There is a small minority of extreme right-wingers in Austria who are speaking out against their new Justice Minister, Alma Zadic, a Bosnian immigrant, but she told N1 that there is a much bigger group of Austrians who support her.
Zadic said that “this is the first time that someone who was not born in Austria becomes a minister.”
So, how did that happen?
“To be honest, I don’t know how it happened. But I grew up in Austria, I studied in Austria, I graduated law, became a lawyer, and two years ago I entered politics,” she said, adding that this development represents “a strong symbol, a strong sign for people who were not born in Austria, who had to leave their homeland.”
Zadic explained that she left Bosnia in 1994 and went first to Croatia and then to Vienna.
“There are a lot of people here like me. A lot of them who came to Austria, struggled, worked (…) I think that this is also a sign for those people that they are part of Austria’s society.”
But some bad experiences came with the new position.
“The social polarisation if big. There is a small part which is very loud, an extreme right, which speaks out against me a lot, especially on social media. I even receive threats,” she said.
“But I have to say that this is a very small group. There is also a big group that supports me, people from Austria who call up the Ministry and say ‘we stand with you, don’t worry,” she stressed.
Nevertheless, Zadic is under constant police protection.
“From the very start, the threats were posted on social media and Austria decided that I should get police protection. Unfortunately, they have to protect me 24 hours a day. However, I feel safe because the officers are very professional. It’s OK.”
“I think that it bothers this very small, loud group a lot that someone who was not born in Austria is part of the Austrian government. They simply have some fear, but I don’t know why,” she said.
She then spoke of the criticism she faced over a court case in recent years regarding one of her posts on Twitter.
“There was a boy at the time, about 20 years old, who seemed to be showing Hitler’s symbol, but he argued that he did not show that and it turned out that something else happened, so I was ordered to pay damages. Which is fine, that is the judiciary. I stand behind it.”
“I said at the time that there can be no tolerance for fascism, racism, and today I would say that again. Maybe I would not post that photo, which shows that the right hand is raised up to show a certain sign. But I would still today stand against fascism and racism,” she said.
Online hate speech is a major issue that needs to be tackled
Critics have argued that Zadic wants to “change Austria.”
“That is not the truth. I am an Austrian citizen,” she said, but argued that “there is a lot that could be changed in Austria.”
“For example regarding hate speech on the internet, those are the first steps that I will take, together with my team.”
She explained that this is not only an issue present in Austria but across the European Union, arguing that it “brings about a lot of racism and divisions in society, and we need to fight against it.”
”The victims of that racism and hate speech on the internet do not have the possibility to fight against it. We will try to find ways for people to fight hate speech on the internet efficiently.”
Expectations for the future of Austria’s new Government?
The new ruling coalition in Austria is one some might consider unconventional – formed between the centre right-party of Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s People's Party, and the Green Party, which Zadic is a member of.
Zadic, however, said that the two parties have found common ground.
“Together we have a 350-page programme and online hate speech is one of the issues within it that all of Austria’s Government agreed on, so we will, together, accomplish something.”
She believes “chances are good” for the government to succeed.
“I think that this is a unique opportunity within the EU for so different parties to manage to run a government together,” she said.
But she also singled out one issue the two parties do not seem to fully agree on – immigration.
“The party of Sebastian Kurz has a very different stance than the Green Party. However, we have found common ground in our programme, and we will together implement what that programme says,” she said.
Zadic argued that the EU lacks a strategy for immigration and asylum and all EU countries should work to put one together.
“When foreign policy is taken into account, off course the EU should organise itself better when it comes to its border. On the other hand, we are a European Union of human rights and we must not forget about them, we must support and strengthen human rights.”
Zadic also commented on the internal EU border fence which Slovenia put up on its border with Croatia due to the migrant flow.
“We, the Green Party, believe that if we had secure external EU, borders, we would not need internal borders,” she said.