A one-minute long silent recording is creating a lot of noise in Austria, drawing renewed attention to the country's refugee crisis. The track, titled "Schweigeminute (Traiskirchen)," rocketed to the top of Austria's iTunes charts after it was released on Friday, unseating German DJ Robin Schulz on the strength of pre-orders alone. Proceeds from downloads of the song will benefit refugees at a camp in the town of Traiskirchen, south of Vienna, where around 2,000 people are living in conditions that international agencies have described as "inhumane."
"Schweigeminute" ("minute's silence," in German) is the brainchild of Austrian artist Raoul Haspel, who launched the project out of frustration with the government's refugee policy, and its failure to improve conditions at the Traiskirchen facility. He says he chose silence as a way to counteract the prevailing debate over Europe's refugee crisis, which he describes as polarizing and counterproductive.
A call for reflection
"Whenever there’s a conflict, or an extreme situation, the people who repeat their arguments just get louder and more intense, and they usually don’t help very much in solving the problem," Haspel said by phone this week from Vienna. "But the people who stay more calm, who reflect a bit more — they have enough silence to hear their inner voice, and they're usually much more helpful."
Austria, like many countries across Europe, is struggling to deal with an influx of refugees from Syria and other war-torn regions. Through the first three months of 2015, the country received more than 10,000 requests for asylum, and officials expect that figure to reach 80,000 by the end of the year. In 2014, it received more than 28,000 applications. In July, the European Union saw a record 107,500 asylum seekers at its borders, marking the third consecutive month of record-breaking migration.
In a German-language report released this month, Amnesty International criticized Austria for failing to improve conditions at Traiskirchen, describing its treatment of refugees as "scandalous." Up to 2,000 have been forced to sleep in extreme heat outdoors, the agency said, amid unsanitary conditions and with poor medical care. "It's not that Austria cannot do it," Heinz Patzelt, the head of Amnesty Austria, told Reuters. "Austria is incapable of organizing itself in a way that's dignified for humans." Austrian officials have said they will work to improve conditions at the facility.
"Imagine the possibilities."
Haspel says it's too soon to estimate how much money the song has raised so far, though he expects it to remain atop Austria's Top 40 charts through the end of this week. The track is available on all major music stores, including iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon, and although each company will take a commission on every €0.99 purchase, Haspel hopes they'll make an exception for his campaign. If they don't, he says he'll pay the difference out of his own pocket.
Haspel says he had a feeling that his silent campaign would gain traction, though he never expected it to take off as rapidly as it did. "Imagine, a few people in tiny little Austria press on a button on their cellphone to create attention for this problem, and days later half the world knows about it," he said. "Imagine the possibilities."