Austria’s democratic deficit disorder – POLITICO

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VIENNA — Delusion, Freud argued, shouldn’t be a illness however somewhat a part of a therapeutic course of. The daddy of psychoanalysis’ homeland is doing its greatest to show him unsuitable.  


Ever for the reason that sudden fall from grace of former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz — the political prodigy turned persona non grata — Austria has discovered itself in a collective daze amid persistent scandal, political upheaval and poisonous debates over the pandemic and the nation’s not-so-distant previous.

But as a substitute of cleaning the system with a contemporary election, the nation seems decided to soldier on as if all had been nicely.

It’s not.

About 60 % of the general public doesn’t assume Austrian democracy is functioning correctly and 90 % say the political system is corrupt, in response to a detailed study revealed final month.

As soon as a bulwark of stability, the ruling Austrian Folks’s Get together (ÖVP) has struggled to keep up its legitimacy amid rising mistrust of the federal government. Within the house of simply six weeks final autumn, the center-right ÖVP, which governs in coalition with the Greens, burned by two chancellors — Kurz and Alexander Schallenberg (who not too long ago returned to his publish as overseas minister).

After lower than a month within the scorching seat, the brand new chancellor, Karl Nehammer, is already flailing. Nehammer, a former military officer who served as inside minister in Kurz’s Cupboard, raised eyebrows over the vacations by claiming that his celebration “doesn’t have a corruption downside.”

Nehammer additionally precipitated a stir together with his selection of successor on the inside ministry, Gerhard Karner, a small-town mayor from the state of Decrease Austria. Karner unfold anti-Semitic tropes throughout a regional election marketing campaign in 2008, accusing the opposition of counting on “gents from America and Israel” to “poison the ambiance.” (After his latest appointment, Karner apologized for the feedback, utilizing the unusual excuse that he made them 14 years in the past on the tender age of 40.)

Karner can be an avowed admirer of Engelbert Dollfuß, who snuffed out Austrian democracy in 1933 and launched a fascist dictatorship primarily based on Benito Mussolini’s Italian mannequin. Dollfuß, whose Christian Social Get together was the precursor to the postwar ÖVP, was killed by the Nazis in a failed coup try in 1934 and has been revered by some Austrian conservatives ever since.  

Karner has a good deeper connection to Dollfuß, nevertheless. His hometown of Texingtal is Dollfuß’s birthplace. As mayor, Karner oversaw a museum housed within the small house the place Dollfuß was born. A plaque on the entrance describes the fascist dictator, who banned the opposition and had political opponents executed, as “Austria’s nice chancellor and renewer.”

Karner’s different declare to fame is that he labored as an in depth aide to former Inside Minister Ernst Strasser. Whereas serving as an MEP, Strasser was caught on video by the Sunday Times agreeing to amend laws in return for a bribe from purported lobbyists. He was sentenced to a few years in jail in 2014. Past that affiliation, it’s under no circumstances clear what would qualify Karner, who has a level in enterprise, to supervise Austria’s police and whole home safety equipment.

Live performance controversy

As Karner has tried to persuade the world that he’s not an anti-Semite (or a fascist sympathizer), Nehammer has been busy placing out the opposite fires he set.

Austrian chancellors historically attend the New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic on January 1. Broadcast around the globe, the occasion, which takes months to organize, counts because the cultural excessive level of the Austrian calendar and is attended by the nation’s political elite and various different luminaries from the president on down.

Nehammer excused himself from this yr’s live performance, saying that the “pandemic requires sacrifices from us all, myself included.”  


The chancellor obtained COVID-19 anyway. On Friday, he announced he had contracted the virus from one in every of his bodyguards. The next day, nevertheless, a photograph emerged exhibiting Nehammer sitting in a packed ski lodge over the New Yr that raised questions each about how he obtained COVID-19 and his rationalization for not attending the live performance.   

His spokesman insists the chancellor contracted the virus from a member of his safety element, however has offered no scientific proof to assist that declare.   

In most Western democracies — together with Austria’s — the tried-and-true treatment to political rot is a snap election.

Again in 2019, new elections had been known as simply hours after the discharge of a video that confirmed the nation’s then-deputy chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, plotting to promote affect. The colourful footage, wherein Strache supplied to engineer the sale of Austria’s largest tabloid and steer profitable state contracts to a lady he believed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch, was filmed secretly in 2017 by a non-public detective throughout a booze-fueled night in Ibiza a number of months earlier than Strache took workplace.

As damning because the tape was of Strache’s character, authorities didn’t uncover proof that he adopted by with any of the plans he proposed that night. However that didn’t matter.

“Sufficient is sufficient,” then-Chancellor Kurz declared as he pulled the plug on his coalition with Strache’s far-right Freedom Get together following the video’s launch. Kurz decried his associate’s “angle in the direction of abuse of energy, in the direction of coping with taxpayers’ cash, in the direction of the media on this nation.”

Trying again, Kurz’s feedback would seem to mirror what Freud known as “projection.”

Within the scandal that introduced down Kurz’s chancellorship, prosecutors mentioned they uncovered proof that he led a scheme to make use of public funds to pay for manipulated polls and to bribe journalists in return for fawning protection. Kurz and his associates deny any legal wrongdoing.    

Even so, the textual content message exchanges revealed by investigators between Kurz, his internal circle, journalists and pollsters paint a devastating image of Austria’s political and media advanced.

“We’ve by no means gone this far earlier than,” Thomas Schmid, a Kurz confidant on the heart of the affair, mentioned in a single chat, referring to the alleged media manipulation. “You get what you pay for. I find it irresistible.”

It doesn’t matter what the courts in the end determine, the injury to Austrian democracy is not any much less extreme than that attributable to the Ibiza affair.

It’s arguably worse: Whereas Strache by no means acted on his braggadocio, there’s little doubt that Kurz led a well-planned soiled tips marketing campaign to undermine his political rivals. The one actual query is whether or not it was unlawful.

Austria’s future is now not Kurz’s concern. After weeks of resisting, he relented and gave up his management of the ÖVP after beforehand stepping down as chancellor. He not too long ago introduced that he would go to work as an adviser to Peter Thiel, the German-born Silicon Valley billionaire.

And but the system Kurz put in place, his celebration and his handpicked ministers (together with each of his successors) stay firmly in place. The ÖVP, which received 38 % of the vote in 2019, now polls at round 25 %, second to the Social Democrats.

A brand new election is the very last thing the celebration desires.

However the largest impediment to a brand new election is the Inexperienced Get together, the ÖVP’s junior associate. Although combatting corruption is on the core of the celebration’s platform, the Greens’ management seems extra apprehensive about their prospects on the poll field.

Regardless of their considerations over political corruption (or possibly on account of it), Austrians are divided over whether or not to carry a snap election. In a poll launched in December, 47 % of respondents mentioned the federal government ought to stay in place, whereas 41 % advocated rapid elections and 12 % had been not sure.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, who has been central to protecting the state from collapsing amid the flood of scandal, has finished his greatest in latest weeks to maintain up appearances. In an effort to reassure the general public, he said over the New Yr that “Austria continues to take pleasure in a superb status” on the earth.

Due to the pandemic, most Austrians received’t have the chance anytime quickly to check that declare. Those who do will uncover how shortly delusion can evolve into one other situation Freud chartered — despair.  

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