A huge scandal broke out in Austria. Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned after a video of his confidential meeting with a blonde, a Latvian citizen, at the resort island of Ibiza. In the video, the suitor is very drunk, and the table is filled with open bottles of spirits. It's clear that the press immediately labeled the blonde as a Russian. Strache himself calls it a political assassination order. In any case, what happened is a bad gift to the right-wing European parties which gathered in Milan on the same day to assess the progress of the campaign for the elections to the European Parliament.
Here's Asya Emelyanova reporting from Milan.
The forecast for the far-right, as promised, is worse than ever. It rained heavily round the clock. Milan received guests from all over Europe: ten delegations came to the official closure of the election campaign because weather forecasters say one thing, and political analysts another. Nationalists and Euroskeptics have good chances of securing seats in the European Parliament.
The leader of the Northern League and Minister of the Interior of Italy Matteo Salvini took the stage to Pavarotti's "Vincere". His rating, activity, the tone in which he spoke with Brussels last year show that his goal isn't just to win the elections but to become the leader of the far-right, as they're called in Europe. On stage, he and his associates Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders stood shoulder to shoulder. Together they'll run the parliament where the Euroskeptics are to double their presence, according to the polls. But Salvini gave the floor to his guests first. Then closed the rally and the campaign as the host of the event and the winner.
Matteo Salvini, Minister of the Interior of Italy: "We're experiencing a historic moment. It's very important to take advantage of it. We must do everything to liberate our country, the continent from illegal occupation by Brussels. Thank you for being here today. This is the answer to all of the questions".
The weather isn't the only thing that spoiled the holiday for the far-right. There are leaders of 10 but not 11 delegations on the stage. Vice-Chancellor of Austria Strache is absent. He resigned two hours before the demonstration due to a grand scandal that traditionally and hardly coincidentally happened a week before the elections. And even the components of the scandal are traditional: Russian money and a Russian girl. These ingredients can not only poison but drown the election campaign of the most popular party, the career of one of the influential politicians of Austria, and Austria itself, its reputation, which, again, isn't by a coincidence at all, is now Russia's closest friend. In the video partially published by the Spiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Heinz-Christian Strache, enjoying his holiday in Ibiza and a pleasant company discusses the possibilities of financial assistance for participating in parliamentary elections in exchange for a profitable deal.
“If we dragged that newspaper to our side ahead of time, if we really did it in advance, on the eve of the elections, two or three weeks in advance, there would be a chance to promote us with the help of this newspaper. This is an effect that others don't understand.”
The extract is brief, although the dinner lasted for seven hours. But one can see everything in detail. The video is of Hollywood's quality. It's shot from several angles. The video features Strache who wasn't a vice-chancellor yet, his Russian-speaking assistant Johann Gudenus, the leader of the Freedom Party in the parliament, and a girl whom the journalist of a German newspaper, who still didn't say where they got that video, call a Russian, the daughter of oligarch Makarov. But in fact, there are two girls in the video. The video features a blonde. And here's the second one entering. After that, we only hear her, she's not visible. But it's from behind her back, at one moment, we see her hand with a bracelet, that the video was made. Most likely, it was she who spoke about purchasing a share in the newspaper.
"Can we speak normally?"
Besides the girls, the video shows that they smoked and drank a lot. It really looks like an ordinary summer evening of people on holiday. We talked a lot, discussed various issues, and I was inebriated, said Strache, while resigning, and apologized for his behavior before his voters. But most of all, he was confused by the methods of political assassination. German newspapers published it. It happened a week before the elections. And the video was made two years ago, and they held it back for some reason. As a result, the prosecutor's office opened a case. The opposition demands for re-elections for the parliament. The resignation. It's a blow to the far-right who promise to take the seats from the traditional parties in the European Parliament and improve relations with Moscow.
Heinz-Christian Strache, Vice-Chancellor of Austria: “Illegal means and methods were used against me. With the help of video surveillance and wiretapping, they'll probably charge me with a criminal offense. But the whole story was taken out of context.”
Even the Financial Times write about the bias in the presentation of the news. It called the video an illegally prepared trap. Experts think that it can be a put-on by Western intelligence services. Sources told the Die Presse that the blow was aimed at the Russian contacts of the Freedom Party because the US is outraged by the fact that Austria supports Moscow in its foreign policy more and more often. The DerStandard concludes that no matter who the girl is, the job's done, Strache resigned.
Outraged people took to the streets. The German minister of justice, and nobody claims that it looks like interference with the affairs of another country, already demanded from the Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz to dissolve his coalition with the Freedom Party and not to join it again. There is an investigation into the influence of foreign representatives and the influence on the elections. Along with it, on the same day, according to a long-established plan as well, they began to show the voters various investigations on TV. In France, for example, they broadcast a special report on how Russia supports the right-wing parties before the elections to the European Parliament. In fact, there'll be completely different sentiments. Polls conducted on the eve of the elections showed that Europeans feel deep skepticism about the main traditional parties. If in numbers, the European People's Party, which includes Christian Democrats ran by Merkel, loses 43 seats, The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats loses 45. Former Italian Foreign Minister and President of the Institute of Eurasian Studies Franco Frattini thinks that the parliament and the EU have long needed a revolution. He thinks that Juncker's government is the weakest and the most predictable in EU history. And they use the same methods. If you don't want to admit migrants, we'll impose sanctions. If your budget deficit exceeds the norm, there'll be sanctions. How should one behave if one is constantly under the threat of sanctions?
Franco Frattini, former Foreign Minister of Italy: "Such teaching behavior is unacceptable. It's like we're students in school. Some countries wanted to punish Russia by order of Washington. I very much hope that the new parliament and the new European Commission will lift the sanctions which cause damage only".
One of the unsinkable Italian politicians promises to raise the issue of the cancellation of sanctions at the first meeting — Silvio Berlusconi. He knows very well how much a friendship with Russia can cost a political career. Last week, he underwent surgery. Right after he was discharged, he resumed his election campaign and election slogans.
Silvio Berlusconi, former Prime Minister of Italy: “I hope that I have enough health and strength, like many leaders in Europe, the US, and Russia, to understand that Italy is experiencing the most severe governmental crisis.”
Not only sentiments will be different in the parliament of the ninth convocation. There'll be notable names.
"Before we begin. How shall I address you? Ciao Julius Caesar Mussolini? Just Caio? It's an extraordinary name, it's binding".
The great-grandson of Benito Mussolini and former serviceman of the Navy, Ciao Mussolini also takes part in the elections from a right-wing party Brothers of Italy. It's forecasted to be presented in the European Parliament this time.
- What is most important for the future of Italy and Europe in your program?
Ciao Mussolini, candidate for the European Parliament from the party Brothers of Italy: "We should reserve the right to solve the issues concerning trade and economy to the countries so that Brussels couldn't decide how long an Italian sardine should be to be caught, while another country freely decides that it can bomb another state, while Brussels pretends that nothing is happening".
Brussels called the upcoming parliamentary elections the most important since the 1979 elections. Voters will come to the elections, remembering Brexit, the crisis, inflation, longing for changes. Judging by what happened in Austria this week, not everyone likes these future changes and right-wing sentiments. In a week, next Sunday, it'll become clear whether the preventive measures brought the expected result.
Asya Emelyanova, Viktor Kazakov, Andrey Putra, and Denis Lisitsyn for Vesti, News of the Week.