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At Long Last, Scandal Forces the Resignation of Austria’s Neo-Nazi Vice Chancellor

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Heinz-Christian Strache started his political career in the 1980s as a young man crawling around in the woods with neo-Nazi paramilitary groups and getting arrested by the German police

He then made it all the way to the vice chancellorship of Austria before he was stopped, finally, by a video that shows him drunkenly fantasizing, with a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch, about collecting piles of illegal campaign cash and firing unfriendly journalists at Austria’s largest newspaper, all with the goal of turning his country into a Russia-funded autocracy.

The video, filmed in 2017, was made public by German media Friday evening; Strache resigned the following day.

Neither about the neo-Nazi crawling nor about the autocracy fantasizing has Strache ever taken any responsibility. The neo-Nazi thing was really just a “paintball game.” The video was, it had to be admitted, embarrassing, but Strache dismissed it, in his resignation speech, as the kind of “boastful,” “macho behavior” anyone might engage in who’s had a few too many. Let him who has never drunkenly planned a fascist dictatorship cast the first stone!

The most important fact about the secretly made video that caused Strache’s downfall is that it provided no new information about him at all. What could possibly be surprising in hearing Strache dream about the same kind of political project that he must have discussed with his friends in younger days back at the “paintball game”? Without any deviation, from the start of his career to the end (if this is the end), he has pursued that same project.

At the time of his resignation, Strache was governing Austria as leader of the Freedom Party (FPÖ), a group founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s, in a coalition with the old mainline conservative People’s Party (ÖVP). Like right-wing politicians in so many countries today, Heinz-Christian Strache had elevated the refusal ever to take responsibility for anything into the essence of his political technique. The ÖVP, in bringing Strache and the FPÖ into government, made that technique its own, and poisoned European politics into the bargain.

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