Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

The Akademikerball: a Tradition that Unleashes Passions

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Ferenc Almássy.

Austria, Vienna – Between 2 and 4,000 demonstrators and violent antifa activists, 2,700 mobilized policemen, and the entire city center closed to traffic for almost half a day… On Friday, February 3rd, Vienna experienced again a strange atmosphere which is not adapted to its architecture and its status as an ancient imperial capital, nor to the Germans’ reputation as lovers of order.

On the other hand, the Akademikerball, the pretext for the chaos that required such heavy intervention from the State, was much closer to the idealized image of ​​Vienna. In the Hofburg palace, in the city center, a ballroom welcomed around 2,500 participants on Friday evening, some of whom reserved their table for the modest sum of € 2,000.

As chief editor of the Visegrád Post, I was lucky enough to be invited to see for myself what this event was, and to enjoy a Viennese evening with notes of imperial nostalgia. Which, I confess, was not a displeasure to me.

The Hofburg palace before the ball

Tradition First

The organization of this ball is not so old: the first one took place in 1952. But the purpose of the ball is to gather annually the members of the Germanic student fraternities (of Austria and Germany) which go back to The Napoleonic period.

The core of German nationalism appeared when Germanic people became irritated by the French imperial domination of Napoleon I. The Burschenschaften also set up to train patriotic students in combat and body discipline.

Even today, one can only become a full member of some of these fraternities by passing a test of combat with the saber. Aside from a three-color headband worn on the chest during ceremonies, the other proof of full and complete belonging to these fraternities is a scar worn on the face. During the duel, only the eyes and the nose are protected.

Student ready for the duel

And so, 200 years stand behind this annual ball which is not so much for dancing, but comprises a high moment of networking and fellowship for these guardians of a patriotic tradition.

Fraternities, however, are quite diverse these days, both in their activities and politically. And it is clear that the Akademikerball of Vienna is resolutely “right-wing”, in the broad sense. From nostalgics of the Empire to center-right people, one finds many kinds of participants.

The organizers of the ball seem to want to please everyone. While I was expecting something very classic, in a very imperial style, I was unpleasantly surprised to attend the ceremony during a show with a Céline Dion style singer, dancing violinist and a smooth rope demonstration … “kitsch” is the word that comes to mind to describe this shifted and surprising moment. But I guess it’s a matter of taste.

Apart from that, the rest of the evening was particularly pleasant and enjoyable. Demonstration of polonaise by pairs of students, initiation to the quadrille and orchestras alterning waltz and cha-cha-cha pleased the guests in smocking and wearing fraternity caps, or evening gowns for the ladies. A Viennese ball which is not so different from others, after all.

Although FPÖ members made a speech at the beginning, it was not a political rally. The presence of non-Austrians in large numbers shows that the FPÖ had not sought to turn this ball into a political meeting for its own interest. At most, it can be suspected of having wanted to become the godfather of a tradition in danger, consistent with its patriotic ideology.

Yet a de facto politicized event

However, the event is obviously politicized now. In 2011, with intensifying criticism, followed by the refusal of the Hofburg Palace to allow the fraternities to use the Palace, the annual ball was in danger of disappearing.
The FPÖ, a national-liberal party, whose candidate Norbert Hofer recently lost the Austrian presidential election, saved the event by taking over the organization after the Hofburg is not banning events of political parties present in Parliament.
New guests then made their appearance at the event, which came to be represented in the eyes of the antifa and the radical left as a “meeting of the far right”. Among the guests who have attended the ball since 2012 were the Russian thinker A. Dugin, the Flemish secessionist F. Dewinter, and also Marine Le Pen.
Today, the tradition of the ball now includes the tradition of the excesses of violence of the antifa and other far-left activists. Throwing stones on taxis, spitting, insults, threats — tolerant activists do not avoid any method to prevent people from enjoying a nice tradition in a private place.
At the same time, the mainstream Austrian press, which suffers a heavily liberal-libertarian trend, also politicized the evening of Friday in a nasty way. After being recognized on a quay by antifa, the leader of the Identitarian political activists of Austria, Martin Sellner, was assaulted by four hooded individuals. Wielding pepper spray in the manner of a handgun to avoid conflict, he was then attacked again by four other individuals who sought to throw him onto the stairs of the station. Even though he had nothing to do with the ball, it did not prevent the press from creating the title that “after the ball, an Identitarian fired all around him”.
Black Blocs’ demonstration against the ball in 2012 (Wikipedia)
A metapolitical event?
For the vast majority of participants, this ball has always been faithful to the tradition of fraternities and is not a political event. But the FPÖ and the extreme-left activists both use this special ball.
It must be said that the very principle of traditional events has become, in a Western world plagued by fierce globalization, a subversive and indirectly politicized act.
Lovers of the tradition of the ball of the fraternities will have to keep in mind that even if they defend their intent, they are also politicized actors, and they must draw the consequences of it. It is not about party politics, but rather a metapolitical struggle that will determine the world in which our descendants will live.
And the lovers of waltzes and the dueling students will each have to remember that venerating tradition is about transmitting the flame, not venerating ashes.