Three Chancellors and a Funeral

I’d not expected to write another political blog post so soon, but as a still subject of a country in political paralysis with a Prime Minister who no longer leads her party, living in a country with a written constitution that has guided itself through some politically choppy waters of late, and a title that I felt had to be used, there was little choice.

Maybe if HC Strache had stuck to a more frugal holiday diet of “Pschitt and Giggles” rather than Vodka and Red Bull-fuelled machismo, I would have been boring you with a blog post about the appalling weather that had finally come to an end. The weather in May was wet and windy apart from about three days of pleasant sunshine meant my walks were often soggy affairs. A couple of times I ended up having to return home earlt and ensconced myself in a series of crossword puzzles, from the cryptic (in English) through to the Schwedenrätsel from a comic-like magazine purchased when taking refuge in a Trafik from the elements. At least in the Trafik the upsell that has become a part of WHSmith in the UK (would you like a bar of chocolate with that? And a bottle of mineral water? And a bag?) is still nowhere in sight. Little surprise that WHSmith has been voted the worst shopping experience going for a second year in a row. I tried to find some writing paper for Elderly Aunt in January and the shop assistant cut me a look as though I had requested a copy of JR Hartley’s out of print seminal work, Flyfishing.

This week, as Donald the Dolt touched down in the UK, Austria is now emerging towards calmer waters after the recent drama of with the collapsing of the coalition, now Kanzler a.D. Kurz removing his coalition partners from their ministries, and arch blue meany Kickl deciding to do a dirty protest on the way out against integration by releasing an piece of legislation to cut the pay of immigrants and asylum seekers, which was fortunately repealed a couple of days later. However, as the Europawahl came, the ÖVP came out on top despite Kurz’s populist intervention against his Spitzenkandidat, Othmar Karas. The SPÖ held onto their seats, while the FPÖ lost one, and the Greens and Neos took the remaining seats.

As that Sunday night turned into Monday morning, the talk was about a vote of no confidence, and Sebastian Kurz was duly unseated by it. Finance Minister Löger had stepped into the breach as acting Deputy Chancellor and found himself elevated to the hotseat vacated by Kurz. Albeit only for about three days.

Fortunately, amidst the commotion, Alexander van der Bellen, he of the campaign slogan “mehr denn je VDB” in 2016, stepped up to the plate. Unfazed, he reassured Austrians that the constitution would see them through and it duly did. By Thursday, the third Chancellor of the week, and first female Chancellor of Austria, Brigitte Bierlein was in place. Van der Bellen has installed a new set of ministers, a series of technocratic appointments, with experience in their fields. 2019 has been when Austria has needed Van der Bellen more than ever and he has done an excellent job.

For my British readership of a certain ilk, here is an explanation. If Austria’s challenge had been to get 101 in six darts, with the non-dart player to go first, all for a Lada or a speedboat, Van der Bellen would have been reassuring Tony calling the darts. The 101 has been reached without beads of perspiration, and the darts players have avoided going home with “BFH”. The same would not have been the case with Hofer as Bundespräsident.

Amidst all the drama and wall-to-wall press conferences, machinations, allegation and counter-allegation, Austria also lost one of its most famous sportsmen.

Three times Formula One World Champion, horror crash survivor, and successor businessman and aviator and all round decent chap, Niki Lauda finally succumbed to ill health. His funeral at St Stephen’s Cathedral was packed, with many outside in the rain paying their respects. ORF duly ran more of less anything they could find about him, and hopefully he will be given a suitable memorial, with talk of renaming Vienna International Airport in tribute.

Lauda’s escape from a near fatal accident at the German Grand Prix in 1976 may have cost him the World Championship, although it was a close run thing, with James Hunt taking third in the wet in Japan to seal his only championship. I vaguely remember news coming through on the kitchen radio in North London with friends after a house party (not quite as wild as any affair James Hunt might have attended) that Hunt had triumphed in Japan, but I remember more vividly some of the press coverage in the sports pages that talked about Lauda’s recovery. Maybe again proof of the haptic side of news in print.

From my time here in Austria, I knew Lauda to be an astute businessman, the face of many A1 adverts, and for having a sponsor for his distinctive red baseball cap, which he wore to help conceal the burns he sustained in his crash in 1976. The Kapperl debate used to be revisited every couple of years, and became ever more lucrative.

Rest in Peace, Niki Lauda.

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