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Right-Wing Could Win Vienna Election on Migrant Fears

  • Daniel Schearf

Vienna is dotted with rows of campaign posters for the upcoming municipal elections on October 11.

One issue has been at the forefront of this year's vote: How to deal with the flood of thousands of refugees and other migrants pouring into Austria to make a life in Europe.

Most were greeted with open arms and an army of volunteers, offering everything from basic necessities to free SIM cards to legal advice.

Vienna, like most European capitals, boasts a wealth of culture, architecture and history, as well as cultural diversity and left-wing politics. But, like much of Europe, politics are turning to the right and that has many here worried.

“We're a bit scared of the election coming up because the right-wing party was kind of popular in upper Austria,” says Ashley Winkler, an organizer with the refugee aid group Train of Hope. “The elections were on Sunday and they got 30 percent. So, we're kind of scared that this is going to happen here, too.”

Far-right politicians have been capitalizing on fears of the influx of foreigners. Most of them are Muslims fleeing war, persecution, and poverty in the Middle East and Asia.

Austria's Freedom Party says it wants to protect Austrian culture, and Europe, from Islamization. Its message is finding an audience.

Polls show the Freedom Party is neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats, who have led Vienna politics since the end of World War II.

A theater worker who identified herself only as Ms. Knoll, said the right-wing parties were gaining popularity for years before the refugee crisis.

“It's about... migrants and the fears of people, I guess,” she says. Then she quickly adds, “Which I think is absolutely ridiculous because we live in one of the richest countries in the world.” She concludes, “So, I don't see the point.”

On a busy shopping street in Vienna, someone had put an anti-Islam sticker on a campaign poster.

But the city's left-wing is lashing back at the Freedom Party's anti-Islam, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Near Vienna's main train station, now a hub for transiting refugees, someone graffitied a Freedom Party candidate's billboard. They painted a Hitler-like mustache on the candidate and wrote, in English, “Xenophobes Pack.”

Vienna native Peter Jandrasits says he has no interest in voting for the Freedom Party.

“The main reason is, I think, they are too strong on one side [of the issue]. And, I think it is not good to try to divide the people.”

He says there are more important issues to focus on such as fixing Vienna's traffic problems, health care, and economy. Vienna thrives on diversity and the millions of foreign tourists who visit every year.

The results of this year's city election may just determine if it can maintain that welcoming image.

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