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Austria/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.7 Intercultural dialogue: actors, strategies, programmes

In Austria "intercultural dialogue" is often used in context with external relations, events, co-operation projects etc. (not only in the field of culture). Within Austria, migration and integration issues are complex and often conflict-laden: Different actors (the state, Bundesländer, local level, but also NGOs), with divergent interests, have so far made a cohesive, consensus-based integration and migration policy difficult and even though Austria is an "immigration country", the immigration and integration policy is very restrictive.

Since the early 1960s, when there were only about 100.000 foreign citizens in Austria (a share of 1.4% of the total population), their number has increased constantly, starting with the targeted recruitment of workers from former Yugoslavia and Turkey. Their share reached an interim peak in 1974 with 311 700 foreign citizens (4.1% of the total population). Immigration from former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s caused a sharp increase of the share of foreigners to 8% and in 2008 it reached the 10% mark for the first time. In 2015 there are 1 146 078 foreign citizens in Austria (a share of about 13.3% of the total population).

The Bundesländer (federal provinces) of Vienna (24.2%), Vorarlberg (15%), Salzburg (14.5%) and Tyrol (13.1%) have the highest proportion of foreigners. If one looks at the population figures for people with an immigration background as a whole, the figures are still higher: 20.4% of the population as a whole and even 40.7% in Vienna are first or second generation immigrants.

The law and its application distinguish sharply between citizens of Austria / the EU on the one hand and those of third countries on the other, which makes social and political integration more difficult. A number of measures have attracted considerable criticism from human rights organisations and other NGOs, such as the tightening of residence permits in the context of the Aliens' Rights Act. In 2006 and 2011 the Aliens' Rights Act was sharpened, initially through the limitation of transition times for asylum procedures. In principle, knowledge of German was demanded before immigration. Since 2011, under the terms of the integration agreement, foreigners already living in Austria have had to prove their German language competence after two years instead of the previous five years. Applicants for asylum are obliged to remain in first-contact centres until their grounds for claiming asylum have been checked.

In 2011, Austria introduced a "Red-White-Red Card" with a points system for immigrants. The aim is to facilitate controlled and long-term immigration to Austria for qualified workers and their families from third countries on the basis of individual and labour-market policy criteria. The criteria are qualification, professional experience, age, language competence, a suitable job offer and minimum payment. The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection estimated 8 000 card-holders per year; however, finally only 1 600 cards have been issued, which is significantly less than expected.

Generally, immigrants from non-EU-countries are disadvantaged in the labour market as well as within the Austrian education system. At the same time, they are at double the risk of poverty as the rest of the population. Above and beyond this, public debates on immigration questions at the political level and in media are often characterised by xenophobic undertones.

In the framework of a "National Action Plan for Integration" 2011 the former State Secretary for Integration outlined indicators for measuring integration and to implement a longterm monitoring in order to objectify the discussion and show the dimensions of the integration process in Austria. Since 2011 the annual Integration Report is published by the Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs. It includes the report by the Independent Expert Council for Integration, the statistical yearbook "migration & integration" and the database "Integration Projects in Austria".

Concerning the cultural field – apart from individual projects and the stipulation of cultural diversity in strategy papers and laws – there have not been any cohesive programmes linking intercultural dialogue and culture so far: Grants for "multicultural" projects are inter alia given by the different levels of governments (state, Bundesländer and local level). The "promotion of (ethnic) cultural diversity" is one of the government's proposals. It is also an objective of the Styrian and Carinthian Cultural Support Act and also included in cultural strategy papers at the local level (Salzburg and Linz municipalities). Nevertheless, the visibility of migrants as cultural consumers and producers is still low in Austria.

In fact, the essential players here have been primarily smaller initiatives and cultural associations that try to reflect migrant experiences, e.g. the Soho festival in Ottakring, the Moving Cultures festival in Vienna, and NGOs such as "Initiative Minderheiten" (initiative of minorities) that try to give a voice to minorities living in Austria. The free radio stations, institutions such as the MAIZ in Linz and the interest-group for cultural initiatives (IG Kultur) are also active in this field.

The awareness of the need to promote intercultural dialogue is growing and there are a number of initiatives to support this. Thusthe "Outstanding Artist Award for Intercultural Dialogue" has been awarded for artistic and cultural achievements that contribute to dialogue and the understanding of people from different countries of origin living in Austria. In the current 2015-2018 international culture concept, the Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs puts a thematic emphasis on dialogue between cultures and religions.

Additional Resources:

Government's overall approach to intercultural dialogue

Database of Good Practice on Intercultural Dialogue

Key Resources

Chapter published: 02-02-2016

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