Scuffles, dozens arrested as crowds protest Vienna’s right party-funded ball (VIDEO)
Organizers of the protests say that around 10,000 demonstrators were present, while police said only half this figure turned up. Seven people were injured during the protest – six law enforcement officers and one demonstrator, while over 50 arrests were made, DPA news agency reported.
"This is not a harmless dance event, but a meeting where Europe's extreme right comes to network," said one of the left-wing activists who organized the protests.
"We have got more people out than ever before. We are protesting for education against intolerance, Nazis out of parliament and we want to say that Muslims and refugees are welcome," the Wiener Zeitung newspaper cited another activist as saying.
Protesters had initially tried to stop the ball guests from attending the event, the newspaper added.
The vast majority of the protesters were peaceful, though isolated scuffles did break out. Police in riot gear and with dogs had to deal with rioters throwing fireworks and firecrackers. The protest was more peaceful than the demonstration in 2014. The damage from this year’s protest is not known, however last year the cleanup operation cost local authorities €1 million ($1.13 million).
Big police presence on streets of Vienna as leftwingers protest far-right ball in Hofburg palace. pic.twitter.com/M4tmr4CfYU
— Bethany Bell (@BethanyBellBB) January 30, 2015
The Academics Ball (Akademikerball), which is held at the Hofburg Palace, which recently replaced the controversial WKR Ball (Wiener Korporationsring-Ball) has traditionally drawn a lot of opposition from the left-wing and socialist residents of Austria’s capital, due to its connections with Europe’s far-right.
Political scientist Judith Goetz, who teaches at a number of universities in Austria, said that the protests have become a symbol for the left. “The ball season is immensely important for Vienna, virtually every organization has its own ball. The left in Vienna has a tradition to go out onto the streets and protest against balls because it allows them to highlight social injustices,” she said, the German newspaper Die Zeit reported.
Austria’s Freedom Party has sponsored the ball since 2013. The party advocates supporting the country’s national identity and low taxes, while its followers range from those opposed to the EU, to those who have far-right political leanings.
— Anadolu Images (@anadoluimages) January 31, 2015
Although the ball does not attract the same numbers of right-wing supporters in comparison to previous decades, Goetz says there is still a significant number of people from that side of the political spectrum who do attend.
The party’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, denied that the ball draws right-wingers and has criticized those opposing it.