It took a corruption scandal to bring down the extreme right in the coalition government, but for the refugees that have suffered under their policies there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Last weekend may have been one of the most important in Austria's recent history. On Friday evening, Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung – two of Germany's most prestigious newspapers and magazines – revealed videos that showed two leading politicians of the far-right Freedom Party in compromising situations.
Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus were secretly filmed in 2017 during their holiday in Ibiza, Spain, while talking about a deal with a woman who claimed to be related to a Russian oligarch.
In the almost seven-hour video, Strache and Gudenus talked about how the 'rich' woman could use her money to influence Austrian politics. While having sushi, alcohol and energy drinks in a luxury apartment, the politicians also offered the woman government contracts and suggested she buy the Krone newspaper, Austria's largest tabloid.
The video was filmed months before the election and the coalition of the right-wing extremist Freedom Party and the Conservatives. At the moment, it is still unknown who filmed the material and lured both politicians into a trap. However, as a result of the revelation, Strache has resigned from his position as vice-chancellor and head of the Freedom Party.
Gudenus, who used to be an MP and leader of the Freedom Party's parliamentary group, did not just resign from his positions but also left the party. Additionally, he claimed that he was "probably under the influence of knockout drops and drugs."
Gudenus also fears that further problematic material against him could be revealed.
The so-called Ibiza affair led to the fall of the whole Austrian government.
"Enough is enough," said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz shorty after the release of the video. Following Strache's resignation, Kurz declared further consequences.
He, and the whole political and media landscape, focused on Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, who was the Freedom Party's chief executive in 2017 when the video was filmed.
Kickl is also known to be the leading ideologist and ‘grey matter’ of his party. The Freedom Party declared that in the case of Kickl's dismissal, all of their ministers would leave the government. During a press conference, Kickl himself said that he did not have any intention of resigning.
Shortly before his dismissal, the now former interior minister once again revealed his true face by signing off on another xenophobic law declaring that asylum seekers must not earn more than 1.50 euros ($1.68) per hour if they start to work.
Kickl's last act has already been reversed by his successor. This blatantly cruel move was not a surprise. Since the Freedom Party became the governing party in late 2017, crucial departments like the interior ministry or the defence ministry were controlled by them. Thus, the very first victims of the party's policies were refugees.
The right-wing extremists continued to fuel their narrative of hatred and wanted to demonstrate how they "defended" Austria and Europe against "invading" refugees. For that reason, harsh measures, like the confiscation of asylum seekers’ cash and mobile phones, have become part of daily practice.
That's not all, medics who treat refugees can still be forced to share everything that "appears to be important" with authorities, meaning that the right to privacy does not apply to refugees in Austria. These were just a few of the steps that immediately came into practice after the far-right's take over.
After the recent scandal, all remaining Freedom Party ministers left the government while chosen experts will take over their positions for the coming months. New elections are scheduled for September.
While they may not hold their positions, the real question is: how many of the far-right's racist policies will be reversed?
During their one-and-a-half years in power, Austrian mainstream parties adopted far-right rhetoric to bait voters. The best example of this is the country's Conservatives, led by Kurz, whose views on asylum and migration are nearly indistinguishable from those of the Freedom Party. At best, they just are just presented with a friendlier face.
Last but not least, many people are still asking themselves why Strache's Ibiza video, which was filmed in 2017, has only been released now. It is true that European Parliament elections are here and that the party will suffer as it might in elections in September - although many people do continue to express their support for the Freedom Party with slogans such as "now more than ever".
In this context, Kurz might rake in the biggest gains as his Conservative Party already has shifted so far to the right that it has become electable to Freedom Party voters.
However, those who could truly benefit from a much earlier release of the Ibiza video – probably in 2017 before the government with the Freedom Party was formed – were all those refugees who are facing struggles since the policy change.
Now, the damage is already done, and for many, it is beyond imagination. During the last 18 months, dozens of refugees have been deported to countries like Afghanistan where war, chaos and destruction haunt them.
Maiwand, a friend of mine, was deported to Kabul last August after increasing anti-refugee sentiment. Officials, often blatant Freedom Party supporters, ignored his PTSD - and the fact that Afghanistan is not safe at all - and just repeatedly told him to leave until they forced him into a so-called ‘voluntarily return’.
Today, that deported refugee faces daily violence. Shortly after his arrival, for example, several relatives of Maiwand were killed when a mosque in Paktia province was attacked by Daesh (ISIS) militants. The war in Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest conflicts in the world today.
I doubt that after the Freedom Party's dismissal, anyone is interested in bringing back people who were treated unjustly like Maiwand. In fact, the political and media landscape did not care about having right-wing extremists – yes, neo-Nazis – as part of their government.
The fascists only became unbearable after they proved to be corrupt. Their inhumane ideology was not considered a deal breaker. Instead, it was even adopted and supported by others, and that has yet to change.
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