TransAct 03

TransAct – letter from Wolf Singer to Cathrin Pichler

Dear Cathrin Pichler,

I was very pleased to hear from you again, even though under such distressing circumstances. Almost as soon as the coalition pact was sealed we were forced to confront the problems which Mr. Haider and his followers have brought upon Austria and its neighbours. The International Neuropsychology Society had been planning to hold its jubilee conference at the Mondsee in June. Of the 100 participants at this symposium a not inconsiderable proportion is of Jewish descent. They immediately cancelled their registration for the conference and appealed that it should be held in another country. After a short e-mail discussion the majority of symposium participants came down in favour of moving the symposium. Please find enclosed a copy of my statement. My decision was not an easy one and in this case I placed solidarity with our colleagues above political common sense.

After the first justified wave of indignation which led to such symbolic acts, steps must now be taken which work against the ostracism of Austria and which support the activities of the many who think differently. It is now important to assure our Austrian colleagues in the arts and sciences, who are for obvious reasons a special nuisance to Mr. Haider, that they have our undivided support. From now on I will give top priority to invitations to scientific and cultural events in Austria. Friends and colleagues who I meet on such occasions will of course not need to assure me of their consternation and indignation. What is now required are cultural and scientific events which are open to the public and give the opportunity to emphasise the justified outrage and concern of Austrian intellectuals from the external perspective. Germany and Austria went through the darkest years of the last century together and Austria should not be allowed to abnegate its share of responsibility. I know too little about to what extent Austria's children were informed of the circumstances of the time or how intensively families and schools tried to make young people aware of the dangers which grow out of the sweet allure of extreme right-wing and nationalist ideologies and to immunise them against them. The fact that Haider is possible and that it appears permissible to hand over government responsibility to his faithful followers increases the uneasy assumption that there is a lot to catch up on here. It could be symptomatic of this that especially in Austria – Vienna is not Carinthia – a wonderful, very lively, avant-garde cultural scene has always re-emerged with great vitality. I think of Qualtinger, Bernhard, Jelinek and Nitsch and the many others who should please forgive me for not mentioning them by name here. As it appears from the outside this specifically Austrian phenomenon points to the existence of conservative bulwarks and, as it now appears, even dangerous fascistic ideologies against which it is a duty to rebel. As long as this lively and uncompromising cultural scene exists in Austria nothing can happen. It must now show its self-confidence more than ever and include its friends from abroad. Be assured that we are thankful for every opportunity in this direction.

With best wishes,

Prof. Wolf Singer
Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research
Frankfurt / Main

22nd of February 2K