Austrians - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The class structure in Austria has both formal and informal principles. There are five named classes and an all-but-invisible underclass. The named classes are "Bauern" (farmers, especially those with land tenure), "Arbeiter" (workers, especially skilled workers), "Kleinbürger" (bureaucrats, artisans, small-property holders, and shopkeepers), "Grossbürger" (wealthy property owners, industrialists, successful artists, and intellectuals), and "Adelsstand" (nobility with inherited wealth and land). This last class is in decline because public use of one's noble title is now illegal. Families belong to classes; individuals belong to families. Class affiliation is determined by the control of wealth and property or, in lieu of wealth, by educational achievement and the prestige of the position that one's credentials can command. Since real increases in wealth are all but impossible, achieving a higher educational level than one's parents is one of the few paths to social mobility. People tend to socialize, educate, and marry within classes and localities, producing closed, class-based, localized networks that are often activated to solve problems.

Political Organization. Austria is a parliamentary democracy. Representatives are selected for its bicameral legislature from lists prepared by the political parties. The majority party in Parliament or a coalition of parties then names the government ministers. These ministers establish policy, propose laws, and govern the republic on a day-to-day basis. A largely ceremonial official, the federal president, is elected by direct popular vote. Each province has a legislature and a governorship that retain much control over the implementation of federal law. Currently there are four political parties represented in the federal and provincial legislatures: the Social Democrats (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs), the traditional party of working-class interests; the Christian Democrats (Österreichische Volkspartei), the party of clerical, commercial, and industrial interests; the German Nationalists (Freheitliche Partei Österreichs), who call themselves "liberals" but bear no relation in platform or rhetoric to contemporary European liberal parties; and the Green Party (Österreichische Grünen), which represents the environmentalist movement in Austria. A coalition of Christian and Social Democrats has frequently formed the government since the formation of the Second Republic (1955). The Social Democrats enjoyed a majority government from 1971 to 1983. A Communist party also exists and held seats in Parliament in the 1950s and 1960s but is no longer an important political movement. National Socialism is illegal, but at least one fascist underground group operates in the country.

Social Control. The centralized bureaucracy established under the old empire continues to maintain the most publicly visible institutions of social control. Hardly anything of importance to Austrians can take place without a tax stamp, license, or permit. Conformity to group values is established by gossip within tightly maintained kindreds and networks of acquaintances.

Conflict. The Austrian legal system is Napoleonic. Courts and police have sweeping powers to investigate conflicts. The accused must prove innocence by impeaching government evidence. Violent crimes are reported, but they appear to occur less frequently than in other advanced industrial societies. However, property crimes and white-collar crime, especially embezzlement and corruption, are common. Conflicts also occur between the majority group and resident Minorities. Former guest workers from Greece, Yugoslavia, and Turkey, who now reside in Vienna, are often the subject of hate graffiti, racist language, and discrimination in employment and housing. Anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy sentiment is quite common in private discourse and the public media. Private conflicts and alienation are among the biggest social problems Austrians face. Rates of alcoholism, suicide, and absenteeism are among the highest in European societies.


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