“Our university … our lives!”. Austria’s students’ protests

For nearly three weeks now students in Austria have been occupying their universities and protesting. Solidarity is strong and protests are spreading and connecting – into and with other countries’ universities and other spheres of society.

Nobody thought of such a widespread development of protest and solidarity like we experiencing now when University and “usual” political work started after the summer holidays in the beginning of autumn. 
There has been going on a long struggle about students’ institutionalised representing in all ranks1 from institutes to countrywide representation, organisations, person, groups outside of institutions, working and lecturing persons.
Reasons for anger and protest we had – like in every other country – enough: De-democratisation, study fees and only partial abolishment, time pressure, competition, abolishing of choice, definition of education as service and universities as companies and studying barriers and exclusion as part of the social and economical reality of patriarch hierarchies, structural racism, growing class difference combined with the neo-liberal dogma of total competition and global free enterprise.
It came to happen that the protests of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (here there is to mention a unique traditional alliance between students, employees, lectors, profs and direction) against the full implementation of the Bologna process (Bachelor – Master- system) covering all faculties sparked a "fire of protest”, that spread to “burning” all over Austria.
On October, 20th the Academy was occupied. From the very beginning it was recognised that the university is part of society and therefore struggles have to face the whole situation of society. Two days afterwards the occupation spread over in course of a demonstration to Vienna’s biggest university where mainly the social sciences and humanities are located. Thousands of students occupied the “Auditorium Maximum”, traditionally a symbolical important place of the students’ movement and further rooms were to follow. Within the shortest possible time the organisation of different structures, working groups, workshops, peoples’ kitchen, alternative lessons, sessions and cultural programme evolved. Also critique and struggles for emancipatory, leftwing consensus grows and is having successes.
The main characterizing factor and difference to the big University- strike in 1987 e.g., of the so called “burning uni”- protest is interestingly the absence of organisational leadership of institutions or traditional leftwing organisations. Single persons get active, come together – either members of political groups like KSV – LiLi (student’s organisation in alliance with the CPA) activists or “apolitical” people so far. Parts of the self- named “movement” aren’t in self-description not necessarily leftwing and sometimes not even “political”, whatever that means. It’s thousands of people coming to discussions, ten thousands to demonstrations. Maybe because media reports this time aren’t devastating so far, not like they normally are when protests are concerned. And maybe again because the government and other authorities are not actively repressive. In defiance to the “normal” level of repression against leftist, (violence, law suits etc…) police seems to wait and see.
Not only in Vienna there are protests and occupations – on nearly every university and institute – also at the traditionally more conservative university towns- resistance assumes shape. And also in Germany universities are occupied and an amazing load of statements of solidarity reach us from all over the world.
The biggest success of these protests is the change in the social climate and students’ and many other people’s awareness of the “catastrophical" circumstances – at least at the universities. Future will show, whether there will be more than breaks and cracks in the capitalist, patriarchal hegemony, whether single issue politics will – in the best case – turn into a necessity of an overall big movement of resistance.

Barbara Steiner is an activist of communist students’ association KSV – LiLi 


  1. In Austria there is a legal representation of students, therefore it is financially and politically comparably strong. The communist students’ alliance KSV – LiLi is also part of it this representation – called “Österreichische Hochschüler_innenschaft”