Sebastian Kurz and the ‘Erosion of Democratic Norms’

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz
Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images

Sebastian Kurz and the ‘Erosion of Democratic Norms’

Authoritarianism is spreading in Western Europe.

In recent weeks, scandals, corruption and hypocrisy have plagued Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government. For years, Kurz promised a different type of leadership. He was considered both the antidote of the far-right populist movement in Europe and a break from the usual politicians.

“Sebastian Kurz, a political wunderkind who became Austria’s leader at just 31, rose to power by cultivating a youthful, do-gooder image that endeared him to young and old alike,” Politico wrote on April 8. “And then he went rogue.”

Kurz is starting to bring strongman-style leadership from Eastern Europe to the West.

Politico’s cover story continued:

Kurz’s metamorphosis might sound like a familiar coming-of-age political tale, but at a time when much of Central Europe has slipped into a form of soft authoritarianism, his transformation and the larger corruption scandal engulfing Austria’s political class suggest that the erosion of democratic norms in the region threatens to spread into Western Europe. …

Kurz has erected what critics have dubbed the “House of Kurz,” a close-knit network of the chancellor’s loyalists in the government, private sector and media who quietly collaborate to their mutual benefit.

An investigation into the political corruption in Austria revealed Chancellor Kurz’s private text messages with his deputies and other contacts. Politico noted that the text messages revealed a “shrewd behind-the-scenes operator willing to do whatever it takes to push through his agenda, whether dealing with the Catholic Church, doling out political favors or taking on rivals.”

Kai Jan Krainer, the parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats, said: “What we can see is that the ‘Kurz System’ was designed from the beginning to take control of state institutions and to create a state within the state.” Kurz worked diligently to get the media, the judiciary and even the Catholic Church in line. But some branches have fought back more than Kurz anticipated.

One such example occurred in 2019. Kurz endorsed a law to allow authorities to place asylum seekers in preventive custody if they are deemed “dangerous.” At the time, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn compared the tactics to those of authoritarians, saying, “Every dictatorship in the world locks people up out of simple mistrust. Tomorrow it might be you or me.” Following Schönborn’s critique, Kurz told one of his confidants to “step on the gas” and put pressure on the church to give in, including examining the tax privileges the church receives, which allow it to operate.

After the meeting, Kurz’s correspondent noted that the church official was “a basket case” and that the church representative “turned red then pale and then started shaking.” Kurz replied: “Super, thank you so much!!!!” Although the power struggle between church and state continues on this issue, Kurz was exposed blackmailing the church—using its tax status to demand political support.

A History of Corruption

Kurz promised a break from the corrupt political system of the past. A majority in Austria believed him, even though past politicians made similar empty promises. But starting in 2019, Kurz’s inner circle was put under investigation for corruption, including allegations of bribery and violating official secrecy laws.

The investigation began after the publication of a video, showing Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache at a secret meeting with a supposed Russian benefactor on Ibiza. In it, Strache offered government contracts in return for political donations. The day after the video was published, Strache resigned from all political offices. Following his resignation, Kurz took calculated steps to extend his own power. He called for reelections in September and started attacking Strache’s party, the Free Democrats (fpö), even though it was his junior coalition partner. He successfully washed his hands of the issue. He insisted his coalition partner was corrupt and he knew nothing about it.

But shortly after the Ibiza scandal was exposed, a close associate of Chancellor Kurz had five hard drives from the chancellor’s office shredded at a specialist shop in Vienna. The incident was caught on the store’s surveillance camera. In the video, Kurz’s associate was visibly nervous, he registered with a false name, and asked that the hard drives be shredded twice.

Kurz claimed that it was part of a normal transition from one government to the other.

Austria’s noted February 18 that the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office “was prohibited by directive from further investigations into the case.”

Although this investigation stopped, the Ibiza scandal has come under further investigation, with more evidence pointing to Kurz’s inner circle. One of the destroyed hard drives is suspected to have come from Austrian Finance Minister Gernot Blümel’s laptop. Blümel is one of Kurz’s closest confidants.

The corruption investigation examines, among other things, the relationship between Austrian casino operators and public officials. Strache claimed on the tape of the Ibiza video that gambling company Novomatic “pays everyone.” Both Novomatic and Kurz’s party, however, deny exchanging money for political favors.

But text messages from 2017 give further insight.

Novomatic executive Harald Neumann asked Blümel for a meeting with Kurz, who was foreign minister at the time, to discuss “for one, a donation and for another a problem we have in Italy.” The involved parties and Kurz deny that the meeting ever took place.

One of the billionaires mentioned in the Ibiza video has already proved to be one of the major donors of Kurz’s party. She donated €930,000 (us$1.1 million), €49,000 at a time. Individual donations of €50,000 or more would have needed to be reported to the Court of Audit.

Kurz has accused the investigations of being deeply flawed. “So many mistakes have been made that I think there’s an urgent need for change there,” Kurz said in February.

But Austria’s judges and prosecutors have “accused him of making an unprecedented assault on the judiciary’s independence,” Politico noted. reported on Feb. 10, 2020: “A good month after the formation of the government under Sebastian Kurz, serious accusations were made against the Austrian chancellor. He wants to influence the judiciary, even ‘bring them in line’ or ‘reach for them,’ as some newspapers reported.”

Kurz’s integrity has been called into question throughout his time in office, but the recent text messages give undeniable insight into Kurz’s network.

In March 2019, Kurz told Thomas Schmid: “You’re getting everything you want.” Schmid is the head of the state holding company that manages Austria’s stakes in former state-owned enterprises. Schmid responded to Kurz, saying: “I’m so happy … I love my chancellor.”

“Together with Blümel, Schmid belongs to a close-knit group of devoted Kurz lieutenants who have worked with the chancellor since his early days in politics,” Politico noted. “In analyzing the texts on Schmid’s phone, authorities discovered how the executive won his top position at Austria’s state holding company, öbag, where he earns, depending on the portfolio’s performance, up to €600,000 per year.”

The only thing that apparently qualified Schmid for the position was his connection to Kurz.

Drawing Inspiration From History’s Darkest Emperors

Politico’s warning of “the erosion of democratic norms” should be taken seriously. Early on in Kurz’s chancellorship, when most of the world was still praising him, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in 2018: “Kurz is just trying to resurrect a role that his native Austria played for centuries: as the heart of the Holy Roman Empire—the most powerful and infamous church-state combine in all human history.”

In 2018, Blümel served as Austria’s minister of culture under Kurz and was responsible for leading the cultural program of Austria’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. For the program, Austria set up a mini-museum in the foyer of the European Council building in Brussels. The theme of the cultural program was “Europe United in Art,” referring to the art and culture of the Holy Roman Empire. Prominently depicted in the mini-museum was the crown of Charlemagne. This crown has brought about the bloody unification of Europe, crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, torture and world wars.

Nonetheless, Kurz was celebrated in the EU’s capital.

Many at the time saw Kurz as a role model for European governments. Politico wrote: “He was particularly popular in Germany, where Kurz wooed the media, in particular the influential Bild tabloid. Some even saw in Kurz the standard bearer for the post-Merkel era.” Germans yearned for a leader like Kurz.

Robin Alexander, deputy editor in chief of Germany’s Die Welt, explained on May 21, 2019, why Kurz is also a “German story”:

It is the story of a yearning, the longing for an alternative to a political discourse that is increasingly perceived as unrealistic, to a grand coalition that is seen as increasingly outdated, and above all to Angela Merkel. The Austrian, who is exactly half the age of his German colleague, has inflamed the fantasies of all those who think—or vaguely feel—for over three years that the eternal chancellor is in the way of something new that is overdue.

In a Nov. 17, 2018, interview with the Austrian daily newspaper Kurier, former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg stated: “I would like to see some other European heads of government take a close look at how things are currently managed in Austria.”

Regarding Guttenberg’s comment, Mr. Flurry wrote: “The recent comments by Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Sebastian Kurz are a sign of the Continent’s change in direction!” He added that we are witnessing a “terrible turning point in Europe.”

Major domestic and international media outlets are only now recognizing this turning point—but it might be too late. Kurz is well established in Austria and destined to rule for the foreseeable future.

Due to a plagiarism scandal, Guttenberg was removed from his political duties. However, he stayed in contact with Kurz, treating him as a mentor would a student. “For the past [few] years, we have talked a lot about how fast [time in political office] can go,” Guttenberg said. “And I tried to inform Sebastian Kurz about my mistakes.”

Guttenberg and Kurz have maintained a close friendship. One text message that was revealed in the recent investigation against the Austrian government showed that Kurz wanted to appoint Guttenberg head of the supervisory board of öbag, the state holding company that administers the investments of the republic of Austria. Though he wasn’t able to push his will through, the text message reveals that Kurz would have trusted Guttenberg to keep some of the recently exposed scandals secret.

Kurz’s rule in Austria gives us insight into what is ahead for all of Europe. The coronavirus crisis makes this plain.

“Austria has massively restricted civil liberties due to coronavirus,” Zeit Online wrote. “This is understandable in this situation, but it is also dangerous.”

“Under his leadership, Austria got through the first phase of the pandemic very well,” the conservative-liberal Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote on May 9, 2020. “But at the same time, the authoritarian features of the young chancellor became apparent.”

At the time, Mr. Flurry noted: “It is very dangerous when you consider Europe’s history. There is a painful history of strong leaders restricting freedoms to realize their ambitions.”

What Mr. Flurry warned about in the last few years is now evident for everyone to see. Truly, “the erosion of democratic norms in the region threatens to spread into Western Europe.”

This turn of events was prophesied in Revelation 17 and other passages; these prophecies are thoroughly explained in Mr. Flurry’s article “The Holy Roman Empire Goes Public—Big Time!” I encourage you to read this article to see how the Trumpet’s forecast was, once again, ahead of its time.

“And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast” (Revelation 17:12-13). Ten European “kings,” or authoritarian leaders, will unite under the leadership of one overarching strongman. Mr. Flurry has pointed repeatedly to Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg as this man. (Request a free copy of A Strong German Leader Is Imminent, to learn more.)

When you study the prophecies surrounding what is happening in Europe right now, you know that dangerous times are ahead.

But just beyond that, there is good news! “These [kings] shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful” (verse 14).

“Jesus Christ is about to reign forever, bringing peace and joy and happiness to all mankind!” Mr. Flurry said. “Watch vigilantly: The imminent arrival of this prophesied European strongman connects directly to this inspiring, fast-approaching reality!”