Caucasian, and not so Caucasian

Published: October 3, 2011 - 14:54

It is difficult to believe some of the changes taking place around me here in the heart of Europe. In all my 30 years of living in Vienna I have seen many a face wear a frown. But a frown to match a pair of torn shoes? Never!

I have seen this same person not once but several times, and each time I have wondered what prevents this dignified Viennese from buying a pair of good shoes? Surely, the reason cannot be rising prices and the economic crisis that has reduced stocks to half their worth!

People high on drugs and homeless – often by choice – have always existed in small groups in certain parts of the city that has the highest standard of living in the world. But to this day I had never seen so many beggars – both Caucasian and not so Caucasian looking – in Vienna with hands outstretched for charity.

One elderly lady who squatted on the floor outside the station from where I catch the metro every day also sang for money in a language not heard here before. However, a big man told her in booming German to return back to the place she came from, and she has not been seen around since.

As for the metros, they were never so overcrowded like they are today. The elegantly dressed but reserved Viennese with high pensions and higher noses would sit in almost empty compartments in the past as if they were languishing in their living room. Today, all style is lost in an endless crowd, including even Caucasian women covered in headscarfs held together with a knot below their chin, carting heavy bundles tied with strings and glued with scotch tape to trolleys on unstable wheels, and escorting many children.
Also seen are not so Caucasian looking Europeans jumping in and out of compartments with long hair and outfits from the 1950s, armed with tambourines and accordions, forcing entertainment on unhappy passengers and collecting money in paper cups.

The repeated mention of Caucasian and not so Caucasian is intentional to show that the tsunami of visitors to the imperial city of Vienna is not from the dark continents of Africa and Asia alone, but mostly from other parts of Europe – countries that are now part of the European Union.

The Russians too are all over Vienna as the language very often heard on the streets and at other public places here is Russian. This is no figment of the imagination, but the basic instinct of my friend who is originally from St Petersburg and gives Russian language lessons to an Austrian businessman.

For this reason, those Viennese who perhaps consider themselves more pucca than others seem a tad annoyed these days. With rising prices of food and fuel, and the crashing worth of currency, anger is building up.

The resentment is manifest in different ways. There is the rise of the Rightwing. There is a frantic search for scapegoats like Europe's gypsies; also, to put the blame on immigrants and Islam for every problem.

Recently, another incident has added fear and insecurity. Since August 25, a baffled police has been in search of a sniper after bullets fired randomly from an airgun hurt people here. The identity of the sniper is still not known. A reward of 20,000 euros is announced for information on the mysterious sniper who is described by criminologists and psychologists as a madman, loner, unemployed, sadist and deranged with destructive fantasies.

While the sniper is doing what he is doing, others have come forth with their own unique solution to the increasing woes of the world. The idea is to open the wounds of mother earth by drilling into her belly for more gold. The price of one ounce of gold is worth around 1,300 euros today and the Austrian Alps is where the gold diggers are headed.

The value of gold rose by 35 per cent from the beginning of this year due to investors' insecurity and widespread distrust in the stability of national currencies. As alternative sources of revenue are sought, Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist at Vienna's Institute for Human Sciences, wonders if the economic crisis and political populism will lead voters to believe that too much democracy and openness is the basic cause of their problems?

The question more valuable than gold before thinkers like Krastev is, if voters discard democracy, then what is the alternative? 

This story is from print issue of HardNews