Orson Welles once famously recounted a story during his youth when he was sent to Europe by his wealthy yet frivolous father to learn how to make the most of his money in order to survive. Welles recounted being in the Austrian Alps with a tutor of his before being taken to a meeting of a then obscure but up-and-coming political movement by him. Fascinated by politics, even at a young age, Welles was excited to attend the meeting of the relatively unknown National Socialist Germany Workers Party. At the dinner hosted by the party, Welles found himself seated next to a quiet, meek man who the famous actor said he would never had remembered based on the impression that was left on him. The only reason that memory became so important to Welles was because of what became of that guest. The man Welles was seated next to was Adolf Hitler. The story is a time capsule of sorts, looking back at an age before the name Hitler would irreversibly link the nation of Austria as the birthplace of the man who build Germany’s Third Reich on a foundation of fascist authoritarianism.
To quote another famous figure from the German realm, G.W.F. Hegel once said that “the one thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.” In the wake of radically authoritarian legislation requiring compulsory vaccination against COVID-19, Austria seems to have proven Hegel’s point. Despite the nation’s history, it’s readily descending into an authoritarian landscape where the lies of the party elite are based upon a false sense of collectivism made in the name of the national interest in order to sacrifice individual freedom.
As if requiring all Austrians over the age of 14 at the risk of severe fines and penalties including imprisonment wasn’t enough, the city government of Linz upped the ante by unveiling its plans to hire a secret police of sorts to enforce the nation’s penalties on the unvaccinated.
Under Austria’s current law, anyone over the age of 14 who is not vaccinated faces a fine of €3,600 every 3 months until they offer proof of vaccination. Legislation also dictates that the fines can be as high as €7,200 depending on a myriad of factors including but not limited to the danger an unvaccinated Austrian is deemed to have on its community. The gravity of that punishment has been apparently lost upon the Austrian government from the onset. That cognitive dissonance was illustrated perfectly Austrian Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Karoline Edtstadler who stated that “We do not want to punish people who are not vaccinated. We want to win them over and convince them to get vaccinated,” shortly after the national vaccine mandate, rife with heavy penalties and all, was passed.
Come February 1st, 2022, the Austrian government will set quarterly deadlines for citizens to provide their proof of vaccination. Qualified exemptions for vaccinations will also be reviewed at these intervals. Repeated instances of unpaid fines could even land Austrians in jail for up to 12 months.
With a vaccination percentage of 63%, similar to Austria’s national average, the city of Linz foresees itself tasked with rigorous enforcement of the mandate. To make up ground on the remaining 37% or so of its population of 200,000, Linz has begun hiring vaccine inspectors tasked with assessing fines, executing penalties, reviewing exemptions, and filing appeals from the unvaccinated. The compliance officer roles will be open to vaccinated Austrians who look to transcend merely joining the hive mind by becoming modern day gestapo agents. Vaccines inspectors will be awarded an annual salary of €38,863 or about 5 times the maximum amount of the quarterly fines they will assess among the unvaccinated residents of Linz.
Tens of thousands of Austrians who gathered in Vienna to protest the national vaccine mandate show the significant impact that fines assessed by vaccine inspectors will undoubtedly have going into next year. For the Austrian government, that measurement of resistance must be met with equally fervent enforcement of penalties. With millions of Austrians willing to comply with compulsory vaccinations and many of whom will even be willing to hunt down those who aren’t in compliance, it’s clear that the division sewn by the state on this issue among its population will continue to serve as the foundation for increased authoritarian measures.