black Austria will collect resources and create an archive of black history in Austria. If you have resources that you would like to contribute, please contact me. Here is an brief and incomplete overview of that history.
Ethnic conflicts, often resulting in violence, were a frequent occurrence in the Austrian Hungarian Empire (1867-1914). These conflicts demanded a centralization of nationalism as a unifying force since the population consisted of people from different cultural backgrounds. Austria has never had an easy relationship with integration.
Although Austria during the Habsburg Empire was made up of many ethnic groups, the strongest group remained the Germans, and they considered themselves German by culture even though they were loyal to their provinces. During the late 1800s, Austrians began to support the nationalist ideal.
Angelo Soliman was brought to Vienna as a slave to the Liechtensteins. Soliman won twenty gulden gambling in Frankfurt, married an Austrian woman in secret, and later became a freemason. He acted as a soldier and adviser in one princely household and then came to Vienna in 1753 to serve as a valet and tutor in another. There were some 40 African inhabitants of Vienna in the 18th century—many of them noble servants like Soliman. After he died, several people jostled to use his body for scientific purposes before it eventually ended up in the Naturhistorisches Museum as an exhibit. His daughter sought in vain for a proper burial, and his body remained in the imperial collection until its destruction in a fire in 1848.
Austria has a history of benefiting from European colonialism in Africa and thusly participating in the destabilization of Africa. When black people entered the consciousness of the Austrian public, they were seen as sub-humans and treated as such through policy and practice. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the few Africans that came to Austria to study, work or engage in diplomacy rarely stayed in Austria past their appointments.
In the era of National Socialism negative stereotypes about Africans predominated, including the accusation that black Africans were instruments of the Jews. This was fueled by the heavy influence of Germany but widely embraced by Austrians. Racial policy prevented any relations between members of different groups, and official discrimination was practiced at all levels. Many children of mixed race were subjected to intrusive anthropological investigations (sponsored by the venerable Akademie der Wissenschaften) in order to legitimize Nazi race policies.
There are an estimated 40,000 black people in Austria today. Although they contribute to Austrian society in a variety of ways, they are not readily accepted as part of the national identity and are subject to widespread discrimination and harassment.
“Anti discrimination legislation is insufficient. The Austrian legislator found a way to circumvent the shifting of the burden of proof set out in the EU regulations. Migration is not wanted, but rather seen as something to defend Austria against. Integration is subject of debate only to conclude that it is the immigrants´ fault that they do not integrate. The promotion of integration is reduced to German language classes. Racist crime is not prosecuted sufficiently. Ethnic profiling is a common practice among the police to identify undocumented persons.” – Dr. Di-Tutu Bukasa, ENAR SHADOW REPORT, 2009, RACISM IN AUSTRIA, “Die Bunten” – Forum for Dignity, Justice and Democracy
Black people are targeted and treated as criminals by the Austrian police. This treatment has resulted in injuries and deaths. In April 2009, Amnesty International released a report saying it was concerned skin color was too often a factor in Austrian police interventions and found shortcomings in the country’s recording and public availability of statistics on racist crimes.
“I’m fighting for everyone. If nothing changes now, I don’t know about the future.” – Mike Brennan
The flashpoint incidents that have caused outrage and protest within the black Austrian community include:
- In May 1999, Markus Omofuma, a 25-year-old Nigerian suffocated after being bound and gagged by Austrian immigration police on a deportation flight.
- On May 2, 2000 Richard Ibekwe, a 26-year-old Nigerian died in police custody. Police state that officially he died of an overdose but eyewitnesses at Ibekwe’s arrest claim police assaulted him.
- In July 2003, Seibane Wague, a Mauritanian physics student reportedly had a medical emergency in Vienna’s Stadtpark. Instead of being given assistance, he was restrained and beaten by police for causing a public disturbance and subsequently died.
- In April 2006, Bakary J. from Gambia had a deportation flight that was postponed. He was taken to a warehouse and violently attacked by officers of the special forces unit WEGA resulting in a broken jaw and eye socket.
- On Feb 11 2009, Mike Brennan, a black American teacher was assaulted by police in an underground station, suffering two fractured vertebrae. The police say they mistook him for someone else.
- In June 2015, Kingsley Chinagorom Echeta from Nigeria died in police custody in Vienna. Police say he died of an overdose but his body showed fresh signs of assault.
Since Austria does not keep records that record race vs. arrests or complaints of police misconduct, I can only cite cases that garnered some media attention. None of the officers involved in the cases above lost their jobs and the minimal suspensions and fines that a few of them received were slaps on the wrist compared to the losses suffered by their victims.
Austria is a relatively small and safe country with diverse political viewpoints. Although daily life for many black people in Austria is not necessarily defined by racism, it is a constant reality.
“I’m afraid that the police’s role as friend and protector doesn’t apply to everyone,” – Beatrice Achaleke
The pan-African movement in Austria called Pamoja brought together young people of African decent in Austria to fight for their rights and against racism in Europe. The starting point of the group is the violent historical presences of (neo)colonial representations in Austria. Representatives Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, Belinda Kazeem, and Njideka Stephanie Iroh, among others, engage in research on Black Austrian History and Presence and create projects that highlight this experience.
Other groups have been founded in Austria with the purpose of offering community, support and advocacy for black people in Austria. Black Austrians have organized tirelessly to shift the nature of the black experience in Austria and irradiate racism in all aspects of public life.
This fight continues in the context of Austria’s recent shift to the right. A wave of xenophobia and violent nationalism is fueled by the FPÖ political party and other far-right groups.
“Identities are formed at the unstable point where personal lives meet the narrative of history,” – Stuart Hall
- ETHNIC CONFLICTS AND MONETARY INTEGRATION IN AUSTRIA HUNGARY,
1867-1914 by Jürgen Nautz (Wien, Kassel)
- Angelo Solimon – An exceptional life, an ignominious death
- Black Africans in Renaissance Europe
- Culture of Austria
- Migration und Integration: Von Soliman bis Omofuma. Afrikanische Diaspora in Österreich
- “Schwarz ist eine politische Identität” Interview mit Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur über die “black community” in Österreich, die schwarze österreichische Geschichte und den Differenz-Begriff
- Selbst erzählen statt erzählt zu werden Die Bedeutung von Schwarzer österreichischer Geschichtsschreibung
- Identity of Africans in Europe
- Being Afro-Austrian book
- ENAR SHADOW REPORT, 2009, RACISM IN AUSTRIA
- 2014 Racial Harassment in Austria Study
- Campaigning against racism Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur und Andreas Görg
- Mike Brennan – Austrian police’s racial incidents piling up
- An Abridged History of Violence: Notable Cases of Abuse by the Austrian Police
- Kingsley Chinagorom Echeta
- I Was Detained by Austrian Cops Because I’m Black