Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How A Leaked Video Sent Austria's Government Into A State Of Chaos


The government of Austria is in chaos. It started with a leaked video that appears to show the country's vice chancellor promising government contracts to a Russian woman. In exchange, she would buy stakes in an Austrian newspaper and use it to support the vice chancellor's party. That party would be the far-right Freedom Party founded by former Nazis after World War II. Until today, it was part of Austria's ruling coalition. Now the vice chancellor is out, and so are all the other Freedom Party ministers.

To tell us more about what this means for Austria and for Europe, we're joined from Vienna by Valerie Hopkins of the Financial Times. Hey, Valerie.

VALERIE HOPKINS, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. So lay out in as succinct a timeline as you can - but how did we get from this one scandalous video to now five government officials having to vacate their posts?

HOPKINS: Wow, well, this has been one of the most exciting weekends and early weeks in Austria, I think, in its post-war history. On Friday night as everyone's heading home from work, all of a sudden the social media networks are erupting with news of a leaked video of the vice chancellor of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party, and his young protege in a villa in Ibiza, drunk...

KELLY: Ibiza being the Spanish island where this video was filmed.

HOPKINS: Exactly - just blathering on and on to a Russian woman who they believed was the niece of a prominent Russian oligarch.

KELLY: And I'll just insert here that I have not had the opportunity to verify exactly what is being documented on this video. But what it has done is raise all of these questions in Austria about the extent of Russian influence in Austrian politics. Is that right?

HOPKINS: Absolutely. And, I mean, it's funny because these are actually fake Russians. This is - these are not necessarily people that were sent from the Kremlin. We don't really know the provenance of the video. Some people believe it's an activist collective. Other people are speculating that some secret services of various countries were involved. But the most important thing to say is that Vice Chancellor Strache hasn't denied any of the assertions.

KELLY: Right. Well, let me insert a practical question here. Where does this leave the government of Austria? Who's in charge today?

HOPKINS: Oh, my goodness, the crisis keeps deepening by the day. Yesterday, some of the parties called for a vote of no confidence. The chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was hoping that he could get rid of Interior Minister Kickl, who has also been the center of several scandals himself during the course of the 18 months that they've been in government. The other ministers of Transport, Defense and Labor said, we're going to leave, too.

KELLY: So you're describing all sorts of behind-closed-doors machinations going on here. But bottom line - as Austria prepares to go to bed tonight, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is still in charge of the government, but he doesn't have much of a government now that his coalition has fallen apart.

HOPKINS: Exactly.

KELLY: How is this playing as you are out and about interviewing people on the streets of Vienna?

HOPKINS: Well, in Vienna, people are extremely concerned. Although Vienna has a very long history as a Social Democratic city, it's known, in fact, as Red Vienna. But you know, the first poll since the scandal came out yesterday, and the Freedom Party lost 4% to 5%. But they're still polling at 18%. So their core supporters remain loyal and support their anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT agenda.

KELLY: And is this all anybody's talking about?

HOPKINS: Oh, my goodness, you can't avoid it. I mean, the cafe on the ground floor of my apartment building has painted up on its windows, we're going to Ibiza. Everyone's moved on from the shock to the speculation of the provenance of the video and the question of whether or not this vote of - motion of no confidence will go through.

KELLY: Valerie Hopkins of the financial times speaking with us from Vienna, thanks so much.

HOPKINS: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.