German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have rushed to take advantage of the government crisis in the neighboring Austria for their own political goals, uniting in a crusade against the right-wing populists.
As Austria is reeling from a scandal involving Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, which put the Alpine nation on a brink of snap elections, in Germany, politicians and officials of almost all political backgrounds snatched at an opportunity to demonize the ‘right-wing populists’ … and teach their neighbors how they should do politics.
“Europe is a union of countries that have decided to cooperate on a basis of common values,” Merkel told journalists in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, answering a question about the situation in Austria. “We are dealing with movements, populist movements that despise those values in many aspects and seek to destroy the Europe of our values, so we have to oppose them.”
A video showing Strache and his close aide discussing potentially illegal quid pro quo arrangements with a ‘Russian business woman’ is being presented as an ultimate ‘proof’ that the right-wingers are not to be trusted, by the German mainstream political elites, who have been struggling with a surge of rightist sentiments among the German population. In the light of the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament, they apparently decided that an Austrian crisis centered around a right-wing party that made it into a ruling coalition two years earlier was a perfect reason to remind their voters – and the rest of Europe – what the true European values really are and who are their enemies.
Germany’s top diplomat – the Foreign Minister Heiko Maas – was blunt in his assessment, outright calling the right-wing “enemies of freedom.” His colleagues from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which suffers a historically low level of support, according to the recent polls, promptly followed along with unsolicited advice to Austria’s Chancellor.
“Sebastian Kurz has no other option but to put an end to this government immediately and apologize for entrusting responsibility to the splitters and provocateurs like Strache,” the SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil wrote on Twitter. The Social Democrats’ deputy head, Ralf Stegner said that the scandalous video “showed the stupidity and depravity of the right-wing radicals for everyone to see: corrupt, undemocratic, dangerous.”
The German Green Party leader Robert Habeck said that it was “time to draw a line,” while his fellow party member Annalena Baerbock told Welt am Sonntag weekly that “this outrageous scandal shows that right-wing populists despise our values such as press freedom … and work systematically to erode democracy.”
The co-chair of the German Left, Bernd Riexinger, also took a jab at Strache’s Freedom Party by saying the political force that used to portray itself as the defender of ordinary people turned out to be the party of “the rich, corrupt and brazen.”
The only German party that did not vent its anger over the political scandal in Austria was the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). “The FPO is a close partner of ours,” said the AfD co-chair Joerg, adding that he would not “stab” the allies in the back because of an “isolated issue.”
The scandal sparked by the leaked video, which was first published by two German news outlets prompted Strache to resign both from the post of Vice Chancellor and the position of the FPO head. Yet, he also called the leak a “political assassination.” Amid a public outcry, which saw thousands of people staging a spontaneous protest in Vienna, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced snap elections. Austria’s President Alexander van der Bellen called it “the only way to restore trust in public institutions.”
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