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Freedom of speech on trial in Austria


After years of careful avoidance, Europe's leaders are finally raising their voices to admit that multicultural societies are not working.

But in Austria, a free speech activist is on trial for drawing attention to just that problem.

Elisabeth Sabaditsch Wolff is facing three years in prison, if convicted of inciting religious hatred, after she criticized Islam and Sharia law.

A left-wing Austrian magazine recorded and published a speech at one of her seminars, landing her in court on charges for “a hate speech against Islam”.

"I have nothing against people who want to practice their faith, but I would like them to do this in the privacy of their own homes”.

Her ideas, she says, are nothing new – and when Europe’s political elite express them, they are not prosecuted for the same views.

“Multi-culti has failed and this is nothing new. My group has been saying it for years. And now all of a sudden Sarkozi and Merkel come out of hiding and said that – I don’t know why,” says Sabaditsch Wolff.

However, Elisabeth Sabaditsch Wolff’s opponents say she crossed the line. Her speeches outraged not only the Muslim community, but also native Austrians.

“It’s not a matter of free speech that I can spread hatred about large groups of society,” claims Tanja Wehsely, member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria.

“We have to respect individuals in our society and we have to ask them to integrate and we have to help them to integrate. Europe is multi-cultural and it will be”.

Yet European leaders such as German Chancellor Angel Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron say multi-culturalism in Europe is not working. There are huge Muslim communities – frequently such as in Austria, where they live in their own areas – a physical sign of non-integration.

There is a district in Vienna known as little Istanbul. The people there speak their native language, prepare their national dishes and wear the clothes they are used to. And this is exactly what Elizabeth Sabaditsch Wolff and her followers are taking a stance against – self-segregation.

A topic which was once taboo is now at the top of the European political agenda, with multiculturalism now open to multi-criticism from some of the continent’s most influential political leaders.

It remains to be seen how the views of state leaders might fully influence debate on the ground – and the future shape of Europe.


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