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.

More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
peopleSwimmer also charged with crossing double land lines and excessive speeding
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style