Monday, November 29

Austria’s government collapses over scandalous Ibiza video



Fake Russian collusion in Austria led to the demise of the nation’s government last weekend, and could result in criminal charges for a top far-right leader.

The scandal has rocked Austria to its core, providing a blow to the growing clout of nationalist, anti-immigrant parties in Europe. While viewed as a local affair by some, it’s a political crisis that could potentially span the continent.

On May 17, German media released a video showing Hanz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, talking about a deal with a woman who claimed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.

The video, filmed in 2017 inside a glamorous Ibiza vacation house, shows Strache and a party colleague speaking with the woman for six hours about how she could use her money to influence Austrian politics.

This was the crux of the plan: The woman would make possibly illegal donations and buy a 50 percent stake in an influential Austrian newspaper, allowing her potentially to make its coverage more friendly to the Freedom Party’s cause. In exchange, Strache would award her with lucrative government contracts.

The politician went on to say in the video that he hoped to build a media landscape like Hungarian President Viktor Orbán did, clearly admiring the authoritarian who has decimated the free press in his country.

But here’s the twist: The entire episode was a setup. The woman, Alyona Makarova, is not related to a wealthy Russian, and the villa contained many hidden cameras throughout. At one point during the conversation Strache grew suspicious, turning to his party colleague in the room, Johann Gudenus, to say, Trap, trap, it’s a trap.

But his concerns seemed to diminish over time as he continued to discuss the deal. He never went through with it, but it’s clear he had no clue the discussion on its own would come back to haunt him soon after.

Okay, so a far-right politician made some troubling statements two years ago. Why is Austria’s government crumbling now?

Austria’s is a federal parliamentary system, with a chancellor as the head of the government. Basically, voters choose which party they want to form a government, and the head of that party typically becomes the boss.

Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, came under immense pressure when he made a deal with the Freedom Party in 2017 to form a governing coalition. The hope was that his more moderate center-right party would drag the far-right junior members closer to the center.

Instead, Kurz received sustained criticism as some Freedom Party members made racist comments, berated the press, and aimed to interfere in investigations of far-right extremists.

In order to pursue our agenda and bring about change, I had to be willing to endure quite a lot, Kurz told Bild, the German newspaper. Now, he says, the Freedom Party has destroyed itself.