Federal President Van der Bellen opens 77th Bregenz Festival
Federal President: "We cannot allow ourselves to get used to language being used to exclude." – Over 70 Events until 20 August – 215,000 Tickets on sale
Bregenz (APA) – In his speech marking the opening of the 77th Bregenz Festival, the Austrian federal president Alexander Van der Bellen called on the country’s political parties to fight for the best solutions – and he strongly criticised the "diversionary battle about terminology and the claim to interpretative authority" as well as populism. Vice-chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens) appealed for "strength through solidarity instead of weakness through division", while the president of the Bregenz Festival, Hans-Peter Metzler, called for open-mindedness.
As in previous years, Van der Bellen only touched on the arts marginally in his speech at the opening ceremony. "It’s time once again to address some issues that should or must be addressed," he said at the start of his speech. "We cannot allow ourselves to get used to language being used to exclude. We cannot allow ourselves to get used again to talk of us and them," the federal president said emphatically.
Without naming any parties, he was alluding here to infighting between members of the governing coalition, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the Greens, keywords in the dispute being "normal-thinking people" vs. "pre-fascistoid". At the same time he cited the term "the people", which the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) claims for itself, and also "our people", a phrase recently in the focus of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ).
"Who are 'our people'? Am I one of them? Don’t we care, then, about 'the others'? Who says who belongs to a group and who doesn’t? Who decides who is 'normal' and who isn’t?", Van der Bellen asked. It is dangerous to use such terms so absolutely, he said, "because very quickly they are thoughtlessly repeated and then contribute more and more to the fracturing of a community". Phrases like these are currently being employed by various parties, the federal president said, adding that it sometimes feels as though Austria was in the final stages of a general election.
Some politicians believe in populism, Van der Bellen said. "But populism isn’t interested in finding solutions. Populism wants to divide, to exclude." He said populism wanted problems to persist, because that helps stir up emotions and fan the hope of winning elections.
"Stop staging this diversionary battle about terminology and the claim to interpretative authority! Fight instead for the best solutions," the federal president urged, addressing his remarks to everyone active in politics. There are so many issues that need to be discussed and resolved and communicated, he said, mentioning areas like the standard of living, the climate, the environment, social cohesion, and education.
The head of state went on to stress the value of liberal democracy. "We have to take care of liberal democracy, and in it we need to nurture constructive criticism and constructive disagreement. Otherwise we’ll drift towards an autocracy, in which the 'us' group are the only people who do well, while those who belong to 'them' do badly," Van der Bellen warned. Liberal democracy belongs to all. The federal president also emphasised the positive aspects of migration and integration for Austria. "It’s perfectly all right for us to argue, but let’s do so with factual arguments. Let’s argue constructively. Let’s bring out the best in us and in Austria, not the worst," Van der Bellen concluded.
Openness towards the world, confidence, courage and joy were central themes in the speech by Culture Minister Werner Kogler (Greens). He said old thinking wouldn’t help us make headway on many questions; and that populists didn’t want solutions at all and didn’t have any answers. It’s all the more important therefore “that all groups in society who are genuinely interested in solutions and improvements should work together," Kogler said, appealing for "strength through solidarity instead of weakness through division". This applied particularly, he said, it the case of defending what Europe and the liberal democracies on the continent had achieved, and the minister called European unification "a supreme accomplishment in civilisational terms". And yet everything that had made Europe and Austria great could no longer be taken for granted, indeed in certain places it was even in jeopardy, he said, speaking in similar terms to Van der Bellen. "Instead we should make the most of the huge opportunities for Europe that are available again right now," Kogler told the audience: "We have no time to lose, but opportunities to gain."
The Bregenz Festival is right at the heart of the Lake Constance region, the vice-chancellor stated. "Everybody that comes here is impressed by the fact that so many people here are linked together irrespective of borders and work together in exactly the European spirit." In view of the war in Ukraine, the highest rate of inflation for decades and global warming, nobody knows what the future holds. But all of us can "passionately shape" it, Kogler emphasised. It’s helpful in the process to talk through confusion and fear, to be courageous in decision-making, to accept diversity and also to enjoy oneself. "We shouldn’t deny ourselves enjoyment, especially in difficult times," the vice-chancellor said. "It’s not least for that reason that we love the arts."
The president of the Bregenz Festival, Hans-Peter Metzler, referred in his speech to an idea of the philosopher Hanno Sauer, that biological evolution and cultural evolution are both a "special case of a general principle". Evolution as the Bregenz Festival sees it means that "we break new ground, try out what looks promising, but at the same time we return to what has proven itself and trust what has been successful," Metzler said. The festival takes pride in its international reputation and especially in the "curiosity and open-mindedness of our audiences". In respect of the subject matter in the productions on this year’s programme, the festival president noted that art was definitely allowed to challenge people and get them fired up. "Be inspired," he said directly to the audience.
Running until 20 August, the Bregenz Festival has over 70 events on the programme, with a total of approx. 215,000 tickets issued before booking opened. At least 90 percent of those tickets had been purchased by the time the festival began. The inaugural artistic event was the premiere on Wednesday evening of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Ernani at the Festspielhaus. Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly was scheduled to return to the lake stage on Thursday evening. In all, 185,000 tickets went on sale for the 26 performances of Madame Butterfly. The 2023 programme includes both a world premiere and a first performance in Austria, namely the operas Die Judith von Shimoda and The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions respectively.
Apart from the speeches the opening ceremony – broadcast live on TV – was memorable for the interludes in which artists appearing at the festival performed a variety of top-quality excerpts from the programme. The host Nikolaus Habjan, as in previous years, provided excellent entertainment with his talkative hand puppets, this time a married couple called Robert and Grete. "Go ahead, be stern with them, that goes down well," Grete remarked to the federal president before he began his speech. The opening ceremony concluded with the Anthem of Europe, which was followed by the traditional public reception on the plaza in front of the Festspielhaus.