Protesters waved signs against racism and "Nazis" as members of Austria's far-right gathered to waltz at the Hofburg Palace. FPÖ head Heinz-Christian Strache used the event to denounce anti-Semitism in his party.
Tuxedos and ballgowns mixed with police uniforms and bundled-up protesters on Friday night as thousands took to the streets of Vienna to demonstrate against the Akademikerball, or Academics Ball, and its organizers, the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). The FPÖ recently became part of the ruling government coalition with the national conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) under Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
The ball has drawn protests every year since 2008 due to its reputation as a major social gathering for far-right politicians and supporters, many from mostly male student fraternities, known as Burschenschaften, that espouse radical nationalism.
The ball and accompanying protests came days after media reports that FPÖ candidate and fraternity member Udo Landbauer had used a songbook that praised Nazis and the Holocaust.
Thousands protest the FPÖ
The Viennese police reported that up to 8,000 demonstrators took part in the protests, while Austrian newspaper Der Standard put the estimate as high as 10,000.
The protests began around 4 p.m. local time. An hour later police sealed off the area near the Hofburg Palace, the former Habsburg residence in the heart of Vienna's 1st district, where the ball would begin at 8 p.m. Ball organizers expected around 3,000 guests, Der Standard reported.
Protesters voiced opposition to racism and cuts to social services. Many also waved signs and banners reading "Resistance" and "Don't let Nazis govern." Others held up posters of FPÖ leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Chancellor Kurz with a red line through their images.
Shortly after midnight, police released a statement saying the demonstrations had "proceeded peacefully." No arrests were made. Police have arrested demonstrators in previous years.
Fears of buses carrying violent protesters from outside Austria, particularly from Hamburg, Germany, were unfounded. "This tipoff never materialized," said police spokesperson Daniela Tunst.
Police said some 2,800 officers from across the country were on duty in the Austrian capital.
Anti-Semitism not welcome in FPÖ
The guest list for the black-tie ball included Strache and the leader of the far-right Identitarian movement in Austria, Martin Sellner.
Strache used his appearance at the event to condemn anti-Semitism among the ranks of the FPÖ.
"We have a clear position," he said in his opening speech at the ball. "Anti-Semitism, totalitarianism, racism, these contradict the ideas of fraternal societies.
"Whoever sees things otherwise should stand up and leave. We do not welcome them," he added.