VPO & The Emergence of the

Austrian Far Right


By William Osborne

[Sent to various lists February 2, 2000.]


I would like to comment on recent political developments in Austria that relate to the protest against the Vienna Philharmonic.  (For those who do not know, the orchestra excludes women and non-whites.) 


It appears that within the next few days the far right "Freedom Party" of Joerg Haider will form a coalition enabling it to rule Austria (see the Reuters article below.)  Haider has praised the employment policies of Adolf Hitler which included slave labor. He has made speeches to SS Veterans groups which is illegal in Austria.  And he has proposed the removal of all foreign children from the country's schools. The VPO's resistance to change has been strengthened by the "Freedom Party," since the centrist politicians know they will lose even more votes to Haider if they pressure the Philharmonic to admit women and end its all-white policy. 


For the last four years the International Alliance for Women In Music has vigorously protested against the racist and sexist policies of the Vienna Philharmonic--which is Austria's most prestigious musical institution.  The Philharmonic agreed to change due to the IAWM protest, but then reneged after witnessing the vacillation of our cultural leaders concerning the orchestra's ideologies. 


The board of Carnegie Hall continued to invite the orchestra each year for multiple concerts and even opened this year's season with a Vienna Philharmonic gala.  The_New York Times'_, chief music cirtic, Bernard Holland, and his second, James Ostreich, consistently served as apologists for the orchestra, evening discounting the IAWM's protests with derogatory terms.   And institutions such as the Chase Mannhattan Bank lined up as financial patrons of the orchestra in spite of its thinly veiled all-white-male ideology.


Though it is difficult for  Americans to imagine, there is no stronger social force in Austria than classical music.  No other aspect of society so deeply informs their identity and heritage.  Haider's rise to power thus illustrates why we need cultural leaders and patrons with integrity.  Because of its immense prestige, change in the Philharmonic due to international pressure would have sent strong ripples throughout Austrian society.  It would have demonstrated to Austrians the danger of isolation due to racist and sexist values and been a significant support for the current embattled government.


Now the moment of reckoning has come to fruition in Austria's political landscape and we know who to thank for it.  The Times published an editorial last week claiming that the Austrian government will have no one to thank but itself if the far right/neo-Nazis take control of the government.  Maybe the Times ought to take a good look at its two most important music critics' peculiar sympathies before it decides just who to thank.  And maybe it should ask the Chase Mannhattan Bank why it supports an orchestra that advocates an all-white, male policy.  And maybe it should ask the Board of Carnegie Hall why it continues to invite the Vienna Philharmonic and thus create yearly public celebrations of sexism and racism in our country's most prestigious concert hall. 


If these institutions do not want neo-Nazis ruling Austria, then they should also reject the cultural values that are bringing them to power.     


Please read the Reuters article below.  And please continue your protest.  Maybe a few people in high positions will learn that integrity has an important place in cultural expression.


William Osborne

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