Media Monitor | Austrian Headlines You Might Have Missed

A quick-and-dirty synopsis of recent headlines in Vienna.

Real Operetta or Merely a State Crisis?

In the early hours of February 28, public prosecutors accompanied by armed police stormed into the Office for Protection of the Constitution and Anti-Terror (BVT). They spent hours clearing data from the department responsible for extremism, which insiders suspected had dossiers implicating some close to the FPÖ (the junior partner in the ruling coalition). The Vienna weekly Falter then published excerpts from internal documents probably seized in the raid, which show the BVT was indeed investigating a far-right news platform with anti-Semitic and pro-Russian tendencies as well as links to the FPÖ.

Curiously, the BVT is part of the Interior Ministry, headed by the FPÖ’s own ideology guru, Herbert Kickl – but the raiding prosecutors’ report to the Justice Ministry (Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s ÖVP) and their enforcers were not the usual Federal Police (Interior Ministry) but the ESG, an elite, anti-street violence unit of the Vienna Police (founded by Wolfgang Preiszler, anti-drug coordinator of the Vienna Police Department and FPÖ councilman in in Guntramsdorf).

A few days later Minister of Justice Josef Moser went on-air to explain that the anti-mafia style raid was justified because the head of the BVT (Peter Grindling, an ÖVP man) had been denounced (anonymously) for failing to delete certain files. Already in October 2017 it emerged that his department had – at the request of another government agency – produced forged North Korean passports to aid our South Korean allies. Grindling has since been temporarily suspended by Interior Minister Kickl, while the opposition vowed to investigate the whole affair.

Need to Know

The FPÖ (Freedom Party) has a long history of flirtation with shadowy neo-Nazi groups and individuals. Many posts in the new government have been filled with Burschenschafter, members of the generally hard right student fraternities.

What Others Said

The daily Kurier headlined, “BVT-Affair: An embarrassing error of justice exposed.” OE24. TV added: “Scandal surrounding the mysterious raid on the secret service.” Respected German weekly Die Zeit: “The raid was supposed to have been downplayed, but instead was bungled.”

Tyroleans Opt For Stability in Regional Elections

Tyrol is the part of Austria that, justifiably, likes to call itself the heart of the Alps. Regional elections to the Tyrolean Landtag (regional assembly) on February 25 showed it to beat steadily on, with hardly any changes in the results. The ruling conservative ÖVP under Landeshauptmann (state governor) Günther Platter won 44% of the vote, gaining almost five percentage points.

The social-democratic SPÖ finished second with 17%, followed by the right-wing FPÖ with 15%. The Greens got a welcome reprieve from their downward trajectory with their result of a bit under 11%, only slightly less than four years ago. And the liberal Neos and the regional Liste Fritz also both made it into the Landtag, both just about clearing the 5% threshold.

The reaction of the parties echoed the relatively uneventful results: Platter and the ÖVP celebrated confirmation, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz vindication, opposition leader and ex-Chancellor Christian Kern of the SPÖ a rebound and the FPÖ’s H.C. Strache a gain. Platter’s new government will be a continuation of the existing coalition with the Greens.

Need to Know

Tirol is home to Austria’s highest mountain, the Großglockner (3,800 m., over 12,000 ft.). With a population around 750,000 its busy people earn 105% GRP (5% over the national average)

What Others Said

“I don’t want cranks from the left or the right.” – re-affirmed Tyrolean Landeshauptmann (regional governor) Günther Platter on possible coalition partners.

Protests in Slovakia Following Murder of Investigative Journalist Bring Down PM Fico

On Monday, February 26, Slovak authorities found the bodies of Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée at their home in the outskirts of Bratislava; they had been shot dead days before in the first targeted murder of a journalist in Slovakia’s modern history. The outcry was immediate and ferocious. Politicians condemned the killing while Slovaks organized spontaneous vigils. But political reassurances of an investigation were not nearly enough.

As it emerged that Kuciak had been investigating political ties to the Italian mafia in the highest echelons of government, anger in the population grew. Tens of thousands s took to the streets in more than 46 cities in Slovakia in what has become the biggest protests since those in 1989 that led up to the Velvet (in Slovakia “Gentle”) Revolution. Under mounting pressure, Slovakia’s Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák stepped down on March 12, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico followed with his resignation on March 15.

But demonstrations go on, as the protesters feel that their demands for a “decent Slovakia,” have not been met yet. They demand early elections.

Need to Know

The murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée have set off a firestorm of public protest and ongoing demonstrations, putting the Slovak government under intense pressure.

What Others Said

“Our whole family got a bullet to the heart.” – Mária Kuciaková, sister of murdered journalist Ján Kuciak.

George Soros’ Embattled Central European University to Open a Campus in Vienna

Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros set up his privately financed Central European University in 1991 in Budapest and Prague. What seemed like a generous philanthropic gesture was a political issue from the start: The Czech government pressured the Prague campus to close in 1996.

In recent years, Hungary’s authoritarian government has been ratcheting up the pressure on the campus in Budapest. The root problem is the Soros Open Society Foundation’s commitment to accountable democratic institutions, something Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party does not welcome. Despite a virtual Lex Soros aimed at forcing the CEU to close, the Hungarian government has now given the university until January 2019 to comply, but only after immense pressure from Brussels.

However, what looks like bad news in Budapest could be good news for Vienna: In the last few days the city government announced it had signed a deal with the CEU to open a new campus on the grounds of the historic Steinhof mental hospital, the Jugendstil complex designed by Otto Wagner. A temporary campus is likely to open in 2019, the permanent one in Vienna’s 14th district likely to be completed in 2022, creating about 1,500 university places and about 1,000 jobs, according to the Vienna Business Agency.

Although the partners are referring to Steinhof as an additional campus, observers see it as a smart move by Soros to create a fall-back position in the event his CEU loses its accreditation in Budapest. You don’t get to be a billionaire without planning ahead.

Need to Know

George Soros, born György Schwartz 1930 in Budapest, moved in 1956 to the U.S. and began a successful career as a hedge fund investor. His legendary coup was in 1992 when he bet against the British government that the pound would be devalued – and won. His reward was $1 billion. In recent decades, Soros funded various civil society initiatives for democracy and human rights.

What Others Said

“It’s the opportunity of the century.” – Mayor Michael Häupl (SPÖ)

Social-Democrats Win Carinthia in a Landslide

Carinthia has always been different: Austria’s southernmost state, bordering on Italy and partly occupied by Tito’s partisans in 1944, a vigorously vociferous Slovenian- speaking minority and the base of success of the late nationalistic populist Jörg Haider. Politically, the picture is equally counterintuitive: rural and intensely conservative – with a large social-democratic vote.

The election March 4, 2018, produced a resounding victory for the Social Democrats (SPÖ), who gained more than 10 percentage points – and a much-needed boost for the party’s battered national leader, ex-Chancellor Christian Kern. Four smaller parties, the Greens, the Neos and ERDE, failed to reach the 4% threshold, leading to the unlikely arithmetic that all three major parties gained seats.

Carinthia’s SPÖ leader Peter Kaiser achieved 48% and 18 seats in the 36 deputies Landtag (regional assembly) but fell just short of the absolute majority, so will have to choose a coalition partner. Only Haider’s old party, the FPÖ, finishing with 23% and 9 seats, or Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s newly renascent ÖVP, 15% and 6 seats, or the small Team Kärnten (TK), 5% and 3 seats, can bring him the votes he needs.

Closed-door consultations continue, but the smoke signals on Saturday, March 17, suggest a partnership with the ÖVP as most likely.

Need to Know

Carinthia’s population is just over 500,000, a quarter of Vienna’s. With a GRP (gross regional product) at 84% of the national average, it is responsible for Austria’s biggest postwar financial scandal: political abuse of the Klagenfurt-based Hypo Alpe Adria bank caused it to crash, leaving taxpayers with a bill of €17.8 billion.

What Others Said

“Kaiser should get himself a Carinthian suit.” – ORF Radio Kärnten street interview on election night, reference to the urbane Peter Kaiser’s apparent disdain for traditional local attire.

The Editors
The Editors
This was written by the Metropole editorial Team. Sometimes its an expat, sometimes a native, most of the time the lines are blurred, and sometimes we're sharing someone else's content, but we always say so. Oh yeah, and buy our magazine! Thanks.

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