Augustin editor reflects on 20 years of pushing the boundaries

Augustin was established in Vienna 20 years ago, and the street paper that challenged the norm and empowered it vendors celebrated with a party. INSP talked to editor Lisa Bolyos about the highs and lows of the past two decades, and celebrating their continuing mission with accordions, dancing, and cheap wine.Augustin covers 1995 (L) and 2015 (R).How was the paper established?

Augustin was established in 1995. A group of journalists who felt the need for a critical newspaper (and wanted to create their own jobs) got together with a group of social workers who wanted to strengthen their approach of social work: empowerment instead of integration into a society that forced you to fit in.

Augustin was not the only street paper to be founded in Vienna in the 90s. But it was the only one that rejected subsidies from the government and thus survived, sticking to the principle of independence from the goodwill of the city or the state.

How many vendors sell your paper?

There are around 400-500 vendors, coming from 20 different countries, selling the paper at any given moment. They can sell the paper at any time whilst also having access to social work if they want, or need support.

Our vendors have access to the office and the groups that have been founded within Augustin such as the drama group, the choir, the soccer team, the table tennis team.

Our vendors are welcome to establish new projects within the context of Augustin. Some, though not many, write for the paper or work at the radio station.

How does selling the paper help your vendors?

Augustin vendors are not necessarily homeless; they need the job for various reasons. Some are poor in economic terms; others are not able to work to a strict schedule. Quite often this is because of addictions, illnesses, and children or because of a conviction.

We see others suffer due to restricted access to the labour market; quite often people are involved in the process of claiming asylum and can’t work. Other times it is because of racist or classist exclusion, especially when it comes to poverty migration from Eastern Europe. People have many reasons to join Augustin.

Augustin tries to offer a somewhat safe haven from the pressure and the speed of the conditions that society forces on these people. They can have a rest, meet others, and try out their first clumsy steps back into public life off the streets.

Our vendors can work without anyone pressuring and telling them what direction they should be going in. We believe and hope that in the course of twenty years we have supported many people in defining their own goals and establishing strategies to reach them.

We have one vendor that has been with us since the beginning. Martin Gruber, who we consider as one of the founding vendors of Augustin and started with only five or six other vendors back in ’95.

Augustin celebrates 20 years in print with some delicious birthday cookies.How have things changed over the past 20 years?

We wish our story was all about success, but of course we have had doubts.

Eight years ago, we sold almost a quarter more copies than we do now. We have a problem where those who are poor, excluded, and struggling tend to vote for radical right parties. This is in a city where Augustin stands for the self-confident voice of the poor. At the same time the number of those who want and need to sell Augustin is growing without us being able to support all of them.

However we continue to be a project built up on the basis of democracy. We have no bosses, and no decision taking is done without talking to all colleagues.

We continue to work without public subsidies. When times got rougher, financially speaking, we found more than 300 people that supported us with a monthly contribution simply because they wanted the project to live on. We call them ‘Liebhaber innen’ which translates as lovers.

We have successfully established local and transnational networks with other groups and movements fighting for the rights of the poor and a society based on solidarity. The paper is still being sold 25,000 times every two weeks, in all parts of the city, and we get lots of feedback that makes us carry on.

There is no comparable newspaper in Vienna, and just as Augustin needs the city we strongly believe the city needs Augustin.

How are you celebrating?

We have been celebrating all year long in cultural, political and sporting events for our 20th anniversary. We recently had our big birthday party, following the motto ‘Keep the power, we’ll take the night.’ An orchestra of accordions composed an Augustin song that was premiered, and we happily drank cheap wine and danced all night.