Wilderness Policy

Austrian politician insults WWF activist

On 4th June, WWF Austria organized an official handover of a petition with 22 800 signatures against a hydropower plant in the Austrain state of Tyrol. The petition was handed over by activists to the two deputy governors of Tyrol (‘Landeshauptmann-Stellvertreter’), which are the deputies for the head of the Tyrolean government.

While the Tyrolean government argues that the expansion of hydropower is of public interest, WWF is concerned for the ecological and recreational value of the concerned river. The ‘Ötztaler Ache‘ is a unique gem and a popular destination for rafting and other activities. Apparently the Covid-19 lockdown was used to start construction of a hydropower plant, which has been on hold for 12 years thanks to protests by environmental NGOs.

During the handover, an unfortunate incident occurred. One of the two deputy governors, Josef Geisler, repeatedly interrupted WWF activist Mariann Götsch, then turned to his fellow deputy governor and called the activist ‘Widerwärtiges Luder’, which translates to disgusting slut.

These kind of insults have no place in politics. If Josef Geisler does not admit his mistake, he is overdue for resignation. An office holder must not treat persons like this, that rightly point out the consequences of hydropower plants for rivers.

Andrea Johanides
CEO of WWF Austria

The whole indicident can be seen in the video below:

The conversation goes as follows:

  • Götsch: “The deterioration of rivers is not allowed according to EU law, only in the exception of public interest.”
  • Geisler interrupts her: “We have to stay down calm.”
  • Götsch: “Excuse me, please let me quickly finish speaking.”
  • Geisler interrupts her again: “We have to stay calm, because now we have the problem.”
  • Götsch: “And public interest is equated with the expansion of hydropower.”
  • Geisler turns around and says to his fellow deputy governor: “Look, she won´t let me talk – disgusting slut (‘Widerwärtiges Luder’).”

A few days later, Geisler and Götsch met to clear the air. Geisler apologized for his comment and said the the two had a good conversation. Götsch, however, seemed sceptical regarding the apology and called the original comment mysogynistic. Rather than focusing on her feelings, she demanded a ‘return to content’. Subsequently, Geisler proposed to include WWF more into decision-making from now on. Götsch demanded ‘reboot for nature conservation in Tyrol’. If Geisler is serious with his proposal, something good might come out of this story after all.

Unfortunately, we still regularly see hostile behavior, threats and even violence against environmental activists all across Europe. This incident is mild compared to extremes like the murder of park rangers in Romania, but it is a sign for the disrespect that some politicians have for activists fighting for the preservation of their homes.

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