Magnificent and sad dance for freedom of press – We went to Concordia Ball in Vienna

Source: eKapija Wednesday, 29.05.2024. 09:42
(Photo: Milutin Labudović)
Magnificent ball held in Vienna; Security violently removes activist from Concordia Ball in Vienna – this article could have either of these titles. Both would be factually true. “Shame on you, you are complicit to the genocide” – the activists shouted at the press at the Concordia Ball – this title would be factual as well.

However, let’s not play this game anymore. What in fact happened at the Vienna City Hall on Friday, May 24?

It was a chilly spring night, without rain, which had been falling the whole afternoon in the capital of Austria. A lucky occurrence for the ladies in fancy ball dresses and the gentlemen in tuxedos, who waited patiently in front of Rathaus to enter the ball. Not just any ball either – a ball for the freedom of the press.

Among the attendees is a brunette in an elegant dark red dress, a lady in a black dress, and a man with a mustache in a tuxedo. They are not even dreaming of boasting their carefully selected clothes and practiced dancing skills, but at the present moment, we don’t yet know that. Because, this is one of those moments that we later recall as “there was nothing indicating that that would happen.”

One by one, all smiling and all in a good mood due to the upcoming experience – and for some this is the first time they’re attending the ball – they are patiently filing into the city hall, showing their tickets to the cordial staff. They stop to take their photos on the red staircase, to capture that moment of luxury and beauty. Because they are all blissfully unaware of the event – we could call it an incident, an inconvenience, a howl, and we could also ignore it if we see fit – which is to follow.

The spectacular interior of Rathaus – Vienna City Hall (Photo: Milutin Labudović)The spectacular interior of Rathaus – Vienna City Hall

The attendees are entering the spectacular room, specially lit and decorated for this magnificent occasion – those who paid the most expensive tickets sit at their tables, the others remain behind the ropes to observe the event of the season.

This is a ball that has been organized by the Austian press club Concordia since 1863. They pride themselves on being the oldest press club in the world, defending the freedom of the press and promoting independent journalism. The waltz king Johann Strauss personally conducted the orchestra at numerous Concordia balls, which traditionally gather not just journalists, but also artists, politicians and the upper echelons of society.

This year’s guests of honor were the president of the Austrian parliament, Ernst Woller, and Wolfgang Bogensberger of the European Commission, and we also noticed the U.S. ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill. We were also among the guests from 50 countries, as part of the group of awarded journalists from the region who had been shortlisted within the media contest organized by Siemens.

The debutants’ first dance (Photo: Milutin Labudović)The debutants’ first dance

The first bars played by the magnificent orchestra to which the young debutants begin their first dance, for which they have been preparing for months, promise an enchanting evening.

And then, while everybody is in some other dimension, the magic is broken by the woman in a red dress, the lady in the black dress and the man with a mustache in a tuxedo, carrying the Palestinian flag and shouting out “There is no free press in Austria”, “You are complicit to the genocide”, “Shame on you”, “We mustn’t be silent”, “You don’t report, you just repeat”, “Silence kills”.

They threw fliers with a question written out for the press: “Are you allowing yourself to be censored?”. It all lasted for under two minutes, during which the security regained their composure, escorted the unwelcome guests out and carried out the woman in a red dress out of the hall, and not gently at all at that.

The security carrying out an activist (Photo: Marija Dedić)The security carrying out an activist

The welcome guests looked at each other, without any visible reaction to the appeals of the protestors. To be fair, a scornful look or two was directed at the protestors, whereas some found this situation funny.

It all quickly went back to normal, the orchestra continued its magnificent performance, the attendees in their fancy clothes could enjoy the music again, and the press, at the moment the conferencier shouted out: “The ball is open”, could start what they came there for – dance for freedom.

Freedom is defended with heels

And it was truly wonderful. And touching. Some couples, already into their eighth, some of them ninth, decade, could barely walk, but didn’t give up on dancing. Nor did the young which were preparing for this event for months learning the basics of classic and modern dances. Nor did those middle-aged, focusing on every move and turn, as if their lives depended on it. Ready to show their dancing skills, the seductiveness of the tango, the elegance of the waltz, the vivaciousness of the cha-cha-cha and the liveliness of the disco.

Some couples are already well into their eighth, sometimes ninth, decade (Photo: Milutin Labudović)Some couples are already well into their eighth, sometimes ninth, decade

As if the dignity of the profession that has been wallowing in the mud of greed, unscrupulousness, small and big interests for a long time is defended with every slam of a heel or a patent leather shoe against the podium of the Vienna City Hall. As if they were not so humiliated and economically disenfranchised that they can be bought for a pittance.

The journalists continued to dance for freedom, while our colleagues and true freedom fighters were being arrested, beaten, closed and murdered worldwide. It was wonderful to see the solidarity of a disjointed and humiliated profession, even in the idea of not giving up on dancing.

The journalists continued – the author of this article is no better – dancing for freedom until 4am, while the civilizational values on which the world rests tumbled down like a house of cards. It is difficult not to compare this spectacle with all the balls held while empires were falling down. Decadence in its full glory in a world which is just about to go down in flames. In a world of hypocrisy and double standards, which tolerates and incites conflicts as long as it profits from them, which recognizes only its own victims, in a world where genocide is a question of political games, in a world which teaches us again that those belonging to a different race or nation are enemies.

A night in the sign of free journalism

In the Austrian media that we skimmed through the next day, there was no mention of “the incident”. Under titles such as “Celebration of Free Press”, journalists report that this year’s ball was in the sign of “free journalism and difference of opinion,” and that an evening full of elegance and tradition was help, that a strong message about the freedom of press was sent, that the guests enjoyed an evening full of music, dance and lively discussions, that the world premium of the composition “Concordia Opening Fanfare for free journalism” by Pavel Singer was especially impressive.

eKapija’s journalist at the ball (Photo: Milutin Labudović)eKapija’s journalist at the ball

The media reported that, in his speech, the president of Concordia, Andreas Koller, had emphasized the essential role of journalism in democracy.

– The more efficiently nonsense is passed off as news, the more important it is to have professional journalists who are able to differentiate between sense and nonsense and make news from information garbage. Our society needs high-quality, professional journalism, because, without it, democracy will die – Koller was inspired.

The secretary-general of Concordia, Daniela Kraus, agreed with him and pointed out that today it was especially important to jointly set an example of free journalism.

– With the Concordia Ball, Concordia advocates the freedom of press and difference of opinion, while fostering a ceremonial culture – said Kraus.

As for the event at the beginning of the ball – not a word. The “Not in our name Vienna” organization announced on its social networks that it had stopped the ball. As they wrote, the organization was founded by Viennese Jews who didn’t want the crimes in Gaza to be done in their name, but today they gather members of various nationalities who “share the outrage due to the Israeli destruction in Gaza and the complicity of the Austrian government.”

There was dancing in the yard as well (Photo: Milutin Labudović)There was dancing in the yard as well

The journalists who danced so vigorously for the freedom of press the previous night perhaps didn’t believe that the event was worth mentioning (although a journalism student who would “forget” to report about a similar incident would surely not get a passing grade). Perhaps the journalists thought that the incident was a piece of nonsense that didn’t deserve to be mentioned on the sacred pages of the newspapers.

And perhaps freedom, especially in today’s world, divided as never before, exists only while we praise ours and criticize theirs. And even when they’re doing things due to which, without a pause, we criticize theirs.

And let us also remember another lesion which is the same at all journalism faculties, from Israel and Palestine, Russia and Ukraine, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – the moment journalists accept to become propagandists, they hand over their freedom to somebody else.

All that remains then is – to dance.

And perhaps we should march. For the dignity of the profession. For solidarity. For ideals. For humanity. For freedom.

Marija Dedic

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