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Demonstrations in front of the parliament, Ljubljana, March 23 1993. Photo: Tone Stojko. © Muzej za novejšo zgodovino Slovenije [National Museum of Contemporary History], collection Tone Stojko, inv. n. TS19932303_22.

Dagmar Wernitznig presented a paper at the bilingual conference Donne Disarmanti – Disarming Women, hosted at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice from 22 to 23 November. Her talk was entitled “Built, voted against, and abandoned: 40 years after – Zwentendorf and women’s activism in Austria” and unpacked the nexus of the Zwentendorf story-line with women’s role in the anti-nuclear and green movements of the 1970s.


Built, voted against, and abandoned: 40 years after – Zwentendorf and women’s activism in Austria

„Ich habe es nicht notwendig, mich von ein paar Lausbuben so behandeln zu lassen …“ [I do not need to be treated like this by a few rascals …]

Bruno Kreisky (1977)


Zwentendorf is the only nuclear power plant on this planet so far that – albeit fully constructed and functionable – never went into business, due to pressure from the population. Conceptualized in the early 1970s and finished in 1978, the project of Austria’s first nuclear power plant caused controversy from the very start. Rarely before had Austrian citizens been politicized and mobilized amongst all social strata in such huge numbers and intensity in the so-called Second Republic. Coinciding and dovetailing with the newly emerging green movement and the first sprouts of practical environmentalism, especially in the neighboring Germany, the grass-roots formations and marches against Zwentendorf became a symbol for the deconstruction of oligarchies, patriarchies, and industrialist/pre-globalization exploitations of people and resources, triggering mass protests and demonstrations in a country with extremely strict strike and assembly laws. ‘Old’ eras of politics and politicians, deciding for and over the heads of voters seemed to have become outdated or increasingly questioned and attacked: the waves of anti-nuclear advocates facilitated a referendum – the first since 1945 – with a slim majority of 50.47%, rejecting the final switch on of the site on 5 November 1978. Shortly afterwards, anti-atomic laws (i.e. Atomsperrgesetz) were passed in Austria and later even adopted into the constitution in 1999.

Palpably, the Zwentendorf narrative entails many global ramifications, first and foremost pertaining to the shadow of Chernobyl, lethally looming over Europe less than a decade later. Furthermore, the anti-Zwentendorf momentum and trajectory of bottom-to-top victory and civil disobedience also highlights many paradigm shifts: for instance, environmentalism, while initially equated with terrorism and anarchism by mainstream policymaking, gained a prominent place and role in everyday discourse and media fora in the succeeding years. Quite significantly, synergies between feminist activism and connotations of environmental protection as well as responsibilities became even more strikingly evident.

Accordingly, Dagmar’s paper aimed to look at ‘female rascals’, who were at the anti-Zwentendorf forefront, and especially the audio-visual iconography of public platforms for women beyond ‘typically feminine’ topics, such as disputes over abortion rights, for example.

Themes included, but were not limited to:

• Reverted ‘traditional’ gender roles with men pushing prams, while their female spouses give speeches and press interviews, for instance,

• The intersections of procreation and motherhood with nuclear threats specifically or slow violence generally and (women’s) ‘passive’ strategies of dissent (e.g. mothers from Vorarlberg on hunger strike in front of the parliament in Vienna in 1977),

• Women’s leading roles at the dawn of ‘alternative’ political parties (Green Party) and the remains of today with male party members being accused of sexual harassment within the context of #MeToo-debates in Austria,

• Energy disputes then and now and the splitting of opinions and sentiments rather than atoms.

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