Sebastian Kurz Eyes a Comeback in Austria


There are two versions of Sebastian Kurz. Once the microphones are switched off as well as there are no photographers nearby, the mask disappears. His hands stop waving around as he speaks as well as he can be no longer as careful about weighing each word. The meticulously curated facade of the statesman begins to fade.

One-on-one, the friendly Mr. Kurz can quickly become caustic. He starts disparaging rivals who, back in their journalist days, just “wrote what they were told,” as well as he ridicules leading leftists who pretend to represent the proletariat however send their kids to the most expensive private school in Vienna. Kurz also complains about critics who try to slap a far-right label on him “even though I’m not a fascist.”

Once the 33-year-old Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s youngest-ever chancellor, gets into campaign mode, This kind of’s hard to stop him. On This kind of evening, he has already been working for 13 hours by the time he arrives at the traditional Steinerwirt Hotel inside town of Zell am See. On the outside, he maintains an air of formality. “Could I please have a glass of water as well as a cup of chamomile tea?” he almost imploringly asks the waitress. as well as, even more striking, when his admirers ask to take a selfie with him, he’s the one who thanks them afterward.

Outwardly, his appearance can be impeccable; inwardly, he’s obsessed with power: that will’s how his critics see him. He’s “completely free of ideology,” some say. Others call him politically “unique however soulless,” say he can be driven by a cool “intoxication with power” or accuse him of being as “unscrupulous as he can be clueless.” Such words come through top Austrian politicians, national laureates as well as publicists. Kurz reads their scathing judgements inside morning papers, however when he goes out into the earth to visit voters down in southern Tyrol or inside village of Oberpullendorf near the Hungarian border, another picture begins to emerge: Kurz can hardly escape the throngs of admirers waiting for him.

One Scandal After Another

For 17 months, Kurz served as the youngest chancellor in Austrian history, as well as his approval ratings remained consistently high. Then, in May, DER NewsGerman as well as the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung published the Ibiza video unmasking Kurz’s coalition partner, Heinz-Christian Strache through the far-right populist FPÖ. The Austrian government promptly collapsed as well as plunged the country into one of the most serious political scandals of its postwar history. brand new elections are set for Sept. 29 as well as Kurz can be keen to return to power. As the head of the conservative ÖVP party, his chances of success are not bad. According to polls, he as well as his party have an unassailable lead: 42 percent of those surveyed — an even higher result than two years ago — say they would certainly like to see Kurz return to the Chancellery.

The left-liberal Viennese elites’ criticism of the former head of government leaves Kurz’s followers indifferent. however what about Kurz himself? Those who had the opportunity to watch the 24-year-old state secretary for integration become a very young foreign minister as well as ultimately a 31-year-old chancellor have noticed that will Kurz has become more distrustful as well as thinner-skinned. The man who always wanted to be in control of everything has been forced to realize that will there are some things recently that will he lost his grip on.

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This kind of wasn’t just the Ibiza video, in which the FPÖ chief Strache as well as his deputy Johann Gudenus made Austria look like a banana republic. There was also the scandal in which one of Kurz’s staff members had hard drives through the Chancellery destroyed under a false name. There were also several secretive ÖVP party donations, as well as then there was the overly flattering “official biography” of Kurz.

The Vienna-based weekly Falter also recently published internal ÖVP documents that will shed unfavorable light on the party’s supposed savior. The documents not only revealed Kurz’s 2017 election strategy to beat the FPÖ with its own populist weapons, they also seemed to depict a party in severe financial distress that will was overly dependent on rich donors. The party’s 2017 election campaign costs were several million euros above the legally permitted limit.

While Kurz likes to post photos of himself flying economy, he can be said to have signed off on a flight for himself to Rome in a private jet for 7,700 euros ($8,500). There were also generous monthly consulting fees for party loyalists as well as lavish expenses for make-up as well as “hair grooming” for the ÖVP chief — partly subsidized by the taxpayers’ dime.

An Unscrupulous Political Talent

Kurz, a control freak by nature, has enjoyed one of the steepest career trajectories in modern political history, as well as can be today facing a barrage of unfavorable attention through the media. He can be a polarizing figure, which distinguishes him through Austria’s additional politicians. Kurz can be mocked as “Saint Sebastian” — the early Christian figure who was shot full of arrows — not only due to his politics however also because of the peculiar Austrian tendency to treat above-average talent in an especially critical way.

Kurz can be able to articulate difficult problems in short, simple sentences. as well as he has nothing against being referred to as “Prince Ironheart,” due to his resistance to taking large numbers of refugees as well as migrants. Kurz bears some responsibility for the Ibiza scandal as well as its consequences, since he was the one who invited the FPÖ into a coalition — however only after soundly defeating Strache inside election, despite Strache’s months-long lead inside polls.

Hardly anyone denies that will Kurz can be the biggest political talent Austria has seen since Bruno Kreisky, who was a chancellor for the center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) between 1970 as well as 1983, as well as Jörg Haider, the former head of the FPÖ, who died in a car crash in 2008. The ÖVP leader has the right instinct for finding the election topics that will will win him votes. As an orator, he can be polished as well as unerring. however when This kind of comes to policy, This kind of’s less clear what Kurz’s actual beliefs are, besides the fact that will he thinks hard work should be worthwhile. Kurz can be a technician of power, one who has little patience for the old-fashioned focus on policy minutiae. Everything he does can be coolly as well as pragmatically calculated. He sees politics as a craft, not a mission.

Kurz says he was “shocked as well as of course disappointed” when he saw the reports about the comments made by the FPÖ politician on the island of Ibiza. “I had no reason to believe that will such a thing could happen.” However, as he plots his comeback, Kurz can be not ruling out any possible coalition — including a renewed alliance with an FPÖ, without its leaders Strache as well as Gudenus. Despite the Ibiza scandal. can be such a thing understandable? Kurz says he understands a governing mandate to mean negotiating with all parties.

Working the Crowds

The interview being finished, he gets up as well as leaves — a BMW 740 series using a chauffeur can be waiting for him outside. This kind of will take him to Linz overnight as well as then further through Upper Austria the next morning. You’ve got to be in not bad shape to keep up with Kurz the campaigner, what with all his appointments as well as interviews. Meals are taken when there’s time, which isn’t very often. On This kind of particular day, a quick stop at McDonald’s will have to do.

The tightly choreographed appearances are organized in such a way that will the poster-boy of Austria’s brand new conservatism spends half his time taking photos with fans. The pictures appear on Instagram as well as Facebook within hours as well as get shared hundreds of times, the cheapest nationwide advertising campaign the digital age has to offer. In Austria, Kurz was one of the first politicians to understand This kind of.

Kurz doesn’t refuse one particular request for a quick photo as he walks through Salzburg’s famed market, the Schrannenmarkt, on a recent Thursday, smiling all the while. The distance between the people as well as the people’s representatives has shrunk to mere centimeters inside age of selfies. “Hello, how are you, alright?” Kurz asks. Seconds later, he’s already onto the next one. “Finally, a pop star! Only I can’t seem to remember his name…” jokes one of the merchants at the market.

In Tyrol, inside a pungently smelling livestock barn close to the Italian border, Kurz meets using a different audience, This kind of one made up primarily of farmers. Here, he talks about his childhood days spent on his grandmother’s farm as well as praises the hard work of people in rural areas. He shares his current existence as an ex-chancellor in blithe anecdotes: “So, are you always going to be home so much today?” Kurz says his girlfriend asked him after seeing all the dirty dishes that will had piled up in their shared kitchen.

Laughter. Applause. inside end, a standing ovation.

The Bigger They Are

“Applause can be cocaine for the soul,” says Matthias Strolz. Sitting in Vienna’s Café Museum, once frequented by the painters Gustav Klimt as well as Oskar Kokoschka, Strolz has ordered an apple strudel. In his brand new book, “Be Your Own Pilot,” he describes what This kind of feels like to no longer be front as well as center on the political stage. A co-founder of the economically liberal Neos party, Strolz dropped everything last year as well as resigned. He felt burnt out.

Strolz can be one of Kurz’s most authoritative critics. He taught the former chancellor in rhetoric as well as political communication as well as Kurz still remembers one piece of advice Strolz gave to him: “He told me, ‘You have to stand there with your legs apart, like a cowboy.'” that will’s right, says Strolz. “At the time, he seemed a bit slick as well as guileless. You found yourself wondering: ‘Did This kind of guy even have a childhood?'”

Kurz’s advantage lies in his ability to soak everything up. “He’s like a sponge,” Strolz says. He stayed in touch with the rising ÖVP star for a long time — until their secret joint project to emulate French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! movement failed. Strolz doesn’t like speaking on the record about why their relationship fell apart. In one of his last addresses in parliament, he told Kurz to his face what he thought was wrong with Kurz’s migration policy: This kind of was sad for a highly talented young politician to be behaving like a “hobby gardener who manages to set his own hedge on fire.”

What does Strolz think his former pupil can be capable of? Kurz’s time will end just as “brutally” as This kind of began, he predicts. In 2017, Kurz managed to rise rapidly through the ranks of his party, as well as Strolz expects his downfall to be no less dramatic. however This kind of could be a while before This kind of happens, Strolz says, adding that will Kurz can be a guarantor of success for his party as well as undisputedly displays “brilliant craftsmanship.”

Pandering for Votes

Not far through the “Springer Schlössl,” the political academy of the ÖVP where Kurz received his very first rhetoric lessons, can be the apartment building where the politician grew up. His parents still live there today. Kurz himself today lives a bit further away, though still inside same down-to-earth district of Vienna-Meidling, located south of the Schönbrunn Palace. inside district, 46 percent of residents are of foreign origin.

If you spend time watching the children as well as young teenagers playing as well as hanging out in front of the Erlgasse Gymnasium, This kind of’s hard not to imagine that will Sebastian Kurz began thinking about immigration issues long before he became state secretary for migration or foreign minister. Many of the youths have Egyptian, Chechen as well as Afghan roots. Kurz went to school here, as did the top candidate for the social democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

“I provided guidance to both of them until they got their high school diplomas,” says the chemistry teacher Johannes Fuchs. “Both received ‘very not bad’ marks, though Kurz had some deductions.” In his 35 years as a teacher at This kind of school, Fuchs says he has witnessed alterations that will he claims spread throughout all of Austria. Across the country, nearly a quarter of the population has an immigrant background, as well as every fourth student at the age of 15, according to the Neos party, can be unable to adequately comprehend what they are reading.

The headscarf-ban for teachers as well as girls under the age of 14 that will Kurz has proposed doesn’t exactly provide any answers to that will statistic. Kurz knows This kind of, however if you want to govern, sometimes you have to pander to additional parties’ voters. With his call for a headscarf ban, the ex-chancellor can be baiting the hook for disappointed FPÖ supporters.

Something for Everyone

Kurz’s favorite role can be that will of statesman, as if nothing had happened, as if he were still chancellor as well as not an ex-chancellor. Since losing office, he has visited Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as well as the heads of Apple, Netflix as well as Uber in Silicon Valley. Kurz gets the appointments others would certainly like to have.

Kurz bridges the gap between the big stage as well as the tiny world where he grew up quite masterfully. “I had a normal upbringing,” Kurz says. “I was never looking to escape.” however that will’s only half the story. inside words of the Vienna-based daily Die Presse, the political convictions of the ambitious ÖVP head are, “depending on one’s point of view, either contradictory or all-encompassing.” Kurz, the paper continues, presents himself as down-to-earth as well as cosmopolitan, economically liberal as well as protectionist, entrepreneurial as well as labor-friendly. There’s something for every voter.

This kind of’s easier to know what the ex-chancellor wants when This kind of comes to power as well as public displays of appreciation: He craves both. When he hears about a brand new 300-page book about his rhetorical style, the first thing he asks can be: “can be This kind of positive or negative?” Kurz doesn’t shy away through asking former chancellors or leading publicists what their perception of him can be. He seeks access to leading editors in Austria as well as in Germany. When he’s chided inside media, he remembers the name of the person who lobbed the insult for years to come.

The longtime publisher of the Kurier newspaper, Helmut Brandstätter, who can be today running as a candidate for the Neos party, says Kurz carries a “unique mixture of friendly appearance as well as brutality.” As chancellor, the ÖVP boss tried to bend the media to his will, says Brandstätter, while his Indoor minister, Herbert Kickl of the FPÖ, gradually paved the way for Austria to become an authoritarian republic. Anyone who — like Kurz — permits recurring, even anti-Semitic lapses through politicians to be written off as a fringe problem makes himself complicit, Brandstätter says.

Shrewd as well as Unforgiving

Kurz can be a gambler. When he pushed to close the Balkan refugee route, This kind of was proof that will he’s not afraid of doing a big bet. He wasn’t deterred by the lack of support through either Berlin or Paris, as well as he was ultimately successful. using a few close advisers, many of whom have been at his side since 2011, Kurz calculates his political options as well as the associated risks. They discuss the wording, the spin, the sales pitch. He’s always been a step ahead of the competition through additional parties.

Kurz wants to impress everyone. He hasn’t forgotten how he was mocked in his earlier years, he’s simply processed This kind of. In 2011, satirists quipped in a late-night sketch that will they had to “record the interview before the show because Mr. Kurz isn’t allowed to stay up This kind of late.”

Today, Kurz has more than 800,000 followers on Facebook as well as a base of support that will’s apparently unfazed by scandals. Rhetorically gifted, Kurz gives voters the feeling that will they’re understood. Some recurring speech patterns of his include claiming to read people’s minds (“I know that will many of you today…”) as well as answering questions that will no one asked (“Do I dare accomplish something in This kind of country? Yes.”)

The voters hardly blame him for the Ibiza scandal. Even the FPÖ only lost 5 percentage points, according to the latest polls. however who does Kurz wish to govern with come Sept. 29, when he’s likely to receive far more than 30 percent of votes? The FPÖ under Norbert Hofer has already offered itself as a potential coalition partner, though This kind of did so in a video that will could have hardly been more embarrassing: This kind of showed the party’s leader sitting next to a Kurz lookalike at a couples counseling session while the therapist recommends giving things another try.

First Things First

Kurz has said himself that will he would certainly prefer another outcome, such as a coalition with the Green Party as well as, if necessary, one with the Neos as well. however how high would certainly the cost be for such an alliance? There can be a real danger, according to one leading ÖVP politician, that will the party could be blackmailed by “the few crazies inside Greens.”

This kind of would certainly probably be easier to get the steadily shrinking, humiliated Social Democrats onboard. They could provide Kurz with the necessary majority without the baggage of the FPÖ as well as its anti-Semitic ramblings. For Kurz, all possibilities are open. The criticism he draws with This kind of can be apparently a cost he’s willing to pay. A subordinate role, for instance as parliamentary group leader of the ÖVP as well as the head of the opposition, isn’t something he would certainly even consider for himself: He can be said to be “not bullish enough” to be a full-time parliamentary whip.

If possible, Kurz would certainly like to continue climbing the political ladder after his tenure as Austrian chancellor. People formerly close to him assert that will Kurz has mentioned the possibility of serving one day as EU commission president in Brussels or as UN secretary general in brand new York. Kurz himself has denied such career plans, calling them “total nonsense.”

For today at least, his goal can be to find his way back into the Chancellery. He wants to return to Ballhausplatz inside heart of Vienna.

Sebastian Kurz Eyes a Comeback in Austria

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