The story is based on footage showing the former vice-chancellor of Austria, Heinz Christian Strache, and Johann Gudenus, a protege of his – both leading members of the Austrian Freedom Party, an extreme-right party and one of the most important parts of the organized right in Europe. They are in conversation with a – supposedly – Russian woman claiming to be the niece of a wealthy Russian investor, vying to invest a sizeable amount of dirty money in Austria.
The published bit of the conversation is part of a six hour long video that was shot in July 2017 in a mansion in Ibiza. The German newspapers decided only to publish a fraction of the material that seemed politically relevant to them. The setting of the conversation was clearly staged and – as is now a certain fact – was a deliberate and very elaborate trap. It is not known who the persons acting as potential Russian donors are nor who helped to fool Strache and Gudenus and who leaked the footage to the German newspapers (and btw. a German TV-comedian as early as April 2019!) The two Politicians have since resigned.
On Saturday, Austrian chancellor Kurz (of the conservative Austrian People’s Party) dissolved his coalition government with the Freedom Party, with around 10,000 people cheering on Vienna`s Ballhausplatz; they had waited for 10 hours for him to come to terms with this decision after knowing of the scandal for at least 48 hours. (Strache and Gudenus knew that proof of their dealings had been circulated for at least a month!) In the footage you can clearly hear Mr Strache ranting about journalists, trying to persuade the supposed Russian oligarch’s niece to buy into Kronen Zeitung – Austria’s largest and most influential tabloid newspaper, purge journalists, establishing a ‘Hungarian Style’ media landscape. He offers construction deals with extra profits for the potential Russian investor.
You can listen to an – increasingly intoxicated – adult making a fool of himself. You can catch a glimpse of what is on the mind of a leading figure of the extreme right. You can learn about the conspiracy theories that drive a political operative of that cast. It is in many respects a horror short movie. The rest of the footage – supposedly – has him spreading personal rumours about other politicians and will eventually surface when the perpetrators of that stunt see fit or necessary to use it.
There are two things I would like to stress. Firstly, the footage has Mr Strache offering the public Austrian water supply facilities to the supposed donor: This is a clear contradiction to his then stated policies. He tells the actor/ oligarch about well-known Austrian donors to his campaign – all of them circumventing Austrian party donation legislation (all of them since denouncing these statements). He describes their sole purpose of tax relief as a quid pro quo for these donations. These statements will not come as a surprise to you or even the electorate. But you have a key operative of the political right, up until Friday the 18th of May a common photo-shoot guest of LePen, Salvini, the fast changing operatives of AfD and so forth, on the record as selling out his country, deceiving the public. This might be useful to you.
Secondly, the mysterious origin of the footage and the supposedly well-organized and financed forces behind it are disturbing in two ways: not only is it worrying that a member state of the EU is governed by such individuals, but also that the means of their downfall are not political and at the hand of the public, but by stunt and plot. There were thousands of people cheering in the streets of Vienna – very few of them affiliated with one of the major or minor opposition parties, I might stress. It is true that for over six months there has been growing outrage in the streets – there has been a very successful re-emergence of the so called ‘Donnerstagsdemos’ (Thursday demonstrations) famous from the years 2000 to 2003).
In the end this abysmal government was brought down by forces not known, not accountable maybe not even political (a criminal background might just as well be taken into consideration). The footage not only gives testament to the stunning squalidness of the personnel of the extreme right but also to the impotence of their opposition, whether they be liberal mainstream or from the left. We might welcome the outcome but we should be alerted by the procedure.
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