Austria’s president was forced to intervene yesterday after the first child to be born in the country in 2018 was subjected to a torrent of racist online abuse when it emerged the new-born’s parents were Muslim.
President Alexander Van der Bellen, a 73-year-old liberal green politician, pointedly issued his congratulations to the girl, who was named Asel after being born in the early hours of New Year’s Day in Vienna.
“Welcome, Dear Asel!”, Mr Van der Bellen said in a Facebook post, before reminding those who left racist messages that “all men are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, and speaking out against “hatred and agitation”.
Asel Tamga was named "the first Viennese baby" of the year and her photo appeared in many local media outlets, with her mother wearing a hijab head-covering.
However the newborn girl was greeted not with good wishes, but hundreds of extreme Islamophobic comments posted to the Facebook page celebrating the birth.
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“I’m hoping for a cot death,” one user wrote on Heute news site’s Facebook page, it reported. “Deport the scum immediately,” another said. Another netizen wrote: "Does the woman have cancer? Or why does she otherwise wear a headscarf?"
The outpouring of abuse came just two weeks after the far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ) was invited to become the junior partner in Austria’s new government, numbering among just a handful of far-right parties to have won power in the EU.
The decision raised concerns across Europe about the resurgence of far-Right populism and led to thousands of protesters rallying in central Vienna against the new coalition government which is led by 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People’s Party. (ÖVP) Among the banners were ones saying "Don’t let the Nazis govern".
The FPÖ and People’s Party were elected on the promise of implementing stricter rules for asylum seekers, after immigration proved a major concern for Austrian voters. The Freedom Party was founded by members of the Nazi party after World War Two.
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Unlike the President, Mr Kurz and other members of the newly formed government, have kept quiet over racist comments made towards the infant.
One hostile message referred to the country’s new far-right interior minister, Herbert Kickl, saying he "is going to send you out of the country. He’s the man to do it."
In response, Caritas, a Catholic charity that works with migrants and refugees, launched a campaign of support for the infant and her parents, Naime and Alper.
"It is a completely new dimension of online hate, targeting an innocent newborn," said Klaus Schwertner, head of Caritas in Vienna. "That crosses a red line."
Mr Schwertner said the Facebook page for the newborn, which had been taken down over the furore, should be reinstated. "We want to show that love is stronger than hate, on Facebook just as in real life," he said.
Tensions over immigration have been high in Austria, since more than a million refugees and other migrants arrived in Europe in 2015.
But thousands of Austrian people have made their support known. Mr Schwertner’s Facebook post triggered nearly 30,000 messages of support for the Tamga family and congratulations for baby Asel by Saturday afternoon.
The post has received more than 33,000 likes and been shared more than 15,000 times.
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