On 24th April, the Kronen Zeitung (the highest circulation daily in Austria) reported under the headline: “Prefer Austria – Kurz: Restraint during holidays abroad” on the recommendations of the Austrian Chancellor regarding the coming summer holiday season. After a video conference with six colleagues, the Federal Chancellor advises “restraint” regarding more distant destinations. He himself would spend his holidays in Austria and recommends his fellow countrymen to do the same. Of course it is “our goal (…) to gradually restore the freedom to travel, but (…) first of all with our neighbours (…) who are well on their way”. The “good” neighbours he had in mind would be Germany and the Czech Republic, while he would be very reticent about Greece (which had also taken part in the video conference). Because one could only think about opening borders “…which have a similarly low infection rate as we do.”
This is the essence of the matter, and at last the bridge that Kurz has been building for some time now seems stable enough to ensure a comfortable crossing between the migration discourse and that of the pandemic. After having succeeded in “closing the Balkan route” during his first chancellorship, and having never tired of publicly announcing this in a prayerful manner, he can now, thanks to this bridge-building, comfortably travel back and forth between these two narratives of fear. While he will only expose his body to the mildness of an Austrian summer, his spirit enjoys unlimited freedom of travel to the regions of fear and danger.
So what is special about the holiday recommendations of our Austrian Chancellor? The so elusive Covid-19 virus and the worldwide, unbelievable fear that comes with it, can be tied to an object and thus seemingly calmed down. For there are now “the good neighbours who have done their homework properly, like the Austrian government” (and who now hope for a place on the podium of the global “we beat the Corona Virus contest” with astonishingly low infection rates) and there are of course the “others”. The fact that Kurz explicitly chose the Greek government as their example is calculated. After all is it not exactly Greece where the virus in double form has taken up its insidious quarters? Where tens of thousands of refugees from the Syrian war zone are forced to suffer under inhumane and catastrophic conditions and where the corona infection figures are high compared to Austria? Because, as Kurz emphasizes, it would be madness to grant freedom of travel to such countries, as this would immediately lead to an “import of the disease” from “abroad” again. While the real goods traffic in its previous export/import possibilities has been severely impaired, also due to the measures imposed by the Austrian government, and has brought us the biggest economic crisis since 1945, this dangerous goods “disease” now lurks at our borders. Kurz knew about this “disease” long before Corona, which is why he finally had to “close the Balkan route”. Since Kurz’ bridge-building with Corona, this disease has merely been given another name, but it can still be called by its old one: the stranger.
Yet, as it is well known, virological-bacterial metaphors in narratives of exclusion and xenophobia have a historical tradition. Since 9/11 at the latest, the metaphor of the “terrorist cell” has been used in everyday language, and Hitler wrote about the Jew in Mein Kampf:
“The Jew is and remains the typical parasite, a parasite that spreads like a harmful bacillus, and only invites it in as a favourable breeding ground.”
The Austrian way is a way of segregation – the borders are closed! I closed the Balkan route! – but our elderly citizens, who survived National Socialism, carry a knowledge of these signifiers in their bodies. They know something about the abyss into which such thinking can lead. The question of the border and the fear of opening it, create new possibilities of selection. The “good and clever” let them in – and so they can still be found in the more northern regions of Europe à la Germany and the Czech Republic. This in turn serves an old racist topos, which declares the inhabitants of the hotter south of Europe to be a population lazy in work and thought, and whose politically proven signifier since the refugee crisis in 2015 has been called “Balkan”.
The former slogan of the European Union “building bridges between people” has to be re-read in view of Kurz’ engineering spirit. These are no longer bridges that connect people and expect the supposedly “own” to be more of a “foreign”, so that the former may slowly lose more importance. The Kurz’sche Brücke is rather a command bridge, from which the commander deliberately throws his words to the people. Command bridge with control post, turnpike and free from “legal quibbles” – as he had recently mentioned to constitutional lawyers who questioned the legality of his policies. And finally a bridge of jouissance for all those who do not want to hear the uncanny signals of these days but enjoy the obedience of the measures and the suspicion of the stranger.