Interview by Milota Sidorová, edits by Michael Higgs
How did you get into politics?
My mother is a teacher of French and history and as history is something that changes with the influence of politics, my family would discuss political topics on a daily basis. This was the first step towards my political career. My father has a company which owns a wind and water powerplant. I graduated from university with a master’s degree in urban technology for energy and the environment.
Upon graduation, I came across a book by Stephane Hessel who wrote the first catalogue of human rights after the First World War. He was 93 years old when he wrote it. His main message addresses young people who are only looking for a nice life for themselves but who are not active in society or getting politically involved. I went to a session where he spoke and I was truly impressed. Coincidentally, at this event I met a Green party member and that was the beginning…
What are your daily duties in the regional parliament, what do you handle?
We are not in the coalition, so I cannot change as much as I had hoped. My job is to supervise what the coalition and government are doing. But politics does not happen only in the parliament, it is so much more than that. It is also about networking and constantly talking to the people. It is about connecting to the people and discussing the sides of proposals and agreements.
With more extreme parties getting into power, how do you talk to those people with different values?
My responsibilities include migration and integration, so I must discuss a lot with the FPO (the Freedom party of Austria). The discussions in parliament are very harsh. In these moments it is difficult to think that people from far-right parties are just people with their needs.
However, I think it is the wrong approach not talk to them because of their political views. In these moments I focus on why I am there, what my aim is to discuss and to focus on the matter. I think of those people on whose behalf I am there (and since they are vulnerable) and that gives me a solid base.
Do you find the positions of male and female politicians to be different?
In the Green Party we are feminists, 100 percent, and we have a 50/50 composition of men and women in all positions. This policy also makes me a Green party member, rather than a Socialist. But outside of our party, and it doesn’t matter if it is in the Austrian, Slovak or German parliament, there are simply not enough women. A considerable problem in Styria is rural depopulation – especially, a lot of young women moving from the countryside into the city. The reasons for this are often complex; they range from jobs, education and cultural offers to childcare.
Leaders in shrinking communities are often puzzled by this depopulation as they have no awareness of the realities of life for young women – how should they be able to represent these women politically? Therefore, it is even more important that women must get active themselves and start to co-create their home towns. We women must bring attention to what many male politicians do not see.
The Green Party has lost in both Austria and the Czech Republic and is relatively absent in Slovakia. How do you think the Greens can reconfigure themselves so that they can once again attract people to their side?
This is a difficult question. First of all, I think it is important that there is a strong green movement everywhere. Questions on how to handle climate change are crucial for all of us because without proper policies there is no future for anyone. When we look to history, it seems we care more for environmental issues after major catastrophes – such as Chernobyl or Fukushima. Also, the Green Party emerged in Austria within the context of these first nuclear issues.
Yes, it seems that as a society we must hit the very bottom before we care for the environment again. But what we do see is the rise of materialism and consumerism. Central European populists are building on the narrative of protecting individual property. How can we reverse this narrative to care once again for the environment (that which we share in common)?
This is a major question for all the parties of the left in the Austrian spectrum. At this moment I think we have lost the right language by which to engage the people. We often make the mistake of unreflectingly adopting the language of the conservative and populist parties. One example is the discussion about the refugee movement in 2015.
Right-wing parties were talking about a flood of refugees. The pictures they transported by this were pictures about an unstoppable catastrophe falling in like a natural disaster. This has created fear in people's minds and made them forget that this is about people who have fled war, death and family tragedies. We have to find our own language again, empowering people's empathy and hope, not their fear.
You are a mother of two kids - how do you balance your work and your family?
Our son is three months old and our daughter is three and a half years old. I can handle this job only because my husband is really into his family and currently on paternity leave. Frida is already in Kindergarten, which makes things much easier. I was on maternity leave with her, now my husband is with our son. On the whole, we try to split all responsibilities equally. However, it is often challenging to bring together family and a political career. It only works because we both pull together.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I am doing this job to create a better future for myself, my children, my husband and everyone else. This is the foundation of my motivation. I want to be a part of the regional government, to be part of the parliament. I see myself in politics.
How would you motivate women who are not aware of feminism to rise up and get politically active?
One of the key points is to take responsibility for the society in which we live. Nowadays its even more important to take action and to frame the conditions in which we act towards each other and how we treat one another. Everybody wants to create a better world for their kids; isn’t this one of the most powerful forces to get active?
Lara Köck is an Austrian politician and a member of the Green Party serving for the Styrian Parliament. She is their speaker for topics of energy, education, integration, youth and women. She is also member of the Green Party Austrian Board and Styrian Board.
Lara Köck was born in 1986 and studied urban technologies at the University of Applied Sciences, FH JOANNEUM in Kapfenberg. In 2012, she joined the styrian green party.
Lara is the mother of two children, ones 3 months and the other 3 years old, and lives with her husband in Graz, Styria.