Friday, 23 October 2009

Unibrennt? O rly?

Yesterday, Thursday 22rd of October, following a demonstration for free education (Freie Bildung) in the Sigmund-Freud-Park outside the main building of the University of Vienna a crowd of students spontaneously occupied the university's main lecture hall Audimax, declaring that they would remain to squat there, until a catalogue of hastily compiled claims was acknowledged by government authorities.
So finally, the less than optimal conditions at Austrian universities have led to desperate measures - although desparation may not be the first word that comes to mind upon viewing certain photos that document a very enthused crowd protesting-cum-partying (partesting? protying?) at the auditorium maximum.
The general mood can be summed up by an excited buzz that "finally something is happening", and although police turn up later in the afternoon, the university decides not to have the building vacated. The squatters stay over night.
The morning of Unibrennt Day 2 sees attempts at organising several plenum debates in order to clarify certain disputable points in the catalogues of claims - which is easier said than done. That, at least, is the impression I gained from the 2 hours I spent there this morning. Continuous nuissance is caused by on-going fruitless discussions about various banalities or unresolvable questions of principle, and productive decision-making is complicated by clashing agendae and other all-to-familiar causes of frustration. Actually, a lot of what was wrong with what was going on during the Audimax debates is exactly what's also awry in politics on a bigger scale in this country.
Fuelled by a lot of pent up anger on the one hand, and the euphoria caused by this sudden sensation of movement and the instant gratification of New Media/Web 2.0 coverage, the protests continued. Hopes to have a live debate with minister of science Johannes Hahn were sadly disappointed, but the plenum debates in the afternoon again attracted a large crowd.

(Photos taken from polilog's flickr.)

As of the moment, it looks like the squatting will continue throughout the night, but as I hear from friends on site, as well as on twitter, the whole project is already beginning to appear somewhat gridlocked.
Here's hope that it will be possible to remain steadfast and not break apart due to internal differences. Here's hope that tomorrow morning there will still be a crowd to join (as much as I would like to be there now, I had about 4 hours of sleep last night, and am already feeling quite ill, which is not the state I would opt to be in for my trip to France ... 3 days!). As for my own position on the whole thing, I actually concur with a lot of the criticism that has been voiced, like the claims being unrealistic and utopic, the credibility and seriousity of the initiative being impaired by immature acts of vandalism and by misinterpretations of it as an occasion for anarchic partying. The way I have expressed this is, though certainly exaggerated, unfortunately exactly the way in which it is propagated by critics and haters, and how it will be perceived by the public: a bunch of lazy, boozed-up students preposterously demanding an even easier life.
And to be honest, watching the debates this morning I had a really hard time clinging on to any feelings of solidarity. But at the same time, I do think that it is of utmost importance to voice complaints, and to make ourselves heard, and not demurely submit to whichever impossible conditions we are expected to work under. Maybe the whole initiative is doomed to fail, and was so from the beginning - recent news certainly do not bode well - but I'd hate to see the protesters cave in and sheepishly admit that it was wrong to even say anything. I'd like at least to see them (/us ... well, them, I won't be around to see the end of it) go down fighting, or ideally, keep a little victory for themselves.
This is as idealistic and utopic a mood as I can generate within myself, and it's utterly fleeting. But I'm forcing myself to root for this cause - all else would feel like a very personal defeat.

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