Andreas Broeckmann on Tue, 10 Oct 2000 15:53:53 +0200


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Syndicate: Support Public Netbase Vienna


Open Letter to the Austrian Public      September 2000

Right Wing Government Targets Public Netbase

The individuals, initiatives, and organizations listed below hereby demand
that Public Netbase, the Viennese Center for New Media, should neither be
forcibly closed, nor should it be moved from its current location in the
Museumsquartier. We urge the Austrian government to acknowledge Public
Netbase as a pioneer in the field of new media arts and culture by enabling
the organization to continue its work in the Museumsquartier.

Since its opening in 1994, Public Netbase has played an instrumental role in
shaping the rapidly changing landscape of electronic culture. Under the
dedicated guidance of Konrad Becker and Marie Ringler, Public Netbase has
contributed both to local media culture in Vienna and to new media culture
in larger European and global contexts. In addition, Public Netbase offers a
unique mix of community services, including technical training, public
Internet access, and a sophisticated artistic program; it also produces
exhibitions, organizes conferences, provides essential resources to several
communities, and helps advance the culture of new media technologies by
significantly contributing to the development of theoretical and practical
models. Continuing to integrate these initiatives into the cultural context
of the Museumsquartier would contribute tremendously to the type of cultural
context and competence that will allow Austria to proceed through this new
century in a manner in keeping with its rich cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, since the change in government, Public Netbase has become the
target of unreasonable accusations, hidden machinations, and unwarranted
attacks. The withdrawal of all federal funding, the government's effort to
stop support on the regional level, and the unsuccessful but extensive
investigation into alleged financial misappropriations, are clearly being
enacted as a means of silencing critical voices in Austrian civil society.
We find this situation to be not only shocking but also deeply distressing,
considering the contributions Public Netbase has made to the local community
and to the field of new media arts.

We insist that the Austrian government reconsider and clarify its cultural
policy regarding Public Netbase and acknowledge its achievements. Public
Netbase should be supported for the unique cultural environment it creates,
and for its history of support for experimental and emerging artistic
practices. Not only should Public Netbase be given consistent support, but
so should those individuals and organizations participating in the
impressive variety of other Austrian independent and experimental media
projects that have come into being over the last decade. These projects have
demonstrated that media art and network practices have a distinguished
history and that they attempt to reflect the creative diversity and a broad
range of critical discourse of crucial importance to the emergence of global
culture. Too often, electronic time-based media has been inappropriately
described as marginal, fragmented, or outside the cultural debates about
creativity in the current art scene. Nothing could be further from the
truth, and this is why an organization like Public Netbase has been a
staunch promoter of this rich new media culture. As such, it is the
responsibility and duty of the Austrian government, as the custodians of
public culture, to reinstate funding for Public Netbase and facilitate their
continued presence in the Museumsquartier. Anything less would be a
disservice to the public and to the cultural legacy of Europe.


Sign this petition at http://free.netbase.org

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*********************
Background Summary
*********************


Right-wing government targets Public Netbase t0 -
A short summary

In February 2000, the coalition between the christian-conservative Austrian
People's Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) led by
Joerg Haider, gained power of the Austrian government. Since then, the
critical art and culture scene has been subjected to an array of repressive
policies. One of the chosen targets of the new government has been the
renowned Viennese web art institution, Public Netbase t0, which due to the
suddden withdrawal of all subsidies is now struggling to survive.


Public Netbase t0

Public Netbase t0 began in 1994 as a small but active cultural project and
has grown into one of the most esteemed media-culture institutes in Europe.
Imbedded in a solid network throughout Austria and Europe, Public Netbase
fosters and creates vanguard projects at the crossroads of technology, art,
and culture. The institution also runs a non-profit internet provider,
supplies artistic experience in the field of electronics, and tries to
encourage medial competance.  Additionally, one of its main concerns is
contributing to the (cultural-) political consiousness-raising regarding the
possibilities and dangers of the internet.

Due to the new ÖVP and FPÖ coalition government, the art, culture and new
media center Public Netbase t0 is faced with a particularly dramatic
situation. Public Netbase t0 has already been the object of a political
heckle and defamation campaign by the FPÖ in 1998 that could only be stopped
in court. At the moment there are numerous resistance projects from
anti-(ÖVP-FPÖ) government organisations that operate through the t0 internet
server. On top of this, Public Netbase also contributes to the protest
movement with the project http://www.government.austria.at/, which meets
with great respect at an international level.


Eviction of Public Netbase from the Museums Quarter

The notice of eviction from the  Vienna Museums Quarter as of April 30, 2001
effectively pulls the plug on Public Netbase, and with it over 1200 art and
culture projects! The notice of eviction makes no mention whatsoever of
either the possibility of returning (after the renovation work is finished),
or of an alternate location in the Museums Quarter.  Therefore Public
Netbase must assume that under the pretext of necessary renovation work, the
basis of existance for one of the most successful cultural institutes in
Austria is being pulled out from under it's feet.


Concept of the Museums Quarter

The fact that Public Netbase t0 must clear its offices in the Museums
Quarter due to the upcoming renovation work, but that the possibility, or
impossibility, of regaining space after the work is finished is left fully
unclear, leads to doubts about the actual aims of the Museums Quarter.

Contrary to the "open and culturally flexible conception", in which the
represented institutions are "not hierarchically organised and are
autonomously managed and solicited", it seems that centralistic
establishments are becoming increasingly important.

In the provisional residency concept of the Museums Quarter, the interest of
the Cabinet Council 1996 that the so-called smaller institutions (including
Public Netbase) maintain the possibility to remain in the Museums Quarter
after the official opening in 2001, was included.

In the last years, Public Netbase has enriched the Museums Quarter with
numerous highly regarded projects and events and also brought the Quarter to
the attention of an international audience.  Despite this, it appears that
the web culture concept is being abandoned to one that fulfills the needs of
tourism and appearances.

Various concepts, suggestions, and financial models that Public Netbase
developed both for the renovation phase and for the development of a
socio-cultural and future-oriented Media Space t0, have to date been fully
ignored by the Museums Quarter Development and Management Councel.


Political Decisionmakers

Important decisions about the creative development of the Museums Quarter
are made by the cultural authorities of the federal government, who tend to
administer the situation with indifference, ignorance, inactivity, and in
the worst case with outright refusal.

Despite the absolute urgency of a clear statement of support for the
continuation of active cultural diversity and for the assurance of project
space and independance for Public Netbase t0, to this day it is still
lacking.

Minister Gehrer (ÖVP) accuses Public Netbase t0 of wanting to have a status
of interminability. The State Secretary of Art Morak (ÖVP) has been delaying
important decisions by subjecting Public Netbase t0 to a rediculously
badgering investigation by a private financial controlling agency.

Up to now, a willingness to negotiate has been signalled only by the City of
Vienna, which, in a city council meeting in June 2000, moved for the
continued residence of Public Netbase t0 in the Museums Quarter. Moreover,
the Vienna municipal authorities acknowledged the cultural importance of
Public Netbase t0 by indicating willingness to step in with additional
financial support should Public Netbase's existence be in danger. Attempts
on the part of the federal ÖVP organisation, and its leader Wolfgang
Schüssel, to influence the autonomous Vienna subsidiary out of consideration
for the FPÖ have failed. The result is that a majority of Social Democrats,
Greens, and Liberals capable of ensuring the continued existence of Public
Netbase t0 at least until the end of 2000 has been able to form in the city
parliament.


Political badgering through a so-called financial audit

On May 24, 2000 Public Netbase received notice that State Secretary of Art
Morak (ÖVP) had ordered an audit of Public Netbase by a private financial
controlling agency to ascertain the appropriate use of earmarked government
subsidies. Franz Morak claimed to be acting upon a recommendation by the
Advisory Committee for Media Art.  This committee reacted promptly and
publicly with a direct denial of having suggested any action of the sort to
the Secretary of Art.  The Advisory Committee stated that it is not
responsible for making such recommendations, and criticised sharply the
arbitrary action against Public Netbase.  Despite this, Secretary Morak
continues to misrepresent and disinform. Political motives can therefore no
longer be ruled out.

It is a matter of fact that the hiring of a private financial controlling
agency is a waste of public monies, considering that the use of earmarked
subsidies is annually investigated by the responsible government agencies.
On top of the mere waste, the legality of a such methods is highly
questionable, and definately not customary in the cultural field.

Until today, Secretary of Art Morak has not been able to allay the suspicion
that the aim of such actions is to directly repress an active, critical, and
future-oriented cultural organisation.

These policies mean to Public Netbase the endangerment of it's continued
existence. Through the cutting of all subsidies and project funds, the belt
must be tightened so drastically that the entire organisation, the people
responsible, and the cultural programs are threatened with nonexistance.


International solidarity in the face of national repression

It cheers to see the amount of international support in the face of
repressive government policies. While State Secretary of Art Morak and other
People's Party (ÖVP) and Freedom Party (FPÖ) politicians are trying to ruin
Public Netbase through defamation and heckling, the solidarity and support
from outside of Austria continues to gain in importance.

An example of exceptional appraisal comes from the Institute for Applied
Autonomy. In response to the attempts by the federal government to
intimidate the critical art and culture scene, the American artist group
awarded, during the Prix Ars Electronica 2000, a prize in the amount of
50,000 ATS to Public Netbase t0 for its government critical works. This is
an important sign of international support that allows Public Netbase t0 to
continue tirelessly the battle against the extreme Right and its inhumane
policies.


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