The Jailing of the Vienna Ten
By David Irving
“Once more animal protectors are criminalised, while Justice often ignores, indeed protects those who commit crimes against animals - miserable confinement, cruel transport, brutal killing and horrific vivisection. Where animals are concerned, man is a habitual criminal.”
–German author Dr. Karlheinz Deschner.
Karlheinz Deschner’s quote refers to the recent arrest of Dr. Martin Balluch, Chairman of the Association Against Animal Factories, located in Vienna, Austria, an organization dedicated to reducing the exploitation and abuse of animals, and nine other Animal Rights workers. The organization has succeeded in banning fur farms, battery egg farms, wild animals in circuses, experiments on apes, and the keeping of farmed rabbits in cages. They have also succeeded in having legislation passed requiring that each province in the country appoint an animal solicitor for the enforcement of laws protecting animals, and they have managed to get the Parliament to add language to the Austrian constitution specifying that the state shall protect the life and well-being of animals due to the special responsibility humans have for their fellow creatures.
The group has its sights set on even greater objectives, an end to gestation crates for pigs, a ban on painful medical procedures on animals without anesthesia (castration., dehorning), and putting a stop to mutilation (debeaking, tail docking, teeth grinding, shearing). Songbird trapping needs to be banned too, as do canned hunts (where animals are hunted in inescapable enclosures). Like many animal rights organizations, the Association Against Factory Farms dreams of putting a halt to all hunting and to eliminating vivisection entirely. Many other goals remain to be pursued.
Animal Rights activists like Dr. Balluch no doubt went to bed tired the night of May 21, 2008, but slept peacefully. Their dreams did not include the police raids that came at 6:00 the next morning with the police kicking down doors, bursting into bedrooms, bellowing out commands, and ordering people rudely out of bed.
Dr. Balluch hardly looks like a criminal to most people. But most people aren’t the Austrian police, the State Prosecutor and the Minister of the Interior who are the ones who had Dr. Balluch and nine other animal rights activists, including the director of the animal rights group known as Four Paws, arrested that night of May 21st. The arrests were terrifying. Hooded special units of the Austrian police stormed twenty-three different apartments and houses, pushed in doors violently, intimidated the inhabitants with pointed pistols, and threatened to shoot dogs that were household pets if they were not immediately muzzled. They confiscated property without justification or legal authority.
According to eyewitness reports, the police handcuffed one person and left him standing in his underwear in front of his apartment and his neighbors for two hours. In some cases the police kicked in the door without knocking. They knocked once on the door of the sister of one of the accused, and then ripped the door open, though it was unlocked. They burst into her bedroom, then woke and terrified her 9 year-old daughter. The accused was not at home.
No charges had been brought against some of the occupants of these dwellings which police raided. They were just looking for evidence. They seized cell phones, books, videos, political pamphlets, and computers which made it impossible for some organizations to function afterwards.
The ten who were arrested have been in prison since May 21st. Some are still traumatized by the events of that morning. DNA was taken from two of the prisoners by force. However, no evidence of any crime has been produced by the State Prosecutor or the Minister of Justice against any of the accused. In fact, the State Prosecutor refused to supply them or their lawyers with any charge until seventeen days after their incarceration. Then they were accused of belonging to a criminal organization. This is a phony charge that the Prosecutor can bring against anyone without proof. Next, the prosecutor accused the group of committing every animal rights-related crime in the past eleven years, all without one speck of evidence. Besides that preposterous charge, the Minister of the Interior falsely accused the ten of being a violent organization though he had no basis for the claim.
Obviously, this is a case of the State attempting to shut down the animal rights movement and make every animal rights group in Austria fearful of the government. The government cannot be allowed to trample on the civil rights of citizens just because they disagree with and cannot understand the activities of those citizens.
Seven of the ten accused went on a hunger strike including Dr. Balluch. He is now in his fourth week of refusing to eat and demands that he be charged or released. The authorities are now force feeding him and there is a danger that his body will suffer permanent damage. His brain, kidneys and liver are especially at risk.
Many believe the actions attributed to the Austrian Police represent a return to totalitarian politics and that it must be stopped immediately. The Green Party and the Social Democratic Party, two major parities in the Austrian Parliament, were shocked by the arbitrary police action taken against innocent citizens who were, after all, using their constitutional rights to improve the lives of animals. Both parties have demanded information about the actions taken by the authorities and have officially directed parliamentary questions to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior.
The Green Party has presented its objections as follows:
“The Greens stringently oppose any and every form of criminalizing engagement for animal protection and animal rights. Criminal acts must be prosecuted as such, and the supposed perpetrators must be identified in serious investigations and charged in proper proceedings. It is grossly impermissible to simply ‘assign’ criminal acts to persons or organizations without there being any specific connection or evidence linking them. The courts and the authorities responsible for prosecuting such crimes and offences are therefore obliged to respect the rights based on the Convention of Human Rights, binding under constitutional and international law.”
The Social Democrats stated:
“It is well-known that Austrian animal rights organizations work within the law to promote the cause of animal protection, that they reject violence, and that they support efforts to investigate criminal acts. Accordingly, the ten persons currently remanded in custody must be considered innocent until proven guilty and it must be clarified in proceedings which are absolutely correct under the law whether they committed the acts of which they are accused or not.”
In addition, 162 organizations and prominent individuals around the world have expressed their concerns including Amnesty International, Compassion in World Farming, Pax Christi (International Catholic Movement for Peace), the Vegan Society of Great Britain, FARMUSA, Klaus Petrus (University of Bern), Kurt Remele (Professor of Theology in Graz), Peter Singer, and David Sztybel, Professor of Sociology at Brock University in Canada, who wrote: “This brutality against activists is reminiscent of the Nazi era of Austria’s history, in which political dissidents could be arrested on the slightest suspicion and be deprived of all remedies of justice.”
Elfriede Jelinek, the 2004 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, wrote: “I find brutal actions against unsuspecting people scandalous. Criminal offenses need to be punished, but this use against animal protectors breaks all bounds. Every citizen has the right to actively demonstrate for something. To vouch for animal rights is especially important because animals cannot vouch for themselves. Therefore, people must do it for them. Animals are, as all the unprotected, dependent upon this protection. Blows against citizens’ rights movements by such martial means must be sharply rejected.”
Dr. Volker Sommer, Professor of Evolutionary Antrhopology at the University of London, wrote: “Regardless of how one feels about animal rights, it is obvious that what is happening in this case is an attempt to obstruct and criminalise social activism generally. The way in which the law is being used makes it very easy to target anyone concerned with any form of social reform.”
Backed into a corner because there was no evidence to support even a suspicion of any wrong doing, the State Prosecutor has now fabricated a case of arson against Dr. Balluch based on the fact that Dr. Balluch was in the vicinity of a cabin that burned to the ground. Facts have emerged showing that others admitted causing the fire, which was accidental, and that it was impossible for Dr. Balluch to have set the fire. Balluch’s attorney, Stefan Traxler, stated: “It begs belief how the facts have been twisted and fabricated here in an attempt to accuse my client. But, now it’s out in the open: there was no arson attack. I therefore expect that my client be released immediately and that his confiscated property and that belonging to the organisation VGT be returned without delay. We will be suing the persons responsible for damages.”
I believe this outrage the Austrian Police, the State Prosecutor, and the Minister of the Interior have perpetrated against innocent Austrian citizens for obvious political purposes must be confronted and stopped. They cannot be permitted to get away with it because it affects not only Austria, it affects the entire world, and certainly it affects the noble ambitions of all caring people for creating a world in which there is equality for all living creatures, human and non-human.
The Austrian news media which thus far seems to have mostly followed the government’s lead has yet to acknowledge the facts of this case. The newspaper Kurier has spread lies about Dr. Balluch’s organization. But world pressure is mounting. Those who wish to contribute to that pressure can find further information for doing so at: http://www.evana.org/index.php?id=34539&%20lang=en Letters can also be written to the Austrian Consulate.
My letter which I addressed to the people and government of Austria and which I sent to the Chancellor of Austria, the President of Austria, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of the Interior, as well as other sources, goes as follows:
An Open Letter from an American Citizen
To the Citizens of Vienna and the
Freedom means constant vigilance!
I lived in Germany from December of 1953 to June of 1955 as a United States soldier. I was a member of the famous 7th Army Symphony which traveled all over Germany and Europe, including Austria, giving concerts to improve American/German and American/European relations. At that time, less than ten years after World War II, the specter of Nazi Germany still haunted Germany in the bombed out ruins that were to be found in every major city. The question to be answered then, and sadly, apparently now in Vienna, was whether the spirit of Nazism was dead or alive and to what extent Adolf Hitler still lived in the hearts and minds of the German speaking people.
From 1957 to 1959 I studied horn at the Vienna Academy für Musik und Darstellende Kunst with the renowned horn virtuoso Gottfried von Freiberg. I played concerts at the Musikverein, attended the Stadtsoper, visited the Kunsthistorisches and Albertina museums, and enjoyed the Gemütlichkeit of the coffee houses. During this period I became a member of the Graz Opera and Graz Philharmonic Orchestra and lived in Graz for several months.
The question about Nazism was partially answered for me in a Gasthaus in Vienna one evening when the owner of the establishment and her head waiter joined an American friend, a singer, and me at our table. After a minute or so she said “You know, it was not at all like they say happened in Germany with the Jews. They just needed “eine kleine Patsche” [a little pat], that’s all.” My German at the time was not quite good enough to understand her words, but my friend did.
“Yes,” he said. “I saw your kleine Patsche in Dachau!”
That was the end of that conversation and of our visits to that establishment. In Graz I heard expressions of sympathy for the Third Reich at the cellar Gasthaus where I often went to eat or to relax. On one occasion a man stood up, raised his arm in the Nazi salute and yelled “Heil Hitler” to a complete stranger who was exiting up the cellar stairs. The stranger turned and glared at the Nazi, and for a few moments the entire Gasthaus went silent until the stranger finally continued up the stairs, breaking the tension.
At almost the same time the United States was having its own problems with fascistic types in the deep South in Little Rock, Arkansas where African Americans fought bravely to break free from their racist oppressors. In one way the situation paralleled what I had been witnessing in Austria. The only way the world was ever going to rid itself of these Southern racists and Nazi fascists, it seemed, was to defeat them and then let them die out. But was that enough?
Back in the United States I continued my career as a free lance professional hornist in Boston. In San Francisco I became a member of the Oakland Symphony. Later I studied music composition at Columbia University where I graduated with high honors and earned a Master’s Degree in Music Composition. I rejoiced when I read news reports of how Austria was cracking down on neo-Nazis and passing laws making it a crime to deny the Holocaust. But I was dismayed to see Jörg Haider, who sympathized with National Socialism ideals, gain a foothold in Austrian politics in the 1990s.
I returned to Vienna in the summer of 2001 for a nostalgic visit 42 years after I had last been there. I also visited Graz where I attended the Opera, met the horn players, and visited old haunts. One evening as I sat at my Pension bar having something to eat, an intoxicated man also sat there mumbling over and over, “Wenn der Hitler nur noch da war. Wenn der Hitler nur noch da war.” [If only Hitler were still here.] It was pitiful to observe this old Nazi dying out, isolated and alone, but I was gratified to see that everyone ignored his rant and refused to give him the solace he sought.
We must all be ever vigilant to protect our hard won freedoms from tyranny, whether the tyranny consists of slavery and racism or the tyranny of fascism. As a former resident of Austria who lived and breathed first-hand the Austrian culture of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Johann and Richard Strauss, Klimt, Kokoschka, Freud, Rilke, Trakl and much, much more during my stay there, it is alarming now to read reports that the Austrian police and Austrian prosecutors and Judges are resorting to the same totalitarian methods Nazi fascists used in achieving their aims during the Nazi era. I refer specifically to the ten animal welfare workers, including the director of the organization known as Four Paws, who have been imprisoned without charges since May 21 of this year in Vienna. One of the ten is now in his fourth week of a hunger strike to protest the groups incarceration and to bring their case before the world. He is in possible danger of dying. It seems that once again the question of just how dead or alive Nazism is in Austria must be asked of this great land which has bequeathed to the world some of its greatest cultural achievements.
According to reports, these ten people were awakened at 6 a.m. on May 21st by heavily armed masked police with drawn pistols and were intimidated, humiliated, and arrested without ever being informed of their supposed crimes. Some of them were not allowed to see a lawyer, and some were not permitted to see friends or family for several days. Computers, mobile phones, videos and books were confiscated without cause on the off chance they might produce some kind of evidence against the ten. The defense lawyers could not get the State Prosecutor to reveal the charges against their clients which they learned only at their first hearing. The Judge would not permit the accused to speak and remanded them back to prison without allowing them to present a proper case for their release. Apparently, these ten people are being charged with every crime of any kind related to animal rights for the past eleven years though not one connection to these crimes can be shown. Most disturbing is that the State Prosecutor is using an anti-terrorist law against legitimate, non-criminal campaigning, claiming that the accused have formed a “company” for the purpose of committing terrorist acts. This is a vague, blanket kind of charge that the Austrian government can throw at anyone without having to prove anything.
The question is, why have the Austrian Police and the State Prosecutor done this? According to the ten, it is retaliation and an attempt to shut them down because they were successful in their campaigns to ban fur farms, wild animal circuses, battery cages and vivisection on apes, and rabbit-cage farming. The ten say business forces adversely affected by the success of their animal rights campaigns are behind the frame-up and that the police and government have joined sides with these businesses, becoming their enforcement agent. The accused claim the Minister of the Interior slandered them by calling them a violent group with no proof, which he was forced to acknowledge, while the State Prosecutor released a false statement that the ten are suspected of committing arson and gas attacks for which not one scintilla of evidence exists.
This case reeks with the scent of fascism and demands an independent investigation to determine whether the charges brought by the State Prosecutor are true or false. If they are false, the ones who are responsible deserve to be prosecuted themselves, including the State Prosecutor and the Minister of the Interior, while the business interests that precipitated this crisis need to be exposed and prosecuted as well.
The word is out that Amnesty International, the Austrian Socialist Party, and the Austrian Green Party are all questioning these proceedings. I urge the Austrian people and responsible parties in the Austrian government to step in and demand that the State Prosecutor and the Minister of the Interior account for their charges. Only in this way can an extreme miscarriage of justice be prevented while letting those who would resort to fascistic methods know in the starkest terms possible that such methods will not be tolerated in the free country of Austria where fascism and a police state are “verboten,” and where “ kleine Patschen” are regarded with utter contempt.
David Irving is a Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude graduate of Columbia University, class of 1980, School of General Studies. He subsequently obtained his Masters in Music Composition at Columbia and founded the new music organization Phoenix in New York City.