Ibiza-gate: a political morality tale / News / News agency Inforos
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Ibiza-gate: a political morality tale

The plot and staging of the scandal involving the Austrian Vice-Chancellor are worthy of Bertholt Brecht

Ibiza-gate: a political morality tale

As you know, Heinz-Christian Strache, by now former vice-chancellor of Austria and chairman of the Freedom Party (FPÖ), along with his party ally Johann Gudenus, who claimed the post of Vienna Mayor, had been secretly filmed in Ibiza while meeting with "a Russian oligarch's niece."

This pretty girl, as it turned out later, was not from a rich family, and not even Russian. She played the role of bait and successfully fulfilled her only task — to get the two Austrians talking for camera. Relaxed by alcohol and a casual atmosphere, the politicians saw a prospect for getting big sponsorship money for their party and rise even higher through the ranks and threw caution to the winds. As a result, a total of seven hours of video footage were shot.

The published record shocked the Austrian public, with especially sharp impression caused by three aspects revealed by the Ibiza conversation. First, the Austrian business is ready to pay millions of dollars to parties useful, including the FPÖ, but above all Sebastian Kurtz's Austrian People's Party (ÖVP). And to conceal this fact, there are secret channels through which the "Russian oligarch's niece" was also offered to make a donation. In return she was promised returned favors like, for instance, government contracts.

Secondly, the Austrian politicians offered to make money off the privatization of Austrian drinking water and its redirecting from the Alps to Germany — the only question was how to share the profits. And finally, the discussed monumental-scope plans to take control of the media landscape of Austria: to purchase the largest newspaper, to privatize the Austrian radio and to dismiss unwanted journalists — everything by the example of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as Strache put it in the conversation.

The Ibiza video was shot in 2017, shortly before the last parliamentary elections in Austria, following which the ÖVP and the FPÖ led by Kurtz and Strache respectively, formed the ruling coalition.

There are various assumptions about why the video was not published until now, and why someone had to wait this long before passing the record on to the German newspapers. There is a good chance that the answer to this question is known by the FPÖ or the special services, who were just waiting for the right moment to cause maximum damage to the FPÖ and throw it out of the government, and then take advantage of a good political climate for the Kurtz party in the new elections. But it might also be a conspiracy of the right-wing populists' ideological opponents dissatisfied with FPÖ's becoming part of the ruling coalition. The real course of events remains unclear.

Speaking well for the involvement of the special services is the professionalism of this entire operation which required considerable experience and proper technical equipment. In this case the mission could have been aimed at blowing all the far right parties in the EU at once. Before the European Parliament elections, support for these parties (the National Front in France, the Northern League in Italy, the FPÖ in Austria, the AfD in Germany, etc.) increased markedly, and the political establishment of the European Union feared that they could form an extremely strong and influential bloc in the European Parliament. Thus, there is every reason to suspect the involvement of major EU countries' intelligence services.

On the other hand, there was also quite a number of those willing to remove the FPÖ from power in Austria itself. Among them were the ÖVP, and representatives of the Austrian police and intelligence services close to it. Various right-wing extremist excesses and provocations associated with the FPÖ pressed upon the ÖVP and harmed its image. The police and special services were not comfortable with personnel changes carried out by the Minister of Internal Affairs representing the FPÖ.

The Ibiza video release would weaken the FPÖ and then allow Kurtz to dissolve the ruling coalition and demand a new election hoping that many moderate supporters of the discredited FPÖ would move to the ÖVP camp. If that is what the calculation was, everything works out well — according to social surveys, the FPÖ is leaping ahead of all the other parties.

Finally, it is entirely possible that behind this were the liberal and left-wing forces that have a rooted objection to FPÖ's participation in the government, because its leadership is still strongly influenced by German-nationalist and neo-fascist movements.

For the time being, squawks are being heard from the FPÖ, as it seeks to expose itself as a victim and thus turn the situation against its enemies. This creates an impression on part of the FPÖ voters, blinded and ready to throw the book at the much-hated migrants. But there is no escaping the facts. People who constantly spoke about homeland, patriotism and protection of "hardworking" Austrians from evil foreigners, appeared as corrupt scammers and an obedient tool in the hands of big finance. And they provided a spectacular example of democracy being diluted amidst economic disparity.

The political fate of Strache and Gudenus was sealed. After the ÖVP tried to put the crisis to the purpose of strengthening its influence in the government office at the expense of the FPÖ, the latter withdrew from the coalition, and Kurtz's government was dismissed by a successful vote of no confidence in the parliament.

Now Austria is led by the so-called "expert government", which will operate until the early election scheduled for autumn. During this period of time, the parliamentary majority may vary depending on issues on the agenda, as, for example, in case of enforcing the party finance law. However, Austria's foreign policy will remain unaltered.

The resigned chancellor has meanwhile launched a new election campaign and is now presenting himself to the Austrian public as a guarantor of stability and security.

But what was the basis for the "harmony" and putative stability of the previous government? The FPÖ gained power, appointments and spheres of influence, and besides, the ability to freely pursue its harsh policy against foreigners and stoke ethnic tensions. And the ÖVP, which was no stranger to using the migration issue in the election campaign either, received, in its turn, a loyal associate to implement its genuine plans, i.e. the so-called "great reforms".

It's not like they managed to achieve a great deal in solving pressing issues, but when it came to fulfilling the wishes of the bourgeoisie and big finance world, they took it very seriously. A 12-hour working day and a 60-hour working week were allowed, with the expansion of working hours taking place alongside a weakened role of workers' councils in dealing with labor management issues.

The second major "reform" was the deprivation of workers' rights in the social insurance system and the transfer of all the powers to employers, as well as a reduction of contributions guaranteeing social benefits. The third reform was a squeeze on the minimum income, that is social payments to those not enjoying unemployment benefits. Here, the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition had completely worked out the order paid for with sponsorship money.

Mr. Strache demonstrated a morality tale, the plot and staging of which are quite worthy of Bertholt Brecht. But while in Ibiza he was only indulging in fantasies about sponsorship money, others were turning those fantasies into reality. The ÖVP did really get a lot of money in gratitude for its policy. The figures are partly known, as well as the names of sponsors and customers from the so-called "upper class" of Austria. But how much is it yet to be found out?

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