What is the Ernst Kirchweger House (EKH) in Vienna?

“There is a world to be invented before us!” With these words ended the first leaflet of the Kurdish communists and Austrian anti-fascists who occupied a building in Wielandgasse 2 – 4 in the Viennese district of Favoriten on June 23, 1990. It was the beginning of a fight for the right to an alternative living together and an anti-fascist utopia. The Ernst Kirchweger House (EKH) was born in Vienna.

Facade of the EKH in Vienna
Facade of the EKH in Vienna

Built in the 1920s as a school, the building in Wielandgasse had been owned by the Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) since 1945. However, the Communist Party had hardly used the rooms, the activists argued when they occupied the building. “If such an object, in the hands of a certain group, is not or only partially used by them, it is the right of other groups and initiatives to claim the unused infrastructure for themselves.” Already in the first leaflet the new antifascist centre was baptized “Ernst Kirchweger house”

Ernst Kirchweger

The name did not come by chance: the communist Ernst Kirchweger was attacked and seriously injured by the 24-year-old neo-Nazi Günther Kümel during a demonstration in downtown Vienna on 31 March 1965. Kirchweger died of his injuries two days later. He was only 67 years old. Kümel was sentenced to 10 months in prison.1Rauscher, Hans & Schmidt, Colette M.: Ernst Kirchweger – das erste politische Todesopfer der Nachkriegszeit. Der Standard, 30.05.2015

Although Kirchweger was the first political casualty of the second Austrian Republic, the country refused to commemorate the communist. He was always a convinced anti-fascist and during the time of National Socialism he was active in various illegal trade unions. A commemorative plaque was only unveiled in 1989.

Dissatisfied landlords

Despite their well-known son, the KPÖ was less enthusiastic about the occupation: shortly afterwards they tried to negotiate with the activists*, but they didn’t want to compromise. “[W]e will have a lot of work and struggle to do before we can turn some of our dreams into reality. For this we need this very House as a centre. We demand that all leftists accept these positions so far, and not to put obstacles in our way.”

Letter from KPÖ Vienna to the residents of Wielandgasse
Letter from KPÖ Vienna to the residents of Wielandgasse

The Austrian communists were not in a good situation at that time. A political reorientation became necessary after the slow disintegration of Soviet communism. The foundation of a left-wing electoral alliance failed, two thirds of the members resigned from the party. The dispute with the activists of the EKH came at an extremely bad time. The squatters also received support from the cultural scene: the writer Elfriede Jelinek or the essayist Michael Scharang stood up for the interests of the EKH.

In April 1991 the first rental contracts (symbolic rent of one shilling) were finally concluded between the communist owners and the EKH. However, this did not mean the end of the disputes. The communists repeatedly called in the police.

Capitalist Party of Austria?

In 2003 the KPÖ got into a difficult financial situation: The assets of the party were confiscated because the Novum GmbH was not owned by the KPÖ as initially assumed, but was counted as part of the SED2East German Communist Party assets. The party lost around 100 million euros and was on the verge of collapse.

So in 2004 it was decided to sell the EHK for 600,000 Euros – to a real estate company whose managing director was Christian Machowetz. According to scene information, he was a member of the neo-Nazi “Aktion Neue Rechte” in the 70s. The sale triggered a big debate within the left scene: The KPÖ was accused of treason and the slogan “EKH bleibt” (“EKH remains”) was created.3Schmoll, Karl: Realkapitalismus schwer gemacht. FM4, 03.11.2004 Finally, the municipality of Vienna purchased the building for 1.7 million Euros. To this day, the municipality still supports some projects in the EKH with money, which is not without controversy.

“EKH stays” is the slogan of the antifascist centre since the sale of the building

For the right-wing FPÖ, the EKH is “a switchboard for left-wing extremist terror”. Through solidarity support for refugees in matters of asylum and aliens law, some groups operate in legal grey areas. In addition, the EKH houses a computer laboratory, women’s writing workshops and emergency sleeping places for refugees.

Target of right-wing extremist attacks

Due to its activism and commitment in the left-wing alternative and also in the cultural field, the EHK has always been in the focus of right-wing extremist attacks:

“Immortal Vienna”, 27 October 2013

On 27 October 2013, around 30 Nazis from the group “Immortal Vienna” stormed the EKH. They wanted to go to the upper floor, as a migrant association had invited them for breakfast. Next door a communist union was meeting. Trade unionist Rudolf F. saw seven attackers trying to get to the upper floor and called for help to warn the others. Shortly afterwards he went down: skull contusion, slight concussion and a laceration on his face were the result.

Armed with slingshots and wooden truncheons, the attackers pushed in. But the trade unionists defended themselves against the Nazis and forced them out of the rooms of the Migrants’ Association. Some of them could be held until the police arrived.4Bonvalot, Michael:Verkehrte braune Welt: Der Nazi-Überfall im EKH. VICE. 13.05.2014

Nine people were arrested, but only charged with trespassing and minor bodily injury. Karin Wilfingseder of the communist union criticized that the criminal charges would fail to recognize the danger potential of the attack. “The message behind it can be interpreted as an invitation to attack leftist activists.” After all, the group “Immortal Vienna” was notorious for its “propensity for violence and racism”.5Amara, Nihad: Kritik an mildem Strafantrag gegen Neonazis. Kurier.at, 08.09.2014

Turkish Nationalists, 30 July 2016

Since there are also Kurdish associations in the Ernst Kirchweger House, the left centurion was also a target for Turkish fascists. They stormed a celebration of Serbian society on 30 July 2016 and shouted anti-Kurdish and anti-communist slogans. According to some media reports, they asked people present whether they were Kurds. When they denied, the fascists left again.

But riots did not stop: A witness told, how posters were torn from the wall, and a fire was put near wooden stairs. This fire was quickly extinguished. After this case the Office for the Protection of the Constitution was called in.6Krone.at: Türken-Bande überfiel “Kurden-Fest”: Feuer gelegt. 02.08.2016

Grey Wolves, 24 June – 25 June 2020

At a rally on women’s rights and Kurdistan in Vienna-Favoriten, Turkish fascists attacked the participants*. There were also attacks in front of the EKH. The following day there was another anti-fascist demonstration, where Turkish nationalists repeatedly disrupted the rally and attacked. According to a statement of the EKH, “right-wing extremist Grey Wolves, AKP supporters and self-proclaimed ‘Guardians of Favorites’ gathered again in the area and attacked the EKH after the police withdrew despite the obvious escalation.

There was a riot of up to 300 Turkish fascists, who attacked the EKH with stones, bottles and fireworks. They also tried to enter the building by force. The police intervened late and was also attacked by the fascists, as they announced in a press release. Only around 10:30 pm the situation calmed down again.7Der Standard: Erneut Angriff Grauer Wölfe auf kurdische Demo in Wien-Favoriten. 26.06.2020