Standing is like Sitting

“Our country has always been keen on forbidding things. There is a compulsion to take over, to interfere, to meddle and to forbid. As we know, this compulsion seldom bears good fruit. In the new, republican Austria things do not appear to be much different. I mean that the surplus of regulations and bans actually damages the authority of the laws we are supposed to follow. One can merely observe those places where there are few laws, those laws are closely obeyed. But where almost everything seems to be forbidden, one attempts to circumvent these laws. One does not have to be an anarchist to see that many laws often have dubious origins, that their content is often inadequate and violate our innate sense of real justice. Many leading people of our society often see no other recourse to correcting these nonsensical laws than to vigorously violate them.´´ Sigmund Freud: “Die Frage der Laienanalyse” (1926).

Chris is a punk who sells the homeless newspaper Augustin on a busy commercial street in Vienna, the Mariahilfer Straße. He tells a passerby that he had to spend 3 days in jail for “hanging around”. We automatically want to think, that can´t be. There can´t be such a law in Austria. By chance, we receive a copy of a court summons the following day. It is addressed to another street person (to the address of the social services agency which cares for him). Their unjustifiable standing around allegedly blocked the pathway of some pedestrians. They thereby violated paragraph 78, which calls for either a 70 euro fine or spending 70 hours in jail.

§ Paragraph 78. Behaviour on Sidewalks and Pathways in Urban Areas.

On sidewalks and pathways it is forbidden to:

a) Carry sharp objects in a way which could hurt other people.

b) To carry blinding or glaring objects uncovered.

c) To block pedestrian traffic by distributing printed materia including concert or theatre tickets; to block traffic with sandwich boards, animals, or unjustifiable standing.

This required more research. It soon transpires that the police, under pressure from merchants and local politicians, have found a tool to make public places unattractive for unwanted people. The unwanted include punks, drunks, junkies, vagrants. Paragraph 78, or the cleansing paragraph as the Augustin calls it, is mainly used against the more marginalised members of society. Whoever reads the Augustin finds, issue for issue, reasons (see Sigmund Freud) why one should vigorously violate this law .Vienna´s mayor also reads this newspaper. He addressed the issue during a debate in the city council which was initiated by the Greens and which was prompted by articles in the Augustin on the topic of “unjustified standing.” He says charges of “human rights violations“ are overblown. He says it is “a sad tale´´ if the Augustin is correct in saying that people who do not correspond to “correct norms´´ are forced from view because of the application of paragraph 78. After reading Augustin, the mayor went to the police who told him paragraph 78 was applied only once. This involved a case of a group of punks and their dogs standing outside a shopping center on the Mariahilfer Strasse. There were many complaints The police used both security laws as well as laws which applied to behaviour on the streets. The mayor said that if this information is correct, and he assumed it was,then this was clearly not a case of human rights violations. He said he found the idea of punks and their dogs scaring mothers and children “equally objectionable´´. He saw no need for complaint if this was the only time the law was applied. Augustin replied by saying that there had been more than just isolated cases of paragraph 78 being applied. Since then there has been vigorous standing around. Unjustified standing has become subversive. Standing is like sitting. Like having breakfast in public. Standing and sitting belong together. Both are the opposite of shopping, the only activity, which regulations don´t seem to impede. As an artistic action, “unjustified standing´´ is the sloppy kid sister of “Permanent Breakfast”, because “unjustified standing´´ is aimed at fighting the repression of sloppy kids. Unjustified standing is the carrying on of the perpetual breakfast for the losers of the world. The idea that society´s losers should be barred from public places in our city must be denounced and condemned, preferably through a combination of art and social work.

The Augustin, which is active in the field of social work, has encountered skepticism from many professional social workers. They think that the Augustin demand for “a right to the street´´ is counterproductive towards achieving the goal of “an apartment as a human right´´. This approach astounded people at the Augustin. These two goals do not harm each other. Free access to public spaces remains an important issue for us. We will stand around and have breakfast until the local politicians lay a carpet out on the asphalt.

Robert Sommer


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