For more than a week Austria is in a state of political crisis. The scandal that broke out there shook the position of right-wing politicians just ahead of elections to the European Parliament (May 24-26), where their success was anticipated.
A video published on May 18 showed Vice-Chancellor of Austria and FPÖ chairman Heinz-Christian Strache (on holidays at Ibiza, as turned out later) talking about his next steps if elected as Vice-Chancellor with some alleged “niece of the Russian oligarch”. As is claimed, the video was shot in the middle of the 2017 parliamentary elections, when the current government headed by the ÖVP and FPÖ parties was formed.

The 2015 refugee crisis made an increasingly sharp topic of political debate in Austria and Kurtz has played well on it, with his experience of real opposing the domination of legal aliens in his capacity of Foreign Minister.
While Kurtz was extremely careful in his statements and his party generally tended to centrism, the position of Vice-Chancellor, the second person in the country, was intolerant to refugees and sceptical of the European project as a whole. Thus, it was supposed to introduce measures aimed at refugees, such as a night-time curfew, limits on admission quotas, as well as reduced hourly wage for public works, from 6 to 1.5 euros. The opposition among the “red” (Social Democrats), “green” and “pink” (liberal party “New Austria”, NEOS) sharply criticized such measures and predicted the ensuing collapse of the entire social system of the Austrian Republic, which is largely based on public welfare and aid.
Criticism from the “left-wing” is voiced more and more often: right-wing parties gained strong positions in countries where they have not been very strong by tradition: Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and France. Position of the “left-wing” at the regional and municipal elections was strongly shaken. Though not all “right-wing” dream of reforming the European Union or keeping distanced from it, this is an issue of concern to many European politicians. Thus, ahead of the EP elections, French President Emmanuel Macron told that “the main enemy of (united) Europe is the one who doesn’t believe in its future”, meaning “populists”.

It is small surprise that the mention of some “niece of the Russian oligarch”, whom Vice-Chancellor Strache allegedly promised to buy one of the largest Austrian media, caused great alarm of many politicians, both in the country and beyond.
In its latest report, the EU Task Force on Strategic Communications (East StratCom Task Force, established after 2014) accuses Russia of “corrupting Europe” by reinforcing right-wing discourse in the EU member states. While remaining a neutral country and “a bridge between the West and the East” in the times of the Cold War, Austria stated sharply that it was alien to such political scandals and called for a settlement of the situation.
Indeed, there is no doubt that the media-hyped talk between the Vice-Chancellor and the alleged “niece of the Russian oligarch” is a fake, because, firstly, the Russian businessman Igor Makarov was an only child in a family and has no niece, while the woman on the video is a Latvian citizen. Secondly, Mr. Strache says on the video nothing unacceptable that violates Austrian law. Obviously, if the talk did not involve the allegedly Russian woman, such a political reaction would have been unlikely.

The Vice-Chancellor Strache caught on the video co-starring the “Russian woman,” has already resigned, taking the Ministers – his party fellows – away with him. The result was that half of the government seats assigned to Kurtz’s allies got vacant and this week the Chancellor himself was given a vote of no confidence. Consequently, Austria would be left without a government until new parliamentary elections are held in September 2019, brokered by the President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen. It is unclear what place will be taken by Heinz-Christian Strache, already in opposition, as well as the ambitious 33-year-old former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

It is also obvious that in Austria, as well as in some other European countries, new provocations and “shrill denunciations” of legitimately elected political figures can happen because of their real, alleged or fabricated contacts with the Russians. The Austrian events, which coincided with the European Parliament elections, split public opinion not only in this country, but across Europe and triggered serious discussions about the pervasive practice of removing undesirable politicians through barefaced provocations hyped by certain mass media and political forces.
Recently, the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung reported, referring to unnamed sources, that the role of a “niece of the Russian oligarch” was played by Bosnian college girl who was paid 7,000 euros daily for taking part in the provocation. The girl was picked up through casting to fit Strache’s taste. The investigation identified that, in addition to alcohol, psychotropes were used at the meetings to get the Vice-Chancellor to talk. The customers of this operation are not yet known by names, but the key version is revenge for the policy of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party.

Evgeny Romanovsky (Vienna, Austria)