Some followers have asked me why I never once even mentioned the Red Bull Cliff Diving Contest in Mostar. The answer is simple: I have a problem with Red Bull in general and the brand’s owner in particular. So should any decent person.
Now, I know it was one of THE big things in Mostar: The Cliff Diving Contest at Stari Most in late September.
I have no clue how many Mostarians mentioned the upcoming event to me with apparent pride when I was in town just ten days or so before it was scheduled. „Can’t you just stay a little longer? It would be a great story for your blog“ was the main line they gave me.
I like to think they were thinking about me rather than publicity when they did so.
As much as I’d like for things to be different, Balkan Stories hardly has the reach that would make it worthwhile inviting me to such an event that’s covered by so many so much bigger media.
That aside, I have occasionally covered events I thought interesting even without being able to attend them. As long as you don’t pretend you’re there, that’s standard practice in journalism.
There certainly would have been ample material to choose from, including probably hundreds of press photos and videos.
So, really, writing a piece on Balkan Stories would have been a matter of an hour or two, tops. And it would have drawn a lot of attention, too, undoubtedly including spectacular pics and all.
I chose not to write a single line.
I wouldn’t be doing now, either, hadn’t a few of my followers asked me I never wrote about it.
Red Bull’s Owner Is A Union Busting Scoundrel. How’s That for A Reason?
Now, generally, this being my blog and all, I don’t owe anybody any explanation why I cover or don’t cover an event. Besides, providing any explanation would have drawn attention to the very event I wanted to get as little attention as possible.
In the past couple of weeks a couple of things have happened, though, that make it seem prudent to give an explantion, belated though it may be.
For short: The brand rights to Red Bull are owned by a man who’s a union busting scoundrel.
The guy’s also an authoritarian character (which is a slighty pleonastic remark, given that he’s a union buster) with some dubious people on his payroll whose media outlets have increasingly been a platform for right wing radicals in the past couple of weeks.
Last but not least, the whole chic Red Bull promotes, the brand’s entire image, is based on neoliberal narratives that have a neo-macho taint as well.
So, overall, that’s nothing I feel easy about promoting. And I think neither should any decent person, i.e. anybody committed to workers‘ rights, human rights and in general respect for one another.
Do not mistake this for a judgement over people who do cover such events for a living. Take tourism platforms such as Balkanvibe, for instance.
The Face of Modern Capitalism
Now, Didi Mateschitz, the guy who owns the brand rights for Red Bull in the Western Hemisphere, can be called the embodiment of modern capitalism.
This is a man who never invented anything in his life and never produced anything in his life.
All he’s ever done is sell and outsource.
He is a marketing genius, I’ll grant him that. Nevertheless, becoming a billionaire just by selling stuff other people have invented and yet other people produce, has little to do with the narrative of capitalist entrepreneurship one simply grows up with in a Western society.
Never mind the fact that this narrative is in itself romanticising and systematically blocks out the people who do the actual work while getting only a tiny share of the actual rewards, and has been exposed as such so long ago and so thoroughly I won’t go into details here.
Mateschitz’s company doesn’t produce Red Bull itself. From the start, the so called energy drink has been manufactured by (other) beverage companies.
He hasn’t even invented the stuff himself. He bought the license to manufacture and sell Red Bull from his Asian partners who’d done the actual innovation.
The production of the drink has been outsourced. So it’s produced by other people, who get a tiny share of a profit, in a factory owned by people who get a greater but still small share. Both workers and factory owners shoulder the bulk of the economic risk.
Pretty much all the company owned by Mateschitz himself does is promote the brand.
For that, he’s earned billions over the years.
Now, to be clear, this is nothing one should hold against him personally. That’s how modern capitalism works.
How to Bust A Union
Mateschitz’s authoritarian side does fit well into that narrative. Particularly the last instance.
The employees of Servus TV, a TV station Mateschitz owns, were making preparations to constitute and elect a Work Council.
Mateschitz announced he would close the station within weeks after he had learned about it, calling considerations to constitute a Work Council „not helpful“.
The following day, the station’s employees wrote in an Open Letter addressed at Mateschitz that they didn’t want a representation after all.
Servus TV is still on air.
A Platform for Right Wing Radicals
The station has since become a platform for right wing radical movements such as the Identitarians, who are kind of the New Right’s youth movement. (Read New Right as European New Right/Nouvelle Droite, not as American New Right.)
In short, Identitarians are a tiny movement on the right fringe working their way into the mainstream, promoting neofascist social policies and the concept of „ethnopluralism“ which is basically just racism re-branded in a modern fashion.
„Ethnopluralism“ postulates that different cultures must perish if they mix or indeed if they so much are in close contact with one another.
As this concept redefines culture to be immutable you end up with the Identitarians‘ „cultural traits“ being the same thing as the „blood“ or „gene“ old fashioned genetic racists so often invoke to justify their bigotry. It just sounds a lot better.
This re-branding has allowed for some successful political marketing in the past decades, well before the Identitarians were even around. In fact, much of the discourse on Islam in Europe or immigration as seen by US right wingers can not be explained without the concept of ethnopluralism.
Maybe it is this successful marketing that appeals to Mateschitz.
At any rate, Servus TV invited the Identarians‘ Austrian spokesman Martin Sellner to a studio discussion about the radicalization of young Austrian Muslims.
Sellner, now in his 20’s, also has a past as belonging to a Neonazi organisation run by Gottfried Küssel. Küssel is one of the most influential Nazis in German speaking countries.
Sellner and the Identitarians have been all but blacklisted as studio guests by all other major Austrian TV stations as they fear that even a controversial appearance would legitimize the right wing radical movement.
Servus TV renounced any criticism against Sellner’s invitation, basically saying that it was a matter of „freedom of speech“.
Right Wingers Reward the Effort
A few weeks later it was rewarded for its efforts to give right wing radicals a voice in a setting that would let them appear as harmless and legitimate as possible.
Servus TV was the only news outlet granted access to a conference by several right wing radical organisations hosted in the Upper Austrian city of Linz.
All other news outlets had been banned from the conference beforehand, as the organizers claimed that „mainstream media“ had been too critical of them, working hand in hands with „the totalitarians“ instead.
Which of course did not go for the right wingers‘ own propaganda outlets such as Kopp Verlag that regularly publishes books with antisemitic conspiracy theories or outright Nazi fantasies or the somewhat more subtle magazine „Alles Roger?“ which is heavily anti-migrant and „just“ uses antisemitic codes rather than outright antisemitism.
Other media allowed at the conference were the right wing conspiracy magazine „Compact“ with close ties to Germany’s radical right wing party AfD, „Blaue Narzisse“, an Identitarian magazine, unzensuriert.at and „Zur Zeit“, both of which cooperate with Austria’s adical right wing party FPÖ and „Der Eckart“, an Austrian magazine notorious for its antisemitic and racist pieces, which many consider to be just an inch away from outright Neonazism.
As a journalist, I would strongly reconsider the quality of my work if I were suddenly not just being given access to but actually invited to this conference.
Felix Baumgartner, Right Wing Sympathizer, Powered By Red Bull
This isn’t the only tie between the Empire of The Oxen and right wing ideas.
Red Bull has Felix Baumgartner on its payroll.
The man gained some notoriety for dropping out of the sky a few years back.
Felix Baumgartner thinks it’s OK to slap children.
(And Austrian court thinks it’s not OK for Baumgartner to slap Greek truck drivers in traffic jam situations and has convicted him of causing bodily harm.)
Baumgartner thinks Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, a neofascist, should be awarded the Nobel Price for Peace for „doing the right thing and protecting his country and his people“ from refugees.
Baumgartner has called the Austrian government „idiots“ for allowing refugees into the country a year ago.
Baumgartner is a fan of Heinz Christian Strache, chairman of the right wing radical party FPÖ.
Baumgartner has also publicly expressed his disdain for democracy and called for a „moderate dictatorship“.
Baumgartner, an Austrian citizen, now resides in Switzerland in order to avoid Austrian taxes and publicly attacks Austrian IRS for taxing him.
A Lot of Explaining to Do
As far as testimonials for Red Bull go, Felix Baumgartner is their most valuable asset.
To date, neither Red Bull nor owner Mateschitz have reigned in Baumgartner for his somewhat inflammatory remarks.
This doesn’t mean they approve of them. But it certainly means they don’t have any problem with them either.
So, I’m kinda uneasy about doing anything that would shed positive light on a company and its owner who have lots of explaining to do.