Translation of commentary of lawyer Georg Bürstmayr published in “Der Standard”, 02.01.2013
Fearing the pursuit of happiness
They get accomodation, food and health care, but the Refugees in the viennese Votiv Church are still protesting. This is comprehensible, since they are being deprived of the most important thing: the pursuit of happiness is not conceded to them.
But why, the experienced austrian asks himself, are these strange asylum seekers just not satisfied with the fact that they are doing better in any austrian accomodation for asylum seekers than in the small, holey sheds in their home countries? Why are they not grateful for a roof overhead, three meals a day and primary health care, everything free of charge? How do they have the nerve of articulating demands, in spite of everything austria has already done for refugees? After free access to the labor market, freedom of movement and free travel – are they out of their minds?
For a us-american citizen, all these questions could be answered with just one reference: in the second paragraph of the declaration of independence the founding fathers of the constitution name three God-given, imprescriptible rights due to all humans: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In Austria, the constitution does not contain anything like this, illegal migrants and asylum seekers are granted the right to life, accomodation and food for the duration of the procedure for granting the right of asylum. But even their freedom of movement is restricted to particular districts and their personal freedom is highly precarious – practically anytime and anywhere, an asylum seeker can be arrested and imprisoned. And the pursuit of happiness? Of course, but please not here with us. And exactly this is the core of the matter.
Because these people don´t want any accomodation in run-down guest houses, even if free of charge, no gratis food, no gratis legal advisers and whatever else is being arranged for them. They simply want to work. They want to earn their own money, live and dwell here with us, in our society, being a part of it. Independent, self confident and responsible for their own lives and – their fortune.
This might also consist of knocking off a part of their income and sending it to their home countries, to their families who had pooled money to finance the „travel“ of the mostly young men to the supposedly golden west. But this fortune – being sought after also by tens of thousands of emigrants from Burgenland back in the days – this fortune is jeopardizing ours, nowadays.
This is why illegal migrants and asylum seekers get a roof overhead, but at the same time they are told, in every language of the world: you are not welcome here. You – at best – are tolerated, but only for so long as we change our mind – be it after three, five or ten years. Until then: don´t move, be as quiet as a mouse – and if you have to, then be a petitioner.
This radical exclusion and delimination of people, who came here without invitation, is rooted in the belief that we are entitled to do all that because this is “our” land, with everything that belongs to it. Our welfare state, our jobs, our wealth.
We protect it with labour market policies that are inimitably strict europe-wide; and with violence, if neccessary. Whoever does not obey these rules of exclusion, will be beaten, arrested, imprisoned, captivated, carried into a plane and deported. We consider all that necessary, because if we didn´t – we are convinced – anybody could come, quite literally.
We are entitled to do that, we have to do it, because without it, we couldn´t keep up „our“ Europe. This approximates the credo of european migration politics, since more than 20 years – and it is being supported by a vast majority of people Europe-wide , even if (or maybe: because) many don´t get a picture of the amount of violence and suffering that is involved in the enforcement of this credo.
The asylum seekers who are on hunger strike in the Votiv church demand to be granted freedom and fortune in Europe, to be able to travel freely, to live and work – this aims right at the heart of above mentioned politics. It unleashes enourmous aggression – the gigantic excavator shovels, which chrushed the protest camp in front of the Votiv church (why exactly?) may stand symbolically for it. It casts these demands and its supporters naive. That „not everybody can come to us“, is a platitude that even the green parties all over Europe support – but is it also true? And if yes, how long will it remain true?
Moral concepts are changing. Two hundred years ago, slavery was considered essential for the preservation of the economic order. Only generations from now, demanding universal franchise, the right to vote for everyone, for women above all, demanding freedom of speech, thought and assembly seemed simply naive. It could be that already our children seriously ask us, what on earth we were thinking when executing our politics of radical exclusion.
Talking about it already now could be rewarding – and instructional. The opportunity for it arises for example in a pseudogothic church in the middle of Vienna, that – since two weeks – hasn´t had as many visitors in years. They are no Europeans and mostly no Christians but they pose questions that occupy our european societies, marked by christianity, since centuries: asking for the inherent, imprescriptible rights that every human being has. With only the shovels of excavators, we will not be able to delegitimize this question.