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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Chemistry Teacher - long term opportunity in Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for an experienced Che...

Nursery Workers x3

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Workers x 3 Greater Manches...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits