Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache — leader of the right-wing, anti-immigration Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ or Freedom Party) — announced Saturday that he was stepping down following the release of a controversial video.
German-language media outlet Der Spiegel published video of Strache Friday night. In the footage, filmed secretly in Ibiza, Spain, in July 2017, months before he was named to the Vice-Chancellor position, Strache and others reportedly discussed how a Russian investor could obtain Austrian government contracts.
Among the suggestions offered in the video was the idea of this supposed Russian investor acquiring control of popular Austria paper Kronen Zeitung and using its reach to push FPÖ’s agenda to the public. In exchange, the investor could receive favorable treatment.
Strache denied any wrongdoing Saturday, but said he was stepping down from both the Vice-Chancellorship and as FPÖ leader because revealed acts he now deemed “stupid, irresponsible and a mistake,” according to the Washington Post.
“It was typical alcohol-fuelled macho behaviour in which, yes, I also wanted to impress the attractive female host,” he added, per the Guardian.
The 49-year-old had been head of the Freedom Party in Austria for about 15 years, helping to push its anti-immigrant message to the public. In the 2017 Austrian elections, the FPÖ managed to win around 26 percent of the vote. It then formed a coalition government with the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP or Austrian People’s Party), led by Sebastian Kurz, who was subsequently named Chancellor with Strache as Vice-Chancellor.
Strache’s anti-immigration rhetoric continued after the election, using far-right talking points like “population replacement” — the idea that traditional, white Austrians are losing ground to ethnic minorities. This was particularly alarming to some critics, given that Kurz had put the country’s Interior Ministry under FPÖ control.
With Strache out and Kurz declaring that “After yesterday’s video, I must say enough is enough,” it appears that the FPÖ/ÖVP coalition is over, with Kurz calling for a new vote.
Earlier this year, Strache said this was “a reality that cannot be denied,” according to Al Jazeera.
“We don’t want to become a minority in our own country. That’s legitimate and fair and deeply democratic,” the Guardian quoted Strache as saying on the topic.
Strache also recently lost a court battle with Austrian left-wing group, Linkswende Jetzt (Left Now) over a video created by the group stating their opposition to Strache and the FPÖ. The videos featured large drawings of the iconic image of country singer Johnny Cash flashing his middle finger. Each segment of the video ended with the leftist supporters proclaiming “F**k Strache!” as they also extended their middle fingers.
The then-Vice-Chancellor had sought to block the video, claiming it violated the country’s defamation and disparagement law, but both a trial court and an appeals court ruled that the clip was shielded by Austria’s free speech laws.