References to Columbus in Austria

In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, a Columbus statue was "brought down, set on fire and thrown into a lake" in Richmond, Virginia, land of the Algonquian, Powhatan, the Siouan and the Iroquoian peoples. How could we achieve in Austria that Columbus, and the white supremacy he inaugurated and continues to connote, stops being celebrated?

Image: Action from the 9th June 2020.

Columbus positive image in Austria

While in Austria there are several locations where Columbus is commemorated in plaques, medallions and statues, what is more noticeable is that Columbus is used as a figure of present relevance. Several companies invoke him as a positive reference to which they want to associate a spirit of being adventurous, intrepid, daring and a "discoverer". Traveling agencies and language schools are named after someone who never arrived at his desired destination and who didn't learn the local languages but who captured locals to act as translators. Some examples include:
Fahrschule Columbus: driving school founded in 1970 which has a caravel as its logo. Located in the Columbusgasse in the 10. district, and the Lasallestrasse in the 2. district. 
Columbus center: shopping center in the Columbusplatz built in 2005. Located near the Columbushof in the 10. district. It has in the middle of its façade a Columbus' egg, which is based on an apocryphal story that depicts Columbus as an intrepid thinker. 
 Stiegl "Columbus 1492": ale beer launched in August 2016, that makes reference to the year the Stiegl factory was born. Campaign posters began with phrases like: "Discover Columbus 1492”. A large banner in the Votivkirche church read "11.Commandment, you will discover a new beer”. #stieglcolumbus. Their television ad had a white man looking to the horizon. 
Columbus-Cargo Intern. Expeditions: Ocean, air and rail cargo. Located in the 2. district. 
Columbus Ihre Reisbüro: in the 22. district. 
I found more listed business companies in this website:
The site shows business which use the name under the following rubrik: Reisebüros, Fahrschule, Spedition & Logistik, Ausbauelemente, Informationsdienste, Immobilienmakler, Messen & Ausstellungen, Fotografie & Fotolabors, Restaurants, Buffets, Werbegrafik, Hausrat.

Campaign of Stiegl, taken in August 2016.

The Handelsakademie I (current Vienna Business School) displays an estatue of Colombus in its entry.

Intervention by the Trenza collective in Vienna in the Viena Business School on the 12 October 2017. Photos by Verena Melgarejo Weinandt

Columbus celebrated in tableau in the building of the AK. Library area. Taken in 2017.

Invading the political systems of a continent

The Americas had their own systems of living that held different notions of “humanity”, of subjecthood, and they had their respective leaders and political representatives. “The doctrine of the discovery” led to the Catholic church to validate the discovery to the eyes of other European powers through “a Papal Bull in 1493 that declared that Spain owned every inch of the Western Hemisphere and all the people contained within it had no longer any rights to their land. It belonged to the king and queen of Spain. That Papal Bull became the basis of European international law. So it’s a serious matter, not just a caricature of Columbus as a mercenary who thought he was going to Indonesia. With the Reformation in the 1500s and 1600s there was the breakdown of the Holy Roman Empire in England and the Netherlands and part of France. After the wars of the Reformation, these countries that are no longer under the rule of the Pope, they adopt that law. They say, ‘This applies to us too.’ One of the resolutions of the wars of religion was the Holy Roman Empire to concede that Protestant kingdoms can also have that right. That was the basis of international law, to arbitrate these conflicts among Europeans –with no protection whatsoever for all the native peoples concerned." (Dunbar-Oritz and Gilio-Whitaker 2017).

Rendering the other into fodder for oppression 

The researchers continue: "We always see 1492 as the beginning of an era of exploration, but actually it was the end of the first era of European exploration that led up to this international law. That was the six centuries of the crusades of the Holy Roman Empire, after the founding of Islam in the 6th Century. Those bloody campaigns built the basis for the dehumanization of the other, and particularly the darker other. It was the beginning of white supremacy at the same time, because of dehumanizing the so-called enemy, the adversary. This is particularly pointed in the Iberian Peninsula. When Columbus sailed out of the harbor on his first voyage that ended up in the Western hemisphere, another ship was leaving loaded up with rounded up Jews to deport. Two years later they deported all of the Muslims." (ibid.)

The exploitation of lands for resources and of bodies for enslaved labor, as motivation for Columbus' early colonial enterprise, can be read in the journal of the Genoese navigant and colonialist:
“All these islands are very beautiful, and of quite different shapes; easy to be traversed, and full of the greatest variety of trees reaching to the stars. I think these never lose their leaves, and I saw them looking as green and lovely as they are wont to be in the month of May in Spain. Some of them were in leaf, and some in fruit; each flourishing in the condition its nature required (...). There are also in the island called Juana seven or eight kinds of palms, which as readily surpass ours in height and beauty as do all the other trees, herbs, and fruits (...). It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion (...). I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of this metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed large vessels of gold, and in great quantities. I endeavored to procure them to lead the way thither, but found they were unacquainted with the route (...). I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.” (Columbus 2016 [1492]).
The extraction of primary resources and the expropriation of Indigenous land in the Americas along the extraction of enslaved labor from Africa through the trans-hemispheric enslavement trade, allowed a new and particularly massive accumulation of capital (Williams 1944; Quijano 2001). Silvia Federici notes that “capitalism may not even have taken off without Europe’s ‘annexation of America,’ and the ‘blood and sweat’ that for two centuries flowed to Europe from the plantation.” (Federici 2004, 103). For Karl Marx, these proceedings are "the chief momenta of primitive accumulation."(Marx 2010, 739). 

The commemoration of Columbus is the celebration of the current world order in which the lives of the nationals of the colonizer countries are treated as if they were worth more than the lives of the colonized and are granted more rights. The colonizers have freedom of movement and the colonized have infinite paperwork, deportations, and refugee camps. It celebrates that the history of the world and reality is told from their perspective. 

The commemoration of Columbus and of the 12 of October, is "a determining factor in global history, since it gives way to a new world order that is marked by the implementation of a model of exploitation of life that 527 years later, Indigenous peoples continue to reject, and which is marked by a genocide that is constantly updated in the struggles against extractive capital in the Amazon, in the Andes and of the peoples of the entire American continent. The 12th of October opens a historical chapter based on the exploitation of resources in the Americas and on the enslaved work of African peoples, and which makes possible the development of the 'West' and of racist, christian, patriarchal, hetero/cis-centric, speciesist, anthropocentric and developmental capitalism. A system that continues to this day and which is the basis of various social conflicts and crises. (...) The "discovery and conquest of America" is a foundational fable of European identity, and revising the logic and necessity of these stories is a pending task for those who are part of our struggles." (From a text read on an action on the 12th October 2019).


––– Indian Country Today. "Columbus is torn down set on fire and tossed in the lake."

––– Text of a demonstration organized with other Latin-American organized groups in Vienna in 2019.

Columbus, Christopher. 1492-1493. Journal of the First Voyage to America. (Accessed 16 Feb. 2019.)

Dunbar-Ortiz, R., Gilio-Whitaker, D., & Press, B. (2017). " All the Real Indians Died Off": And 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. Tantor Audio.

Varela, C. (1999). Miles H. Davidson, Columbus Then and Now: A Life Re-examined. Colonial Latin American Historical Review, 8(1), 108.

Quijano, Anibal. 2000. Coloniality of power and Eurocentrism in Latin America. International Sociology. 15. Jg., Nr. 2, pp. 215-232. 

Marx, Karl. 2010. Capital Volume I, in Marx/Engels, Collected Works (MECW), Volume 35.

Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. 

Williams, Eric. 1944. Capitalism and slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.


1) Our ancestors arrived in the Americas by multiple routes some 12,000 years ago.

2) Described as a European feat, the terms “discovery” and “conquest” of America, are normally contra-posed on two points: First, one cannot discover something that is already known by the millions of people living there. And second, a diversity of earlier seafarers are known or suspected to have reached the Americas, due to the countless plausible trips that the ocean currents and trade winds between Europe, Africa, and the Americas allow. I would like to add two additional notions by saying that the idea that a group of people could conquer a living ecosystem is a misguided concept. And that this is false even if it only refers to the people and the physical soil. How to speak of conquering a geography so massively enormous and difficult to access? Neither Columbus nor the following colonizers reached all the inhabiting groups and all the territories that comprise the Americas.

3) Columbus arrived to Abya Yala in 1492. He identifies it wrongly as Indies, and later it will be known as New Indies, West Indies, New World, New Spain and America. Names given by a different array of Europeans rulers and cartographers. 

4) An egg of Columbus or Columbus' egg refers to a brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact. The expression refers to an apocryphal story, dating from at least the 15th century (1565), in which it is said that Christopher Columbus, having been told that finding a new trade route was inevitable and no great accomplishment, challenges his critics to make an egg stand on its tip. After his challengers give up, Columbus does it himself by tapping the egg on the table to flatten its tip. The story is often alluded to when discussing creativity.

Read more:

Christopher Columbus and the History of Colonial Destruction. An African Perspective…/5409040

Christopher Columbus and the enslavement of the Amerindians in the Caribbean…/christopher-columbus-and-the-ensl…

Columbus True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery…/columbus-day-a-bad-idea_b_7…

Rethinking Columbus: