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What does the Freedom party scandal mean for Austria?

Monocle 24: The Foreign Desk

27:13 min | 2 years ago

What does the Freedom party scandal mean for Austria?

"Earlier this week, a video was released, which showed Australia's vice-chancellor conducting an unwisely amenable conversation with someone claiming to be connected to Russian money in the video shot on either in two thousand seventeen Heinz Christians rocker of the ultra-conservative Freedom Party appeared to be offering government contracts for political favors. He has now resigned and the Freedom Party has quit the government plunging Austrian politics into crisis. It is an extremely we'd scandal. Indeed verging on inexplicable, if you are a remotely sensible politician is only one rational response to any suggestion by anyone with a Russian accent, that quantity, rubles might be on offer in return for certain surreptitious services rendered that one sensible response. Is this stand up? Thank them for the drink and declared as loudly. And as clearly as possible in the direction of any lamp shades handbags that might be secrete. Eating cameras that you are. Absolutely not interested. Not now not ever. Not for the first time angry. Populists have demonstrated themselves temperamentally unsuited to actual governance. Can Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz survive this and seeing as how he brought these dubious far-right Yahoos into power does he deserve to this is the foreign desk? He tried to distance himself from this a little bit, and tried to portray himself as having been sort of transformed, but that infect was not completely true and could took one and a half years. Now to say that this is really enough. And he didn't do this. I mean this video just showed too much of the moon face of his coalition partners. You don't have to take very far to understand that Russian money per meets European politics in a really big way. Loads of Russian money makes its way into European parties through think tanks through various kind of campaign. Pledges. There is a huge problem post himself as somebody who suffered who week demised himself for the nation for the country. But this is sorry to say nonsense, because it was him who built this collision, it was also him who would have had so many possibilities and options to say something nobody told him to suffer. You're listening to the foreign desk with me, Andrew Miller on today's show. We'll take a detailed look at the scandal, which has both up ended and bewildered. Australian politics and ask, if there is a lesson here for voters elsewhere, in Europe, considering supporting populist outsiders, like, for example, don't but I currently of Monaco's correspondent in Vienna outlines what has become known as I beat the gate. It's hard to convey to the outside world, the extent to which the scandal has gripped the Australian imagination everyone who was talking about it in every cafe in every home up enough to guess drinking video was, he comes Alexandrian, a quarter of the population watch that historic speech by chancellor Sebastian courts last Saturday. The one where he said that enough was enough skin. Skin is and that was in the same night as Eurovision and in the spirit of vision. The scandal has given a new lease of life to this nine thousand nine hundred nine hit song by the she adults group, Bengals gets cold. We're going to be, so it's at the top of the charts in Australia. Why? Well. Because of course it was on that Spanish on that the secret video was recorded. Seriously, though, the video came as a complete bombshell, but the fact that it was the Freedom Party, the FBI mass down. So spectacularly was actually not that surprising until compared to if the social Democrats and the conservatives have long very long tradition on their values on their ideology on their programmatic basis, and this is quite different to f f is a party that opposes and not creates. And this is one answer why they always fail by themselves, did Luke was a spokesperson for the former conservative chancellor, Vulcan Schuessel, who also led a coalition government with the F the in the early two thousands. She was that, when that government collapsed would say their challenge is not being. A responsible party who governs? It's more being a party of the opposition. And this is a different role and blow up. It was their own failure. It was not the failure by others. Nobody would think about having another if a if a coalition for the next future. So I think they really knocked out themselves. Is in trouble then. So is the of a pay the conservatives, but things could go either way for them. It all depends on whether their leader chancellor courts survives the no confidence vote on Monday courses being under five using the fat his own ends, and Fulmer coalition with the F the fest place. His public statements have the past week. Have also come in for some criticism. He post himself as somebody who, who suffered two week demise himself for the nation for the country. But this is I'm sorry to say nonsense, because it was him who built this nation it was him. Baba taught is reporter working for the Viennese weekly defaulter, the only Australian publication that was given access to this talk video before it was released. She's written a biography of court since she's been watching his behavior in the public's reaction stood closely Ostrom people. They're beginning to scrutinize in to deconstruct would he's doing because. It's, it's easy now to see. I'm the anchor and I will guarantee stability, but people are beginning to ask, who's he takes responsibility for this crisis, and that's him. So it's going to be not so easy for him to have the same run during the election. Like trees Sebastian codes loses the no confidence vote on Monday. He'll remain the most popular politician in the country. But what does all this mean for the? All the all fall ride going to slip from political infamy into political obscurity. Alost word from baba told no Mike, my answer would be no. Because we believe experienced the end of the F in the beginning of two thousand to two thousand three some thought, it's the end in the one thousand nine hundred eighty s so I would be very careful to say. It's the end let's, let's remember, do not Trump during his campaign when this recording. When pop Nick, where he talked about what he does with women, and everybody was shock. Then everybody thought this is going to be the end of Donald Trump. And he was he was elected. Similar to this. I think it can even help to mobilize Motus, who will see the effects, the something. Francs to Alexi Carlisle, multiples. Correspondent in Vienna. Join now by Tessa Shishkov. It's and Nina's. Schick Tessa is the UK correspondent for the Australian weekly magazine, Profil Anina, Schick is a political commentator who has worked across Europe, both join me in the studio, he in London tests. I think it's fair to say that the subject of Australian politics doesn't come up very often in the non Austrian world. But this is a pretty big deal, isn't it? It's a political earthquake a week ago we were sitting in Vienna. And we thought this far-right government would be in place before two eight years because chancellor Sebastian quotes was really successful. And it looked as if he would be able to pull the F word far-right Freedom Party along with him for quite a while. The fact that this video was published and showed what basically people knew that this is a party of far-right crooks who are in bed with Russian forces around, PU. Sins party and maybe secret services, all these kind of unpleasant, things that were not outspoken, but were more or less known now has just proved the point that the far-right Freedom Party is not capable of being in government. And so this appropriately ended their reign and this completely changes now the entire political landscape in Australia, because it's unclear if Sebastian quotes as the lead of the People's Party, the conservative, right? Can sustain his popularity on the circumstances or not, or just want to follow that up before we look at the wider implications of this, and there is clearly a great deal to unpick here. But I think win the Freedom Party got into government, the reaction around the world was was fairly aghast, but also quite bewildered as to how this would even be possible. This is a party that was founded barely ten years after the second World War by an actual. Fulmer SS officer, which you would hope at that point would not be helpful savy. And yet there it is in government in a western European democracy. How is it possible to explain that? How does that even happen, especially in the country with Australia's history? This is really the thing we have a Nazi twist to everything we do because of our history. So you would have hoped that the Austrian population is sensitive enough to not bring people like this into government, but they didn't. And partly this is due to a phenomenon that we see in Europe all over that far-right policies, which are often called national populists or something like that. I think it's this is a way of making them look a little bit prettier than they are. So they all campaign on anti immigration policies on anti Islam propaganda, and and these type of things in this country. You have twist with the European Union hostility, but also the hostility towards the European Union was part of the FBI. Ideology up till Brexit, because since then we know that it's not so easy or not prefer to leave the European Union just like that. And you're right, that the FBI was founded by former Nazis to collect the voices in a way that was legitimate, because you also need to start a new face a new democracy. So to not have them being able to vote would not have been an option. They also transformed, of course, over the decades and over the generations. The surprising thing is like how far right this f boo that is currently has been in government till Saturday. Now is and was there's a leader Hans Christian track who's sort of main actor in this famous video, now, who in his youth was playing neo-nazis sports game in the woods in the forest around Austria, and he tried to distance himself from this a little bit, and try to portray himself and his group of leaders in the F. As having been sort of transformed in are far away from this early use arrows that they made. But that infect was not completely true and could took one and a half years now to say that this is really enough. And he didn't do this voluntarily. I mean this video just showed too much of the real face of his coalition partner millionaire as Tessa profiles, the peo-. The they are quite a, a singular bunch of charms. There is a tendency when we discuss far-right populism in Europe to think of it as if not necessarily a monolith, then a linked phenomena that, it's, it's all much. The same thing is, is that the case where the Freedom Party is concerned, or are they specifically Australian phenomenon for the reasons that the tests, are outlines, I think, as Tessa very eloquently, laid out, they are specifically Austrian in many ways. And I think the really interesting thing is the specific Nazi history and twist because obviously I'm German, so it's. Slightly different in Germany, the atmosphere. Vis-a-vis the Nazi connotations than how this has been traditionally, you know, more bubbling closer to the surface in Austria than in Germany and not that it's wiped out in Germany. But there are some factors that unite all these far-right parties in Europe. And I think the biggest one is, of course, that they present themselves as the parties that have recognized an existential threat to identity European identity, where whatever that is in your national context, Christian values, and they see someone as the perpetrator of destroying that identity, right? And in this case, it is immigrants and almost, I would say that they have some kind of Saito populist bent because in the absence of policy, you need to find scapegoats to blame for all your woes. So that may be the EU in the nineties, it was immigrants from different parts of Europe as you Slavia. Was breaking up more recently, it's been refugees fleeing war from North Africa in the Middle East. And so, I think they are United in this existential battle for identity. And I think that fundamentally what they do very, very well, is that they present themselves as the real Democrats. They say that they are standing up for the people, and I think that, that's something that all of these parties have in common Tercel, we will come back to the Freedom Party. And what this means for the they might do next. I wonder what else about Johnson Sebastian cuts and it possibly seems like an idol question given what has unfolded in the last week. Or so in the fact that he, he does now face a confidence vote and an early election, and it may end up ushering him tools, an extremely early retirement from frontline politics, but leaving Sony the association with the Freedom Party and again, are recognized that is a substantial caveat. How has? He been doing well he's extremely popular. And this is why we cannot be sure how the scandal plays out because the two schools of thought and both are infused by wishful thinking one is his critics who say, like he has been a part of this disastrous coalition. And he has failed to, to a successful thing, so he should go the other part in it might be the bigger part of the Austrian electorate who brought him to power in the first place is saying, okay, so he realized that you cannot govern with the F the losing votes. Now, we will see now on Sunday in the UP in union elections, how they are doing, but it might be that people say he's still the only one of all the politicians in the front line in Austria, who can build a center, right, coalition together, maybe with one or two other small parties, which will come out of the new elections in. Timber as potential coalition partners. I think it's over for the effort, they are sort of burnt, they will not come back to coalition government now in your future. Maybe in twenty s again, we have to every twenty years actually, but at the moment it's over. But if courts can use the scandal for himself to present himself as a stable hand or if he falls over it, this is to be seen. We cannot be sure his big advantage. Is that the opposition is relatively weak because the social Democrats, they're still polling at around twenty seven percent. So the, you know, the SPCA in Germany can only dream of that they are not as a small party, but they are not very successful in pushing opposition policies and hunting the government now for everything they've done. So the, the leader of the social Democrats is very capable politician, who is not very happy to attack. And now is the time, of course, to attack a government that is. That has been failing in to such an extent that it's falling. It's political crisis. That is bigger than anything. We've seen since since the second world worry really Tursun mentions the both the, the EU elections and the, the concept of wishful thinking where we're in a slightly, curious interregnum as we go to where on the Saturday that we don't know what the results of those elections are. And they are a these weird you elections in all sorts of countries for all sorts of reasons. But looking at them overall, is it possible to think of them as some kind of referendum on populism? I think that's certainly how it will be framed in many of the kind of postmatch analyses. Right. And I like in twenty fourteen which was the last time we had these elections, the kind of anti EU anti-establishment parties across the continent will do well lost time around. They want about a third of the seats in the European parliament. But it is also important to remember that when. You consider the political spectrum. It is not only the parties on the quote unquote far. Right. Who are going to be doing well, there are loads of other parties that are going to be doing well, you know, the greens on the left socialists. So this is much more a story about the fracturing of the traditional parties and the center in terms of what these parties will actually do when they constitute the new European parliament. Absolutely. There will be some crazy loony bins in there. But will they be able to work together because they are not a coherent block? You know, for all the kind of coals of Nigel Farage going to it's late. Call Lega Nord to block or an extension request, and so on and so forth. They are similar broadly, in terms of ideological bent or campaigning tactics. But they all have their own priorities, which is very, very much dependent on the national context in which they arise. So I think the big story of the European elections inevitably will be populous wave sweeps Europe. But I think that. Actually, what you're seeing is a splint tring of the traditional parties, and it's important to remember that for some of these parties, even they've been around for a long time f one twenty seven percent of the vote in one thousand nine hundred ninety I think there were even in the government in two thousand they've had a long and turbulent history with European Union. So if you are coming at it from the view that, oh my God. It's worse now than ever. Well, yeah, it probably is quite bad. But remember the historical context just a the frame that same question about the idea of these you elections as a referendum on populism, and focus it. Once again, on, on the Freedom Party, which is where we came in is it possible this scandal. And it is a monumental scandal, actually won't affect the mole that much in terms of their popularity because the one thing that populists all over the world have had in common is an understanding of the som undefinable power of shamelessness. Is that likely to be the tech that the Freedom Party? Well on the one hand they were very apologetic. Now, they really, really felt that that's unusual. And it also it was really, they were whiny self pitying in their press conferences incredible. Yeah. And less unusual the warning every, but they were sort of struck a himself, sort of the politics to his wife because he made some comments in this video of over the seven hours of drinking, and what else that were quite sort of, you know, unpleasant and embarrassing for him. But I think that if we will try to survive this by presenting itself, a little bit more moderate nicer. So they now announce the new candidate for elections in autumn. So they're trying to keep out an on the sideline a little bit more radical voices in the FBI if that works or not. We will see they, I think a really burnt for the moment. I also don't think they will really have a big election success now because people feel slightly disgusted they went. A little bit too far with all of this. And a lot of their voters could actually go to Sebastian coots, or back to the social democrat, so that we will see an in Australia. It's, it's not clear to sit in on the European level. It will be quite interesting. If the scandal has the same effect as Brexit that these parties, don't get so many votes that these ideas, they represent are not popular anymore. But unfortunately, Australia, very small country, you know in the polling today. I think marine Le Pen had the same level of support in McCall's movement. So I'm afraid that the effect of the schlock of video will not be, so as great as we would hope maybe I'm actually quite surprised and perhaps this is because Australia's a much smaller country, you know, that they didn't go down the route of what we're seeing in some other countries specifically in the United Kingdom, and the United States when an Opole Titian is called with his pants down, or her pants down. They just go down the denied deny. Latent. So what if I did it and double down? Right. So the fact that in. Yeah. Populist play you just refuse to accept any responsibility for anything and it plays. So well, with your base, obviously, no in Australia. But in other countries that has it doesn't matter what the politician does or says, as long as you deny, and you continue to say that, you know, somebody's trying to smear you or your the victim of a conspiracy campaign. The facts do not matter their form like quite interested in why in Australia, this has reverberated such an extent, and why Shawwa didn't actually try to stick it out. It's really on a video, how he tries to sell to hand over state contrary. You offer state contracts, still some as in Austria. I think you would have you would have difficult is in other countries through to really say, like two Russian oligarch, whatever that she can buy into Australian companies and media enterprises. And for doing that in helping they have to win elections, then get state contracts in infrastructure that are now going to, you know, a free competition of tenders. I mean it's incredible that he said something like that. There is a potentially. I think why the point the Nayna that ridiculous and scandalous, though the video was it did at the very least show elected politicians in serious, western country, definitely showing willing to take Russian money. Does that suggest that Russian money might actually be even more of a thing than we might already suspected is how absolutely I mean, you don't have to take very far to understand that Russian money per maids, European politics, in a really big way and not only through direct. Loans from Russian banks or deals with the Kremlin. I mean, the FAA actually even publicly had a five year agreement signed with the largest party in Russia. This wasn't like cauti- under the, you know, swept on the carpet loads of Russian money makes its way into European parties through think tanks through various kind of campaign. Pledges. There is a huge problem, but it's important to point out that Russian meddling in European politics, is not necessarily ideological in the sense that they only support far right parties, Russia's tragedy, and improve in very clearly stated this when he pivoted in about two thousand twelve after they had another UN well rigged election in Russia and became quite clear that Russia under Putin was not gonna come a democracy that he saw the e EU as an existential threat, an die wrecked threat to his own vision of kind of Eurasian, customs union, therefore, anything that we can see you is in his long term strategic interest. And this plays out in Europe by Russia, sowing discord, so just as they fund parties of the far right? There are also known to have links to parties of the far left. I'm thinking about parties like de linka in Germany, Russian money, Russian influences all over your pin politics. But of course you can't say that. That's the reason why our politics is Flint touring. There is already something rotten. They're, they're pulling at the threat in the sweater or want to go back to where we came into at the top of this show is at all possible. Do you think that this scandal might have taught a plurality of Freedom Party voters in Austria, something of a listen, if you look at the Facebook pages of the politicians who resigned now he'd be astonished how much support they still have? I mean, the conspiracy theory that I don't know them. Sad plant that this video or foreign forces that are not as kind to us as the Russians it might be. Germans, it might be German comedians who were behind that in order to smear bad mouths, the of the Freedom Party politicians, all these things are pretty out there. So I would hope that it has an effect of education, political education may be interested in extended probably has because there will be more and more information coming out. This is just the iceberg the tip of the iceberg. Now that we understand that strategy was just not walking away when he was offered non-clean money coming from Russia. He did not get up and leave at that point. He said there for another hour few hours and discussed it to the how they could handle this money into Austria. So in that respect, I think they will be much more. Coming out, more stories over these last eighteen months that happened in that government, and we will see how this will be looked at in the next few years. Let's hope that people understand the point that this, this type of party should not sit in government. So, so she. So she covets an initiative. Thank you, both very much for joining us. But is it for this episode of the foreign desk, where back next week and look out for the foreign desk? Explain available every Wednesday. The foreign desk is produced by Yolene Goffin and Bill Lucci. Bill, also edits the program. My name's Andrew Miller, thanks very much for listening and until next time goodbye.

Freedom Party Australia Europe Austria European Union Freedom Party Germany FBI chancellor far-right Freedom Party chancellor Sebastian Russia Vienna Andrew Miller Sebastian Schick Tessa Fulmer United Kingdom Donald Trump Sebastian Kurz