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Foreign Policy

Austria Faces Political Scandals, Voter Apathy



VIENNA—Lately, Austrian politics have been stricken by a gentle stream of scandals. From secret deals at a luxurious villa in Ibiza, Spain, to doctored opinion polls funded by taxpayer cash to laws changed to please rich donors, the Alpine nation has seen greater than its share of political drama, and the ensuing investigations have uncovered widespread corruption throughout Austrian politics, enterprise, and media. 

Simply final week, an in depth aide and confidant to former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was booted out of the conservative Austrian Folks’s Social gathering (OVP) over his position in a collection of corruption scandals throughout Kurz’s tenure. And the week earlier than that, prime editors at two of the nation’s main media retailers had been forced to resign when chats surfaced displaying their too-cozy relationships with politicians.

Austria is much from the one nation the place frequent scandals and allegations of corruption have change into the norm. In america, regardless of his position within the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol and inflammatory rhetoric about election fraud in 2020, former President Donald Trump has launched a bid for reelection in 2024—and has impressed a slate of election-denier candidates throughout the Republican Social gathering, a few of whom simply received election this month. And the UK is on its third prime minister this 12 months after Boris Johnson after which Liz Truss stepped down on account of numerous scandals.

VIENNA—Lately, Austrian politics have been stricken by a gentle stream of scandals. From secret deals at a luxurious villa in Ibiza, Spain, to doctored opinion polls funded by taxpayer cash to laws changed to please rich donors, the Alpine nation has seen greater than its share of political drama, and the ensuing investigations have uncovered widespread corruption throughout Austrian politics, enterprise, and media. 

Simply final week, an in depth aide and confidant to former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was booted out of the conservative Austrian Folks’s Social gathering (OVP) over his position in a collection of corruption scandals throughout Kurz’s tenure. And the week earlier than that, prime editors at two of the nation’s main media retailers had been forced to resign when chats surfaced displaying their too-cozy relationships with politicians.

Austria is much from the one nation the place frequent scandals and allegations of corruption have change into the norm. In america, regardless of his position within the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol and inflammatory rhetoric about election fraud in 2020, former President Donald Trump has launched a bid for reelection in 2024—and has impressed a slate of election-denier candidates throughout the Republican Social gathering, a few of whom simply received election this month. And the UK is on its third prime minister this 12 months after Boris Johnson after which Liz Truss stepped down on account of numerous scandals.

However Austria demonstrates extra clearly than most the insidious impact these scandals can have on the state of democracy, even when these liable for the corruption and scandals face penalties: Over time, voters change into desensitized to the most recent allegations and consider the whole system with a mixture of suspicion and resignation. 

“In fact, there’s an awesome disillusionment throughout the inhabitants but in addition an perspective of, ‘Nicely, yeah, we’ve at all times recognized it’s like this. It’s not new,’” stated Peter Hajek, a Vienna-based pollster. “There’s a sure sense of calmness about it: On the one hand, you’re offended, however then again, [you’re] a bit disillusioned and annoyed as a result of that’s simply the best way it’s.”

In 2019, the so-called “Ibiza affair made worldwide headlines and upended the nation’s politics after German media revealed video footage of Heinz-Christian Strache, then-head of the far-right Freedom Social gathering of Austria (FPO) and soon-to-be vice chancellor, making offers with a lady he thought was the niece of a Russian oligarch at a luxurious villa in Ibiza in 2017. The scandal’s fallout toppled Austria’s governing coalition and launched a collection of investigations into a spread of prime politicians and aides.

The ensuing probe since then has, in a gentle trickle of revelations from prosecutors, uncovered shady dealings throughout the Austrian political system—and had penalties for these concerned. Strache was convicted of corruption final 12 months and is on trial for separate corruption prices this 12 months. Final October, Kurz, whose meteoric rise to chancellor at age 31 made him the envy of conservative events throughout Europe, was forced to resign on account of allegations that he’d used taxpayer funds to fee doctored polls and bolster his personal picture.

This fall, the case took a dramatic flip when Thomas Schmid, a former shut colleague of Kurz’s, agreed to testify towards the previous chancellor. His testimony, during which he spoke explicitly concerning the methods Kurz directed him and others then working within the finance ministry to misuse authorities funds, might result in prices towards Kurz. (Kurz has denied all allegations.)

Not lengthy after Schmid’s revelations, newly launched chats between prime editors in Austrian media and prime politicians confirmed the extent to which some within the media collaborated with and sympathized with politicians in authorities (together with Schmid himself). An editor on the Austrian public broadcaster ORF texted with Strache to complain collectively concerning the left-leaning tendencies of the community. And the editor of the newspaper Die Presse, Rainer Nowak, texted Schmid congratulating him on a promotion, saying Schmid ought to use his new place to assist Nowak get a coveted gig at ORF: “Now you need to assist me with ORF,” he wrote, and Schmid replied, “Completely.”

On the one hand, the wide-ranging investigation and its fallout throughout totally different sectors of politics and society present that democracy nonetheless works in Austria: Those that have achieved one thing unsuitable are dropping their jobs and dealing with penalties. A lot uncovered corruption makes it laborious for these in energy to keep away from making adjustments sooner or later.

“Any sliver of believable deniability is simply gone,” stated Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik, a political scientist on the College of Vienna. “To me, that is fairly wholesome: Now we have now plain proof that this stuff are taking place, so it turns into inevitable to do one thing about it.”

However then again, the extended trickle of scandals huge and small has strengthened a long-standing perception among the many voters that folks in energy inevitably do shady issues. In the long run, this may additional erode belief not solely within the politicians themselves however within the establishments they signify: If all politicians are corrupt, what does it matter anyway who’s in cost or whom you vote for? 

“What most of the scandals do is to disclose the rottenness of many components of Austrian politics, media, and enterprise,” Ennser-Jedenastik stated, likening the scenario to a free string that, as soon as pulled, retains unraveling. “We’ve had a gentle stream of corruption scandals for many years now—both belief [in government] was already fairly low, so it’s not taking place that a lot additional, or it’s not registering as a lot” nowadays.

Shortly after Kurz’s departure in 2021, his OVP did slip within the polls: After peaking at 44 % within the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now polling in third place behind the center-left Social Democrats and the far-right FPO. However the newest cascade of revelations is doing little to maneuver the electoral needle: Polls have been comparatively steady in current months.

Barring an actual bombshell, Hajek stated new allegations are unlikely to have a huge impact on the totally different events’ assist. 

“It’s a basic Austrian perspective,” he stated. “There shall be no revolutions—you simply come to phrases with it.”

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