The country is a farce, like a villain who isn’t very good at it. The governing coalition between the right and extreme right in Vienna sought to transform Austria, but ended up mired in ridicule.
The grotesque comedy set in an Ibiza villa is nothing more than the juicy prologue for the coming denouement. All the protagonists claim to be victims. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz complained that he got stabbed in the back by his government ally. The latter, the nationalist-xenophobic Heinz-Christian Strache, claimed he had been the victim of an obscure plot, “a honey trap stage-managed by intelligence agencies” that supposedly made him confess to improper ambitions and demonstrate blatant stupidity.
The real scandal, however, has nothing to do with the “betrayal” of the national-populist leader who was so intent on changing Austrian democracy and turning it into a sham—rather, it lies in the very fact that he and his party were allowed into the government of the country and entrusted with key positions.
Kurz is not a victim here. He is guilty in every way. Now, before the early elections, which will take place in September, he is struggling to disentangle himself from the presence of the ministers from the FPÖ, Strache’s party. That includes the powerful Interior Minister Kickl, who is the one in charge of investigating the misdeeds of his party colleagues. Besides, the Austrian right has a rich history of declaring themselves victims of something in which they were clearly complicit.
With a crude ideological arsenal full of childish mythologies, such as what the European Right has to offer at the moment, they are an irresistible flytrap for adventurers of every stripe, and of no talent whatsoever.
The Austrian affair shows, better than any argument anyone could ever make, what we might face if there is an alliance between the major parties of the center-right and the nationalist and xenophobic parties across Europe which are now getting attractive percentages at the polls. In the Western core of the European Union—with the exception of Italy, whose government includes a party enamored by the FPÖ, and, of course, Austria—one can still find antibodies that are keeping the most radical right away from government. But these antibodies don’t exist in the eastern part of the old continent.
The European People’s Party has already had its problems with the indigestible Victor Orbán and his “illiberal democracy,” whom they can’t seem to manage to kick out, but merely “suspend.” Now, one can bet that they will come to the defense of Kurz—even though he and the whole government in Vienna are actually responsible for the government’s own members and their unconscionable behavior.
In 1974, then-Chancellor Willy Brandt tendered his resignation because one of his closest colleagues, Günter Guillaume, turned out to be a Stasi agent. Although the information he had supplied to the RDG was not of significant import, Brandt still took political responsibility for the incident, which cast a pall over the Ostpolitik policy of detente with East Germany, and, as a consequence, left his post. It’s highly doubtful that the current Austrian Chancellor, a popular figure, will do the same.
Even though now-former Vice Chancellor Strache’s overtures towards Russia are as irrelevant in terms of substance as Guillaume’s spying, the damage to the country’s image is enormous, and trust in the government in Vienna is at an all-time low. But Brandt lived in other times, and was a character of a much different stature. Far from even considering leaving his post, Kurz is instead hoping to steal enough votes from his imprudent allies to lead a one-party government after the elections. Thus, we have a “dirty” electoral campaign to look forward to, during which Austria’s image will only sink more and more.
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