FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

“We’re Going to Ibiza!” Austria’s Coalition Government Falls

Video of the Ibiza Affair, showing Johann Gudenus (left), his wife Tajana (centre) and Heinz-Christian Strache (right) meeting with the woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch

I was in Austria for several days last week, attending a conference at the university in the Alpine town of Klagenfurt.

Austria is probably one of the last places on earth one would expect to have a major political scandal, but the repercussions of one occurred during the time I was there.

I was able to watch the swearing-in of Austria’s first ever woman leader on the evening news. Brigitte Bierlein will be the interim chancellor until a snap election is held by the end of September. A former chief prosecutor, Bierlein will lead a government of politically unaffiliated technocrats.

The snap election was called after Bierlein’s predecessor was ousted over a video sting scandal.

Sebastian Kurz, who was only 6 months into his term as chancellor, lost a confidence vote two weeks ago after his far-right coalition partner was caught on video promising lucrative contracts in return for political favours.

The so-called “Ibiza Affair” ensued when a German newspaper published a video of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader and the then vice-chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, meeting with a woman claiming to be a Russian billionaire at a holiday home on the Spanish island of Ibiza.

In the recording, filmed in the run-up to the 2017 election, the woman offered to buy the country’s leading newspaper and, taking a page out of Rupert Murdoch’s playbook, said she would change its editorial line to support the far-right party.

Strache fell for the ruse, and suggested lucrative public contracts could be awarded to the fake Russian billionaire in exchange for her purchase of the newspaper.

Strache resigned when the sting was made public, the government collapsed after parliament passed a no-confidence vote, and Bierlein’s temporary government of technocrats took over.

Strache’s FPÖ is one of the more successful populist far-right parties in the EU, with Strache using his cabinet position as interior minister to launch anti-immigrant policies.

The scandal had its lighter side.

The Dutch band Vengaboys’ song “We’re Going To Ibiza” became a number 1 hit in Austria soon after the Ibiza Affair erupted, and the band was invited by protestors to give a performance in front of the Federal Chancellery in Vienna days before I arrived. Vengaboys brought the downtown of the city of Beethoven to a standstill.

“We’re Going To Ibiza”, a sing-along vacation song about Spain’s version of Atlantic City or Myrtle Beach, was first released in 1999 by a different band and topped the UK charts at that time.

No one in their wildest dreams could imagine “We’re Going To Ibiza” ever becoming a protest song—Bob Dylan or Joan Baez would probably have seen it, rightly, as just so much dross. Here are the song’s lyrics:

I don’t want to be a bus driver
All my life
I’m gonna pack my bags and leave this town
Grab a flight
Fly away on Venga airways
Fly me high
Ibiza sky

I look up at the sky
And I see the clouds
I looked down at the ground
And I see the rainbow down the drain
Fly away on Venga airways
Fly me high
Ibiza sky

Whoah! We’re going to Ibiza
Whoah! Back to the island
Whoah! We’re gonna have a party
Whoah! In the Mediterranean Sea (This chorus is repeated 5 times!)

Far away from this big town
And the rain
It’s really very nice to be
Home again
Fly away on Venga airways
Fly me high, Ibiza sky

The Ibiza Affair represents a set-back for the right-wing populists seeking to form a mutually supportive network across Europe.

Populist parties did not do as well as expected on an EU-wide basis in last month’s elections for the European Parliament, despite making considerable gains in the UK (the Brexit party of Trump’s pal Nigel Farage) and Italy (the election of Mussolini’s great-grandson, and the return to politics of the 82-year-old billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, the latter perhaps something of a role-model for Trump with his ability to combine authoritarianism with spray-on tans and trysts with “models” and “starlets”, as well as hefty doses of corruption).

Unfortunately, Austria’s disgraced right-wing coalition is still likely to win the election in September.

An opinion poll published by the country’s Krone newspaper showed Herr Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) on 38%, better than the 31% it won at the last election.

The Krone poll, which is roughly in line with other recent polls, shows the FPÖ’s support down– understandably after its leader’s ill-judged jaunt to Ibiza—sliding from the 26% it won in the December 2017 election to the Krone poll’s 19%.

In Klagenfurt however there were no protests, and one of my hosts told me that its province of Carinthia, of which Klagenfurt is the capital, is an FPÖ stronghold.

Jörg Haider, the long-time leader of the FPÖ before he split from it, was governor of the right-leaning Carinthia on two occasions. Haider was an open antisemite, Islamophobe, and Nazi sympathizer (he once said Hitler’s “labour practices” were better than Austria’s).

Haider died in a crash while speeding and driving drunk in 2008, and another of my hosts told me those opposed to Haider are known to say the fatal drunk-driving crash was the only good thing emerging from his wretched life—his death late in the year (October) lent a major impetus to Austria’s annual Christmas anti-drunk driving campaign in 2008.

It is not difficult to see why Carinthia is something of a breeding ground for xenophobes. It borders Slovenia and Italy, and the Slavic and Italianate influences are visible everywhere.

I was told that causal ethnic stereotyping is fairly common: Italians (“lazy and unreliable”), Slavs (“horny and dishonest”).

But the heights of splenetic bigotry are reserved for Carinthia’s small Turkish community. As Muslims, they face not just rampant stereotyping but, in some cases, open violence from Islamophobes.

Next week I’ll be in China– unlike the dentist turned xenophobic politician Herr Strache, I have no reason or desire to go to Ibiza.

Kenneth Surin is emeritus at Duke University. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

 

More articles by:

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail