by Marija Cubalevska
After mastering often difficult journeys to their destination, refugees face numerous administrative obstacles as they try to adapt to a new life in a different society. As part of Austria’s language policy, they have to sign an ‘Integrationsvertrag’ or ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ (=integration contract / integration agreement). This law was issued in 2003 and has since then been amended several times (the last time in 2017). In order to obtain or extend their residency permit, all citizens of third member states who are not part of the EU (including refugees) are obliged to attain a certain level of proficiency in German within a certain period of time and pass classes on Austrian values called ‘Werte- und Orientierungskurse’.
In my research I explore the question of how these legislative measures are presented and legitimized. My focus is on the most important institution in this area, the Österreichischer Integrations Fonds (Austrian Integration Fund for, henceforth ÖIF). ÖIF is responsible for implementing the ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ and ‘Integrationsvertrag’ i.e. financing and evaluating educational institutions, organizing the classes on values and conducting both language proficiency and value tests.
The measures contained in the ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ and the ‘Integrationsvertrag’ are presented along (neo-)paternalistic or moralistic lines. Paternalistic lines of argument stress that the measures taken (like the obligation to learn German) are implemented for the migrants’ own good. Neo-paternalism, as defined by Niku Dorostkar (2012, 77ff), is associated with discourses arguing that people should want to learn German on their own accord instead of being forced to acquire it. Rather than through legal measures, the desired effect is to be reached by helping the targeted individuals to take “the right decision”, whereby what is wrong and right has already been defined for them . Stutter/Maasen (2010, 321-333) also describe this phenomenon as “crypto-paternalism”. In this scenario, paternalism takes the form of a top-down prescribed self-help mechanism through which limited autonomy and empowerment can be reached, but only as long as they are used for the “right” cause. This implies that migrants should not only accept the obligation to learn the language; they should also support the measures enthusiastically. In this line of argument, German is often referred to as the language or our language, implying that fruitful communication in Austria cannot occur by means of any other language than German. This moralistic argumentation imagines national communities as culturally singular and homogenous entities. In order to uphold this image, clear boundaries between the own culture and other cultures need to be drawn – any differing cultural expression within one’s own defined boundaries is interpreted as a threat to national identity and unity.
A case in point is the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) election program for the national elections of 2017. It cites a study according to which German is not the primary medium for over 25% of students attending Austrian schools. According to the same study, 70% of the students attending middle schools (Haupt- and kooperative Mittelschulen) in Vienna do not use German as their primary language. (Österreichische Volkspartei 2017, 48) The underlying assumption is that people only resort to one language for colloquial speech. Taken at face value, these statements imply that 70% of the kids in Viennese secondary schools only use a single language in their everyday life, and this is not German. They do not admit the possibility of having two or multiple colloquial languages which are used consecutively or even mixed simultaneously.
Perhaps even more problematic than the forced language learning are the courses and tests on values. It is assumed that ‘Austrian values’ are something that people who are born as Austrian citizens automatically share and uphold, while newcomers have to study and adopt them. But what exactly are these values and who defines them? No official definition of ‘Austrian values’ has ever been undertaken, which means that the ÖIF gets to specify them. The brochures entitled ‘My life in Austria – opportunities and rules’ and ‘Rot-weiß-rot-Fibel’ outline the basic principles of parliamentary democracy and secularism. They explain some specific Austrian laws and customs, such as the daily ‘Nachtruhe’ from 22.00 – 06.00. They teach basic principles of human behavior and lawfulness, for instance, that it is illegal to hurt another person physically or to use public transport without buying a ticket. The content of this material says more about ÖIF’s perception of migrants and refugees than it says about Austrian values. Refugees are unequivocally portrayed as primitive and ignorant of basic democratic principles.
According to Krumm (2002), the ‘Integrationsvereinbarung’ has nothing to do with integration, but is simply a euphemism for racist policies. Under the etiquette of ‘integration’ diversity is being suppressed and excluded, elements defined as ‘foreign’ are being silenced and made invisible. Unfortunately, over the years, this tendency has become stronger.
In ÖIF’s publication entitled ‘Perspektiven Integration’ the racist ideology is even more blatantly visible,
‘Migration does not necessarily have to stand in opposition to the social welfare state, but is undoubtedly a big challenge for it. If this societal model is supposed to function in times of impactful migration movements, migrants need to identify and feel connected with Austria, the country in which they live and where a new home is being offered to them.’ [Wolf: 2017; translation by M.C.]
Here, an artificial contrast between participation in the Austrian welfare state and identification with Austria is created. It implies that migrants per se pose a threat to the welfare state and, by extension, a threat to all Austrian citizens. This argumentation obscures the fact that participating in the welfare state (i.e. paying taxes) is not optional but obligatory for everyone working and living in Austria, regardless of their national or cultural identity. These examples demonstrate how culturally racist policy making in Austria is legitimized by construing a homogenous national-cultural identity for Austria and twisting such concepts as integration.
DOROSTKAR, Niku: Linguistischer Paternalismus und Moralismus: Sprachbezogene Argumentationsstrategien im Diskurs über ‘Sprachigkeit. In: Aptum. Zeitschrift für Sprachkritik und Sprachkultur. 8. Jahrgang: 2012, Heft 1, S. 61 – 84.
KRUMM, Hans-Jürgen: One sprachen konten wir uns nicht ferstandigen. Ferstendigung ist wichtig. Entwicklung und Tendenzen in der Sprachlehrforschung im Bereich der Migration und Integration. Vortrag im Rahmen des Symposions “Sprache und Integration” Wien am 22.02. 2002 / Institut für Germanistik / Wien.
STUTTER, Barbara & MAASEN, Sabine: „Bürgergesellschaft“. Der verdeckte Paternalismus eines politischen Programms. In: Bijan Fateh-Moghadam u.a. (Hg.) Grenzen des Paternalismus. Stuttgart : 2010, S. 318-340.
WOLF, Franz: Sozialstaat und Integration. In: Perspektiven Integration 07/2017. Österreichischer Integrationsfonds
Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres (Hg.): My Life in Austria – Opportunities and Rules. Österreichischer Integrationsfonds Lindenau Productions GmbH / Wien: 2013.
Bundesministerium für Inneres (Hg.): Zusammenleben in Österreich (Rot-Weiß-Rot-Fibel) 2013.
Der neue Weg. Aufbruch und Wohlstand. Programm der Österreichischen Volkspartei zu Nationalratswahl 2017.