Modern-day Von Trapps fight Austrian far right

Choir uses music to promote tolerance, reports Vanessa Mock

They may not be a family and they will never be forced to flee Austria, but just like the Von Trapps, an Alpine choir is taking on their country's growing far right through the sound of music. The Oisternig Choir says its mission is to foster tolerance at a time when Austrian voters are expected to endorse two far-right parties in this weekend's European elections.

The choir is based in Carinthia, the rural region on the Italian-Slovenian border nicknamed "Haiderland" on account of being the heartland of the late right-wing politician, Jorg Haider.

Despite the death of the charismatic leader in a car crash last year, his Future of Austria Party saw its popularity soar in recent regional elections when nearly half of Carinthians voted for it, and it is hoping to win at least one seat in the European Parliament. Strong gains are also predicted for the Freedom Party, which is set to scoop nearly 20 per cent of the vote, thanks to its similarly strident Eurosceptic and anti-immigration message.

As they put down their song sheets and stop for a break, the choir members explain how they have brought old Slovenian folk songs back to life in an attempt to challenge the stigmatisation of the Slovenian language and culture in Carinthia.

The border between Slovenia and Austria has shifted ever since the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Slovenian was effectively banished from the region after 1945 following bitter clashes with the former Yugoslavia during the two world wars.

"The border with the former Yugoslavia may be gone, but it's still very much there in people's minds. German-speaking Carinthians are really afraid of the Slovenians. They simply do not want to communicate with them," says Dominic Egger, a 24-year-old baritone.

"I've even been told off by people here for attending Slovenian music concerts, as if it was unpatriotic," adds Daniele Assek, a soprano, who fears that the rise of Austria's far right is fanning deep-seated regional tensions. "That's why we've decided to sing in Slovenian to make it clear to everyone that this is also part of our identity, which should be embraced, not rejected."

There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence about the local wrangles. Mr Egger explains that his girlfriend is sometimes reprimanded for speaking Slovenian in public, while another choir member says he has been told by passers-by not to speak Slovenian to his children.

It is a concern shared by Pepca Druml, a local historian who runs the hotel in the village of Feistritz-an-der-Gail where the 63 Oisternig singers rehearse. "Just one century ago, this was a mainly Slovenian-speaking region. But the Second World War changed all that, many Slovenians were deported and it was decided that Slovenians would speak only German," she says.

The rise of the Austrian far right is also worrying Slovenia, which can be reached by driving a few kilometres over a mountain pass where the formerly heavily guarded border posts now stand empty. "I simply do not understand their politicians," says Jure Zerjav, the mayor of Kranjska Gora, a neighbouring Slovenian town. "They are always trying to dig up old problems and trying to talk up how dangerous the Slovenian minority is. The current economic crisis is only making things worse."

The singers say the atmosphere is gradually improving and expect the far right's gains to be short-lived. "I think the problem that exists now will not exist in 20 years," says Mr Egger.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea