Saint Sebastian (Kurz) – an Austrian martyr?

“It seems I am to be blamed for everything!” With such a retort to the accusation of corruption, Austria’s chancellor on call, Sebastian Kurz, staked out his line of defense. Since the ÖVP’s coalition partner, the Greens, have certified him unfit for office because from now on he would be mainly concerned with justifying himself to a judiciary that accuses him of systematically embezzling taxpayers’ money for ad campaigns in favor of his own party and person, it is foreseeable that he will be toppled on Tuesday next week by a vote of no confidence by the opposition and his coalition partner, the Greens. Will this end Sebastian Kurz’s meteoric rise to the position of Austria’s youngest chancellor ever?

The answer depends on whether and how quickly the Vienna Corruption Prosecutor’s Office succeeds in proving his guilt so conclusively that as a politician with a criminal record he will have no chance of making a comeback. According to all we know so far from the seized chats between Kurz and his political henchmen, such a verdict should be very likely, indeed almost certain. However, the time factor plays a decisive role. If – as to be expected – it takes a year or even longer for the judiciary to reach a final verdict, then the interim period could very well lead to a simmering state crisis in Austria. Let’s assume that after Kurz is voted out of office next Tuesday by a vote of no confidence by both the Greens and the three opposition parties, SPÖ, FPÖ and Neos, the Austrian government as a whole will have to step down because the ministers of the ÖVP, made it clear that in unbreakable loyalty to Kurz they too would resign. In that case, a coalition comprising both the opposition and the Greens could take charge, presumably with Rendi-Wagner, the designated leader of the SPÖ, at its head. That would be a misfortune for Austria because such a government would certainly fail in no time, not only because of the sneers of the ÖVP, first and foremost those of its deposed martyr Sebastian Kurz, but even more because of internal self-destruction.

Just think about the people who are coming together! Ms. Rendi-Wagner is an honest, very educated, clear-thinking woman – in other words, a positive-thinking intellectual – whose only, but unfortunately decisive flaw is that she only convinces those who are just as honest, educated and think as clearly as she does. But that is a vanishing minority, to which the working class, i.e. the classic clientele of the SPÖ, rather does not belong. For his part, the leader of the Austrian Free Democrats, Herbert Kickl, is known for his special and rather elementary understanding of truth – true is what he himself says and represents. This contradiction alone would cause the new coalition to break up and lose all credit within quite a short time – and I did not even mention the fundamentally different positions of the Greens and Neos.

In other words, such a coalition would be a disaster for Austria, because a majority would probably long for a strong Chancellor Kurz after just one or two months. Fighting against such a public mood – longing for the martyr Saint Kurz and growing discontent with the new government – would make the work of the judiciary much more difficult. Arguably, this would also be the case in the event of a new election, which would probably still be clearly in favor of the ÖVP – after all, the Orbanization of Austria by means of ad-buying has not been pursued in vain …

I see a way out of this muddled situation only if the ÖVP recalls its democratic tradition and its Christian values and finally shakes off the spell to which the undoubtedly very clever, extremely skillful, and even charismatic populist Sebastian Kurz has subjected it. He succeeded in making a party docile and personally committed to him that used to be known for its diversity of opinion. Within the ÖVP he created a “family” of devoted courtiers operating via chats and in conspiratorial circles, whose machinations are only now gradually coming to light. I am afraid that this spook cannot be brought to an end by the opposition and the Greens. That is why we must put our hope in the forces of self-renewal within the ÖVP, the Austrian People’s Party. Only when and if within this party the opponents of an undemocratic “Orban-ization” of Austria step out of the shadows and summon up the courage to stand up to a man who has crossed a red line not only of political decency but of Austria’s democratic constitution will the country be saved from political self-destruction. Only in this case would Alexander van der Bellen, the Austrian president, be right in his optimistic assumption that this is not a crisis of state.