Wake Up Europe held our first screening of The Great European Disaster Movie in Vienna as part of the Day of Awakening programme of events we staged around Europe for to celebrate Europe Day 2016.
The screening took place at Café Tachles an edgy culture café in the second district of Vienna. The basement cinema, which doubles up as a jazz-club, created an intimate space to watch the movie. In fact at times it felt as if we were ourselves passengers on board the fateful flight that forms the dramatic backdrop to the film.
After the movie we came back out into the sunshine. We drank beers and Kaiserspritzers on the Karmeliterplatz on a warm, quiet Sunday evening in spring. Spargelzeit (asparagus season) read the menu board at the Gasthaus next to ours - everything looked so calm, so normal for this time of the year.
Our conversations turned to the crisis facing Europe and events in Austria in particular.
As we looked across the street, there was a poster for Norbert Hofer, the presidential candidate for the far-right Freedom Party. Hofer had just seen off the candidates of the two mainstream parties who had ruled Austria between them since the Second World War and was in the second round ballot which would take place two weeks later on 22 May.
Was Austria about to elect the first far-right European head of state?
We thought about the riots and demonstrations that had taken place this same weekend at the Brenner Pass, where riot police had used tear gas and batons in clashes with demonstrators in a scene that might have come straight out of The Great European Disaster Movie.
Having welcomed refugees a year ago, public opinion in Austria is starting to turn against accepting more. The government wants to re-introduce border controls at the Brenner Pass – something strongly opposed by the Italian government as well as the demonstrators.
The government also wants to construct a fence – yes a fence – along the border between Italy and Austria diving the German speaking Tyrol region (half in Italy, half in Austria in two).
How quickly things change in a member state of the European Union that some might say has never quite lived up to its European potential. Some of those that attended the screening were engaged with democratic civil society movements in Austria and had marched with us the day before in a show of solidarity in Vienna with the huge Europe Day democracy demonstrations in Warsaw.
When Eastern and Central Europe turned towards Europe, Austria saw itself as a model European state. As we gathered the next day with the smartly turned out great and the good of Viennese society at the annual Europe Day event at EuropaHaus in Wipplingerstrasse, I asked a young intern “How many more Europe days do you think will be celebrated here in Vienna?”.
He was startled by my question, but I reminded him about the events at the Brenner pass, Norbert Hofer, and the way in which Austrian society seemed to be turning against the refugees.
“Maybe you have a point,” the young man said, “ sometimes I even hear people saying that if the UK leaves the EU we should have a referendum in Austria too.”
One of the gravest dangers facing Europe is a lack of commitment to European values from Europe’s “part-time Europeans” and fair weather friends.
As I left to return to London, I wondered whether that young man would be able to wake up others up to this danger and what more we at the Wake Up Foundation can do to support him and other in that endeavour.
We will be returning to Vienna in July for a further screening.
From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.