Austria Is Silently Birthing A Rightward Revolution
On Sunday, Austrian politics were shaken. The outcome of their legislative election was not surprising to most, but it makes the result no less important.
Conservatism has been branded with a new and successful face under Sebastian Kurz. He takes Austrian politics rightward, perhaps even to the far right. It will end the chancellorship of Christian Kern, and mark the end of the ruling centre-ground for quite some time.
I have lived in Vienna for four weeks now. Political posters litter the streets and have done since my arrival. Billboards are defaced with graffiti and every other bus stop is peppered with slogans from the leading political parties. In the lead-up to the election, there was a tangible buzz in the air of excitement and anxiety.
Now one week after the election. Little is being discussed. Kurz’ ÖVP won the most seats, not enough to secure a majority but enough to front a coalition. His marketing machine churned out nearly 32% of the vote.
The question now is, whom do they coalesce with to secure their government?
Kurz has the option of the Social Democrats (SPO). Politically unmatched in many areas but a natural choice after they received the second-most votes in the preliminary polls.
Frighteningly, they are highly unlikely to be Kurz’ selection. The Freedom Party of Austria, or FPO, received 0.9% vote share less than the Social Democrats. They align with Kurz on issues such as immigration and the refugee crisis.
They stand openly on the far right. They are conservative populists, Eurosceptic and anti-immigration. More importantly, they have just claimed 26.9% of the total vote share in Austria.
31-year-old Kurz too has led his conservatives to the right. As Foreign Minister, the position he has occupied for the past four years, he claims his greatest achievement was closing a migrant route into Europe from the Balkans.
He has channelled this energy and scope into the ÖVP’s marketing.
Behind a slick, youthful image, Kurz has rebranded the face of Austrian conservatism.
His charm masks what can only be described as a ruthlessly successful politician. A man who could easily be mistaken for a supercilious villain in a James Bond blockbuster.
So, why so silent? If conservatism has been given a rebrand, surely this makes it less of a social taboo?
With over 57% of the Austrian population swinging rightward, you would presume an open embrace of Kurz would be inevitable.
Instead, the revolution seems to be more silent.
Few people are publicly discussing the state of Austrian politics. Perhaps it is too raw to acknowledge that over half of the voting population have chosen this way.
From the people whom have spoken to me about it, their persuasions are clear but lulled. “Perhaps it won’t be as bad as people think”, they muttered. Suggesting quietly that a right-wing/far-right coalition would not be all it is cracked up to be.
“A coalition of the FPO and the SPO would be much worse, it would get nothing done and would only be a temporary measure” they justified.
They are not wrong. Clearly, the tide of conservatism in Austria cannot be masked by an inter-ideological coalition. Sebastian Kurz is the rightful victor of the election, and his claim to the Chancellorship is clear.
But you would not know it.
You would not know that Austria is on the brink of a conservative revolution. But it is, and the effects may well be important to the rest of Europe and the world.