Austrian mayor resigns over poem that compared migrants to rats

The deputy mayor of the Austrian town where Adolf Hitler was born resigned on Tuesday after facing widespread condemnation over a poem in which he compared migrants to rats.

Christian Schilcher of the far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ) stepped down as deputy mayor of Braunau am Inn after his poem was compared to Nazi propaganda and caused a rift in Austria’s coalition government.

Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, had earlier demanded that his coalition partners in the Freedom Party distance themselves from the offending poem, which was published in a party newsletter sent to every household in the town.

“The resignation of the deputy mayor of Braunau was the only logical consequence of this heinous and racist poem,” Mr Kurz said on Tuesday.

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Heinz-Christian Strache, the deputy chancellor and Freedom Party leader, condemned the poem as “incompatible” with the party’s values and said Mr Schilcher had resigned “to prevent damage to the party”.

 Sebastian Kurz condemned the poem as racistCredit:

“He was caught in the truest sense of the word in the political sewage,” Mr Strache added in an apparent joke.

In the poem, entitled ‘The City Rat’, Mr Schilcher in fact compared all people to rats, writing from the perspective of a rat living in the sewers under Braunau am Inn who was unhappy at the arrival of new rats.

But his choice of metaphor was powerfully reminiscent of Nazi propaganda, in which Jewish people were frequently compared to rats, and the fact Braunau am Inn was Hitler’s birthplace only served to heighten anger.

The poem was also criticised for passages in which Mr Schilcher warned that mixing of cultures of languages was tantamount to destroying them, and wrote: “Adopt our way of life quick, or get out of here”.

Mr Schilcher did not comment on Tuesday beyond confirming his resignation as deputy mayor. He is also understood to have resigned from the Freedom Party.

His decision comes a day after he apologised for the poem but defiantly refused to step down. “I wanted to provoke, but in no case insult or hurt anyone,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“The fact is that the comparison of humans and rats is historically burdened and more than unfortunate, and I am truly sorry to have disregarded this.”

The row is the latest in a series to rock Mr Kurz’s coalition with the Freedom Party in recent weeks.

The Austrian chancellor  demanded the party sever all links with the far-Right Identitarian movement in March, after it emerged the group’s Austrian founder may have received money from the New Zealand mosque gunman.

And earlier this month he moved to take control of Austria’s intelligence services away from ministries controlled by the Freedom Party after it emerged that Britain and other European allies had suspended intelligence sharing.