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Austria: Much Ado about little

Recerca | 27/03/2008

The case of Austria

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Strong restrictions and gradual naturalisations combined have kept the share of foreign citizens down to 10%. Despite this, anti-immigrant feelings and politics are rife in recent years, questioning a tradition of openness and integration.

Landlocked Austria, kept apart during the cold war from old neighbours, displayed for decades a receptive attitude towards newcomers, including benign welfare provisions and moderate rules for naturalisation. Developments in the last 20 years, however, have seen an increase in immigration, doubling foreign residents from 4% to 10%. This figure would logically be higher if close to 0.5 million people had not attained Austrian citizenship in the same period.

General prosperity, together with the manageable dimensions of the country, have allowed the process to be relatively smooth in economic and social terms. Unemployment is remarkably low, although it triples among foreign populations; marginal situations also affect immigrants much more than nationals.

Hence, whatever discord has arisen in Austrian society has little to do with material factors. Most conflict can rather associated to cultural-religious motives, especially the animosity towards Islam and the perceived dangers to national identity. The surge of racist attitudes has its major exponent in Haider’s FPÖ, which reached a peak 20% of the vote in 2000 and thereafter has declined due to several reasons, including a party split.

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