Haider vote link to school carve-up

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
AUSTRIA

Nigel Glass reports on a strangely political way of selecting new heads.

"IN MY 'black' (People's party) school, I'm sure that they would never employ anyone with links with the Social Democrats, and I'm sure that the same would be the case in our sister 'red' (Social Democrat) school," said Friederike Leibl, a former student at Piaristen Gymnasium in Krems.

The furore surrounding the second-place general election showing of the Nazi-tagged Jorg Haider and his Freedom party in the Austrian elections has obscured the real malaise in the country's politics.

Opinion polls after the election suggest that voters supported Haider not because of his anti-immigration stand but because he promised to break up the pervasive political structures erected by the coalition government.

The system, known as proporz, evolved as a way of allowing two distrusting parties to govern in coalition. Administrative power was distributed right down to the lower levels of public service, including the political appointment of headteachers in most schools.

"The system of proporz in the schools is one of the worst aspects. It developed into an instrument to block the freedom and development of schools and institutions," said Andreas Unterburger, editor in chief of Die Presse, a conservative quality newspaper.

In the town of Ampflwang in Upper Austria, for example, the primary school has been "allocated" to the Social Democrat camp, and the comprehensive school to the People's party.

Max Offenhuber, a local politician in the town, recalls the appointment of a new head to the local "black" secondary school. The natural favourite was a teacher who had been in the school for at least 20 years and appeared apolitical. "I believe the candidate was passed over because he supported a 'red' candidate in the presidential elections," said Mr Offenhuber.

Brigitte Mayerhofer is the director of the 'red' primary. "There has to be a candidate from the 'black' side and a candidate from the 'red' side on the short-list, but the regional educational board always ensures that the right colour goes to the right school," she said.

When Jorg Haider took over as governor of Carinthia two years ago, before he was forced to resign for saying the National Socialists had "sound employment policies", he shook up the system by giving parents power over the appointment of school heads.

"There were a lot of unemployed, disappointed and disgruntled political nominees floating around after Haider got into power," said local businessman Thomas Brey. Mr Haider was re-elected governor in March.

"When we had mock elections in our 'black' school, we all used to vote socialist just to piss off the system," said Friederike Leibl. Austrians may well have voted for the Freedom party in these elections with the same intent.

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