austria, Markus Wailand, Falter Nr. 42, 1997.
Meike Schmidt-Gleim, Falter Nr. 44, 1997.
Tourist of the other kind, national news section, The Standard, 14.10.97.
In Schengenland, Jochen Becker, TAZ - Die Tageszeitung, 15/16.11.97.
Institutional Racisms, Tatblatt Nr.19/97
Info-Intern (WUK), Cover page,Nr.6/97.
Institutional Racisms, Christian Kravagna, Springer - Hefte für Gegenwartskunst (Magazines for contemporary art), Nr. 4, 1997.
Against state racisms, ak - analyse und kritik, Nr. 407, 23.10.97.
Who's the racist here? Christian Seiler, Profil Nr. 42, 13.10.97.
Von Tag zu Tag (From day to day), Peter Huemer, Austrian Radio 1, 12.11.97.
Kulturjournal (Cultural Journal), Roland Schöny, Austrian Radio 1, 23.10.97.
Institutional Racisms, Susanna Niedermayer, FM4, 27.10.97.

(2) What does illegals mean here? A program about remand pending deportation, Sonja Edler and Andreas Zinggl, ORF, 11.12.97.
Institutional racisms, Aurelia Wunsch and Christina Steinle, ORF,12.11.97
Article about the Austrian practice of remand pending deportation, Silke Rupprechtsberger, Die Furche, Dec. 97.