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Vienna vote has its battle of the comic books

The Viennese Social Democrats (SPÖ) have presented their own election campaign comic after cartoons created by the Freedom Party (FPÖ) caused outcry last month.

The city’s SPÖ – who has a majority of city parliament seats – today (Weds) officially presented their own comic book which has already been handed out to potential voters in discos and around schools.

The publication tells of the fight of a group of superheroes against vicious zombies described as "Nazi scum" by an unnamed mayor who resembles SPÖ Vienna boss Michael Häupl. The influential Social Democrat has been mayor of the capital since 1994.

The initiative is regarded as a bid to break the FPÖ’s popularity among young people – and a reaction to a recent comic book the right-wing party sent to every Viennese household of residents eligible to vote this Sunday (10 October).

In the FPÖ’s 56-page publication, "hero" HC Strache – named after party leader Heinz-Christian Strache – teams up with Prinz Eugen against Turkish troops trying to invade and take over the city.

Prince of Savoy-Carignan Francois-Eugène, or Prinz Eugen as he is known in Austria, became one of Austria’s most important military commanders after being rejected by Louis XIV for service in the French army. He died in 1736.

The FPÖ publication recounts the Second Turkish Occupation of Vienna in 1683 – and controversially creates links to the present. The party, which garnered 18.4 per cent in the 2005 Vienna ballot, has focused on linking the city’s crime rate with "professional gangs from Eastern Europe" and "immigrants unwilling to integrate".

Some of its district representations have claimed traditional sausage snack stands were threatened by the rising number of kebab shops.

The FPÖ has become the second-strongest force in some of the city’s 23 districts, but is thought to have no chance of beating the SPÖ. The right-wing party can especially be sure of strong support among young men and male members of the working class who consider themselves overlooked by political decision-makers.

A young boy is encouraged in the FPÖ’s comic "Sagen aus Wien" (Viennese Legends) to fire at Turkish sultan Mustafa with his slingshot by HC Strache – who tells the kid he will spend him a Vienna sausage if he hits him.

A character strongly resembling Häupl is portrayed as a coward drinker who says to himself: "I don’t care whether the Turks settle here with their minarets, mosques and enforced headscarf-wearing rules (for Muslim women). I’m a citizen of the world and not a racist."

Political rivals have condemned the comic book which has been financed and sent out also using taxpayers’ money from Austria’s generous subsidisation system for political parties.

Now the SPÖ has hit back portraying the FPÖ’s strategist Herbert Kickl as "Meister Kackl" who sleeps under the monument of late anti-Semitic Vienna Mayor Karl Lueger. "Kacken" means "to poo" in German. Kickl created the FPÖ’s controversial campaign poster slogans and is seen as the crucial force behind Strache as far as the party’s topical focus concerned.

The SPÖ comic book features a villain android who fights foreigners with his "terror rap lyrics" – a detail which refers to the many songs Strache has recorded in both previous and the current election campaign.

The evil android is powered by a "powder snow generator" – a reference to ongoing rumours that Strache is addicted to cocaine. The right-winger has dismissed such claims several times. He explained in a live TV debate last night he only recently underwent a voluntary drug check to send his critics packing.

Strache also revealed he has been wearing a bulletproof vest under his shirt at most campaign events after a series of murder threats – but denied claims his party assigned previously convicted neo-Nazis to work as security.

Speaking about his party’s comic, SPÖ Vienna official Peko Baxant admitted "certain similarities to the real world."

Asked whether the cartoons could be considered a call to become violent, he said: "No, because the only creatures beaten up in our comic are zombies. It’s impossible to discuss something with them."

Baxant said the aim of the Social Democrats’ publication was to portray Strache as "ridiculous and remote-controlled".

SPÖ Vienna general secretary Christian Deutsch previously claimed the FPÖ’s campaign was "just full of hatred", while Häupl caused a stir by calling Strache a "stupid person". The mayor made clear his party will not cooperate with the FPÖ after the election "under any circumstances". He said: "They’ve got nothing to contribute when it comes to speaking about subjects that will matter in this city’s future."

Kickl was recently pressed to explain himself after political magazine profil claimed it had discovered another hidden link to Nazi propaganda. The weekly said calling a mouthwash "Odal" in the FPÖ’s comic was only the latest in a string of attempts to encourage far-right Viennese to support them since a monthly newspaper in the Third Reich had the same name.

The campaign strategist and general secretary of the FPÖ reacted by saying: "Left-wingers’ paranoia seems to be infinite when it comes to our comics."

Kickl said the only reason to name the pictured product "Odal" was to avoid a legal battle with GlaxoSmithKline about their well known mouthwash Odol and not because it was the same as the Nazi magazine called Odal.

The FPÖ official explained he had previously come into hot water when a car maker (Mercedes) complained about usage of a symbol resembling its iconic logo in the party’s comic book "Der blaue Planet" (The Blue Planet).

Many Muslims’ alleged unwillingness to integrate into society has dominated campaigning ahead of the Vienna vote, and focus on the issue even increased when the FPÖ’s Styrian branch claimed 10.9 per cent in last month’s provincial ballot, up from the meagre 4.6 per cent it won five years ago.

FPÖ Styria boss Gerhard Kurzmann focused on speaking out against "further mass immigration" and more mosques in Austria. Around half a million Muslims live in Austria, but there are just four mosques – none of them in Styria – with distinctive minarets, and no applications for the construction of new ones.

The Styrian FPÖ nevertheless put a shooter game online in which the player targets mosques, minarets and muezzins. Prosecutors successfully called for Kurzmann to be stripped off his immunity so they can check whether he was guilty of agitation following legal action by the Greens.

FPÖ Vienna official Johann Gudenus claimed young Turks who did not want to integrate after settling in Vienna were "a problem. They are more violent and ready to carry out crimes."

Gudenus is just one of around 50 FPÖ candidates for this Sunday’s ballot who are members of far-right student fraternities. He has been criticised by NGOs and media watchdogs many times for allegedly using "coded terms" understood by neo-Nazis when speaking about issues like immigration and crime.

Another FPÖ candidate and far-right student union member is Markus Vetter. He had to resign as office manager of Martin Graf, the FPÖ’s third president of the federal parliament, after it emerged he ordered disputed music and clothes from a German mail order popular among neo-Nazis.

OGM research found that, with 41 per cent, more than four in 10 Austrians would consider a coalition between the SPÖ and the FPÖ "acceptable". This group has a 77 per cent share among FPÖ supporters, while 38 per cent of people planning to vote for the SPÖ said the same. Almost nine in 10 supporters of the Green Party (89 per cent) oppose such cooperation on either a provincial or federal level, while 47 per cent of backers of the People’s Party (ÖVP) would not like it.

Around one in five of the 1.44 million Vienna residents eligible to vote on Sunday are immigrants or come from a family of foreigners who settled in Austria.

Polls have revealed that almost eight in 10 (78 per cent) of Turks living in Vienna back the SPÖ, while just two per cent of them support the FPÖ. The Social Democrats are also the most popular party among immigrants from former Yugoslavia with 56 per cent, followed by the FPÖ – which has tried to win support from the Serbian community – with 27 per cent.

The majority of members of Vienna’s Polish community back the SPÖ (56 per cent), according to research, with the conservative ÖVP in second with 24 per cent and the Greens in third (12 per cent).

Strache has accused the Social Democrats of "having forgotten" about "hardworking Austrians". The right-winger – who has headed the FPÖ at a federal level since 2005 – also claimed the SPÖ has done more for immigrants than for Austrians living in Vienna.

Häupl, however, argued: "The vast majority of people know that the Social Democrats have the better integration concepts. (…) What Strache does is create hatred among people."

The mayor – whose son has acted as DJ at some of the party’s campaign events –  told the Kurier newspaper: "The people of Vienna will be able to choose between my concept for the future and (the FPÖ’s) concept of regression next Sunday."

He also claimed the current problem was having too little immigration at the moment as numbers dropped significantly between 2005 and this year.

Meanwhile, the ÖVP has made clear it hoped to become the SPÖ’s coalition partner if the Social Democrats lose their absolute majority it reached by winning 49.1 per cent in 2005.

ÖVP Vienna front runner Christine Marek said yesterday: "This big red jumbo of the SPÖ will continue to cruise after the election, that’s for sure. We want to become its flight controller in a coalition."

The conservative party’s campaign has mostly focused on criticising the SPÖ of "recklessly spending taxpayers’ money" on a series of controversial infrastructure and construction projects it agreed upon in the city parliament.

The Greens also want to cooperate with the SPÖ after the vote. The party – whose Viennese department is headed by Greek-born Maria Vassilakou – called the outlook on a possible coalition a "unique chance".

The SPÖ is, however, is expected to first approach the ÖVP if it loses its absolute majority. Most polls predict a three to four per cent drop in percentage points for the Social Democrats.

Analysts have pointed out that it will not be immigrants who decide the election but the large group of residents who did not participate in the city ballot five years ago when the turnout was just 62 per cent.

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