Holocaust Memorials to be transferred into a new Federal Agency

March 8, 2016

German original: Der Standard - http://derstandard.at/2000032531081/Gedenkstaetten-werden-zur-Bundesanstalt

After long hesitation, the time finally came: the [Austrian Government] coalition agrees to organize the Austrian memorials outside of the Ministry for the Interior.

What took so long finally turns into law. The consultation process on the transfer of the Holocaust memorials into a federal agency, based on the model of the Federal Museums, has started on Tuesday. In 2016, this marks already the second time that the government has taken steps to secure remembrance of Austria’s contemporary history.

As to the memorials, it definitely took some time. SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria) and ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) had not been able to agree about the details of the new organization for more than nine months. After the decision of the construction of a House of [contemporary] History, advocated by Minister of Culture Josef Ostermayer, it went very quickly in the end – also thanks to new Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil, who, as the [coalition Government’s social democrat counterpart of conservative Minister for the Interior Mikl-Leitner], the so-called “mirror minister” responsible on the SPÖ side, according to reports gave up resistance to the plan, in contrast to his predecessor.

More independence

Although the future Federal Agency is going to remain under federal supervision by the ministry for the interior, it will be more independent and have a higher margin of maneuver. For the first time, it will be possible to work interdisciplinary and internationally – for example by joining international memorial projects.

Barbara Glück, who heads the „Memorials and War Grave Services” in the ministry for the interior, is glad about the decision. In 1947, the allies returned the former concentration camps to the Republic of Austria with the order to preserve them for “sustained remembrance”. Glück: “With this law, we established the foundations for that.”

For the historian Glück it was also about „transferring the remembrance into today’s time.” According to her, the question “how and why should these events still concern us,” has to dominate future commemorative work.

Financial basis

The financial basis is hereby secured. The agency’s endowment for the next 5 years is foreseen in the draft law: 4.1 million Euros for 2007, 4.2 million for 2018, 4.3 million for 2019 – and so on.

Effectively, this is more than before. Although commemorative work was endowed with 4.1 million already in 2016, 57 war graves had to be maintained with this amount as well. This is going to change with the new law as  the maintenance of war graves will remain separate with the the ministry for the interior in charge.

The Federal Agency  will be supervised by a board of trustees in charge of scientific aspects. On this board, the ministries presently in charge will still be represented, namely the ministries for the interior, economics, finance, education and science as well as foreign affairs. 

New positions to be advertised

The position of the CEO, as well as the heads of the commercial and pedagogical departments will be advertised. In the future, the job comes with two advisory boards. On the first one victims’ representatives, communities of faith and the social partners are represented, while the second one serves as a scientific board to be filled internationally and interdisciplinarily. Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner is satisfied: “With the new law, the government fulfills the responsibility to not allow “suppression or neglect,” says Mikl-Leiter: “We are creating a modern structure thanks through which the memorials will be permanently secured for the future, including financially. Remembrance has to be anchored in law as part of our democratic self-conception.”

The law should pass Parliament before the summer and be enacted at the beginning of 2017.