Former Vice-Chancellor of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, was born in Vienna on June 12, 1969. In the age of 15, Strache dropped out of school and started a four-year apprenticeship as a dental technician at a local business school. By becoming a corporal in the Austrian army, Strache could, without college degree, study history at the University of Vienna, however, he quickly dropped out, and founded a dental technology company in 1993. Eyewitness accounts, findings of German security authorities and archive material prove that Strache was part of the neo-Nazi scene during his teenage years, while in parallel starting his career in the FPÖ.1
Already in the second half of the 1980s, he visited several summer and ski camps in Carinthia, Austria, which were organized by the “Family Circle of Youth Faithful to the People” ("Familienkreis Volkstreue Jugend”). Although there is no information on such an organisation, the “Family Circle” was connected to the neo-Nazi Viking Youth (Wiking-Jugend), which in its publication adorned itself with the nickname “Youth Faithful to the People” (“Volkstreue Jugend”). Strache himself confirmed this connection in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Viking Youth, founded in 1952, saw itself in the footsteps of the Hitler Youth, when the Socialist Reich Party (Sozialistische Reichspartei, SRP), together with its youth organization Reich’s Youth (“Reichsjugend”) were outlawed. Until 1955, the group was active in the neo-Fascist alliance New European Order, in which Stefano Delle Chiaie later became involved. The Viking Youth got banned in 1994, when it was finally classified as neo-Nazi organisation.2
Already at the age of 17, he came into contact with the Viennese far-right duelling fraternity Vandalia3 via a friend from a Kung-Fu class, and ever since is a member. An enthusiastic novice, he taught newcomers the ideological basics of the fraternity, served as fencing instructor, and even engaged in ritual duels (“Mensuren”), seven in total so far. For example, in 2004, after he felt insulted by a doctor from Salzburg, he challenged him to a sabre duel with blunt blades.4
On November 4, 1988, television pictures show Strache as an angry visitor at the Vienna Burgtheater. On that evening, writer Thomas Bernhard premiered his piece "Heroes' Square” (Heldenplatz), critisizing Austria's role during the Nazi era. Strache, together with other young men, was standing in the gallery, stretching out his right arm with a clenched fist, yelling angrily at the stage. From the parquet, Bernard followers were yelling “Nazis shut your mouth” (Nazi-Goschn).
When participating in one of the “Family Circle” camps, he was made aware of an upcoming demonstration against the Wall in Germany, organised by the Neo-Nazi Viking Youth, and decided to participate. In 1989, he travelled via Fulda to the East German Border, and marched together with members of the Viking Youth towards the inner-German border with torches lit, singing the 3rd stanza of the German national hymn. On that evening, Strache got arrested, but released on the next day. While still being involved in neo-Nazi groups and working as a dental technician, in 1989, Strache was brought into the FPÖ by the then FPÖ functionary Herbert Güntner, also member of a right-wing fraternity. The same year, Strache also tried to attend a lecture by holocaust denier David Irving in Vienna, which in the last minute got banned by Austrian authorities.
In 1990, German police temporarily arrested Strache again. On March 10 of that year, he had taken part in a major event in Passau, rallying for an “immediate reunification” of East and West Germany, organized by the far-right German People's Union (DVU), which later merged with the far-right NPD. The audience sang all three stanzas of the German national hymn, someone raised a shield in the air, which read "Upper Silesia is and remains German." Under the lectern hung the Imperial War Flag. Again, a speech by the British Holocaust denier David Irving was planned in the Nibelung Hall of Passau, but was interdicted by the authorities. The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution noted that around 4000 people came to Passau, 11 of whom were arrested, because of “carrying illegal objects”, including Strache, who was carrying an alarm pistol.
In 1991, Strache became Vienna FPÖ district councilman, but his brown past did not catch up with him until the beginning of 2007, when pictures appeared, on which Strache can be seen partaking in paramilitary exercises with neo-Nazis. The pictures show Strache posing with a gun, training with a baton, and next to a war memorial. Strache dismissed the exercises as harmless paintball games, but that the military exercises had a "political" character was confirmed i.a. by a former participant. Amongst the participants were known neo-Nazis, e.g. later NPD official Andreas Thierry.1 Two others were also involved with the VAPO (Volkstreue außerparlamentarische Opposition; Extra-parliamentary Opposition Loyal to the People), a fascist force led by the Holocaust denier Gottfried Küssel, who is currently serving a nine years prison sentence because of his repeated attempts to revive Nazism.5 The VAPO explicitly focused on such military exercises. In the neo-Nazi magazine “W - The New Front” of September 1990, the Küssel troupe stated that the use of "paintball guns helps significantly to achieve the most realistic training scenario”. Below the text is printed a VAPO logo with a rune cross.
The program of the Küssel group was extensive, according to two dropouts: The exclusively male participants learned how to behave when interrogated, received baton training, ideological training, and had to exercise. Sometimes they shot with sharp weapons. The Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance (DÖW), the most important research institution for right-wing extremism in Austria, confirms these statements.
Another photo shows Strache allegedly doing the Nazi salute of the Austrian neo-Nazis - the so-called “Kühnen-Gruß” (extended right arm with three spread fingers). Strache defended himself by saying that he was probably only ordering three beers.46 Furthermore he stated in front of running cameras “I never was, and I am no neo-Nazi.”
That the 2007 revelations did not bring Strache to a political fall is attributed partly to then SPÖ Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. He said at the time, it was not just to hold lifetime-long grudges towards anyone, because of his "youth affairs”, and thus Strache received absolution from the most high-ranking Social Democrat.
In the 1990s Strache was in close contact with Norbert Burger, the founder of the Austrian right-wing extremist party NPD. For a short time he was even engaged to Burger’s daughter. Strache commented on the affair that "I was stupid, naive and young.” Burger was co-founder of the separatist "Liberation Committee South Tyrol”, a terrorist organization that carried out several bomb attacks in Northern Italy, and most likely belonged to the Gladio network.
Norbert Burger was deployed at the end of WW II as a volunteer at the front and was reportedly involved in executions. He later studied in Vienna and Innsbruck, and became a senior member of the German national duelling fraternity Olympia, which in 1961 was dissolved by the Austrian government for support of the South Tyrolian Liberation Committee. In 1953, he became national chairman of the Ring of Libertarian Students (Ring Freiheitlicher Studenten, RFS), a student organization of the FPÖ, of which also Alexander Markovics is a member.7
Burger was co-founder of the separatist Liberation Committee South Tyrol (Befreiungsausschuss Südtirol, BAS), whose objective was the separation of South Tyrol from Italy with terrorist means. He was arrested in Klagenfurt in 1961, and subsequently travelled to Augsburg and Munich, from where he coordinated his illegal activities in South Tyrol. In 1963, Burger was arrested in Munich, and expelled from the country.
The ensuing jury trial can hardly be seen as anything else than a classical case of Gladio obfuscation. It was held in Linz and ended on 14 October 1965, acquitting all of the 15 defendants. The majority of the jury had voted against a conviction of the defendants, despite several bomb attacks committed in South Tyrol, during which four people - namely Carabinieri - were killed while trying to defuse the explosives, as well as multiple occurrences of explosive theft committed in Austria. A lawyer said later, the jury saw a reason for an exclusion of punishment since there was a state of emergency in South Tyrol. Therefore they did not consider the accusation of crimes involving explosives, but assumed high treason towards Italy as basis of the case, which in Austria is not punishable.In an appeal process, Burger was sentenced to eight months prison in 1968. Meanwhile, an Italian court had convicted Burger on 20 April 1966, to 28 years in prison in absentia, a conviction which has been changed to a life-long sentence in 1971. In 1967, Burger with some comrades, founded the Austrian National Democratic Party (NDP), of which he became the first national spokesman, which in 1988 was dissolved because of Nazi revivalism.
Even for some FPÖ members Strache was too far right, as former party colleagues related. From 1990 to 1994, Strache tried to join the FPÖ youth organization Ring of Libertarian Youth (Ring Freiheitliche Jugend, RFJ), but was rejected. "Strache and others wanted to take over the organization, turn it into an ideological powerhouse," said Peter Westenthaler, who was sitting on the board of the RFJ at the time and remembered arguments with the young politician. His RFJ colleague and later Secretary of Defense Herbert Scheibner said: "Strache was too far on the right for us, and had been making too much of a racket.”
After Jörg Haider and his supporters left the FPÖ in 2005, and the party was about to disintegrate, Strache became the new party chairman. He started to lead the FPÖ back to a more nationalist course. Already in the year after his election, the FPÖ occupied topics that later would become fashionable amongst other European far-right parties. For example, it started an anti-Islam campaign, to which Herbert Kickl at the time provided the slogans: "Pummerin instead of Muezzin!" (Pummerin is a bell in the Viennese Dome),“At home instead of Islam!”, “Occident in Christian hands" or "More courage for our Viennese blood - too much foreign blood does nobody any good”.84 Since Kickl provided the slogans, he was henceforth called “Strache’s brain”, or “Strache whisperer”.
With the new nationalist course of Strache and Kickl, the FPÖ gained more and more support by the electorate over the years, which culminated in the forming of the current far-right/centre government coalition in 2017. According to journalist Hans-Henning Scharsach, right-wing fraternities have a strong influence on the leadership of the FPÖ, as described in his 2017 book "Quiet seizure of power: Hofer, Strache and the fraternities". Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache and four of his five deputies, as well as 20 out of 33 members of the party executive committee are fraternity members, and six out of nine state parties are dominated by them.9
Although Strache's and the FPÖ's ties to the Identitarian Movement had been an open secret it was not until 2018 that these were looked at by Austrian intelligence services. And that only after a scandal broke loose when an Austrian secret service branch responsible for right-wing extremism was raided by a police squadron and vast amounts of data were confiscated, giving whomever had initiated the raid a detailed idea of what Austrian secret services knew about far-right networks.
In the entailing investigation, the Austrian "intelligence service ... compiled a list of 374 members of the movement based on donations, including several active members of the Freedom Party."10
"One recent investigation identified at least 48 Freedom Party politicians or employees with links to Generation Identity. At least four ministries controlled by the Freedom Party, including the Foreign, Defense and Interior Ministries, have employed extremists, according to the investigation by SOS Mitmensch, a nonprofit organization."10
When it transpired that the Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant had donated 1500 euros to the Austrian Identitarian movement and even was in contact with its leader Martin Sellner before the massacre, the investigation of the movement intensified once more. Despite Tarrant's 74-page manifesto entitled The Great Replacement, in early May 2019, a mere two month after the deadly attack, Strache made negative headlines when he "called the notion of 'the great replacement' of Europeans by migrants a reality,' echoing the flagship conspiracy theory promoted by Generation Identity — and the manifesto of the New Zealand shooter."10
On May 6, 2019 Strache posted pictures from his visit to Hungary to meet prime minister Viktor Orbán, pointing out that "Europe needs a strong alliance against islamisation."11
On May 17, 2019, snippets of a video were leaked by Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel, which show Strache and his colleague Johann Gudenus in a villa in Ibiza together with a woman who pretends to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. In the video, they make swooping promises of state contracts in case they would receive Russian support for their party.12
A central point in the secretly recorded video was a statement about possible illegal party donations. "There are a few very wealthy people. They pay between 500,000 and one and a half to two million," Strache said. The money would not flow directly to the FPÖ, but to a party-affiliated association. "The association is charitable and has nothing to do with the party. This means that you don't have to report to the Court of Audit," said the FPÖ politician.
In a matter of a day the public outcry cost Strache his job as party leader, and caused Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz to call for early elections in September 2019.
The video leak
Although there is still a lack of clarity when it comes to the source of the video, there are a couple of details that have so far transpired.
Apparently, the person who had made the video had offered the footage to various newspapers in 2017, shortly after it was shot, and had asked between 1,5 and 5 million euros for the publishing rights, but no media outlet had shown interest at the time. Two years later, the video source has apparently turned to the press short before the EU elections, offering it for free.
A former security advisor / private detective from Austria, Sascha Wandl, stated he has identified a former colleague of his, Julian H., on unpublished footage. He stated that he had trained Julian H. how to monitor people in the past.13
Julian H. ran a company called Konsic GmbH in Munich, whose offices are by now been deserted. According to Die Welt, on the company's website it was recently stated that they were doing business with the German Federal Ministry of the Interior. The latter has taken action against that quotation.13
According to press reports, there had been a meeting a few months before the Ibiza incident, bringing together Gudenus and his wife, the fake Russian oligarch niece, Julian H., and a Viennese lawyer Ramin Mirfakhrai14 in 2017, concerning a real estate deal. Mirfakhrai had supposedly arranged the meeting.1315
On May 24, 2019 the lawyer Mirfakhrai had sent a letter to Austrian media, declaring the video product of an "investigative-journalististic" effort:
"On Friday evening an unusual letter arrived at the KURIER and the Ö1 radio editor Petra Pichler. The letter concerns the Ibiza video and the Viennese lawyer M., who is said to have played a leading role in the case. M. instructed his lawyer Richard Soyer tell us that 'the Ibiza video is a civil society project, which makes use of investigative-journalistic practices.'"16
The same group, with Strache instead of "M", met then later in Ibiza.
Strache traveled to Geneva at the beginning of May 2014, to parley with Russian UN Ambassador Alexei Borodawkin on the "autonomy demands of the majority Russian population in Eastern and Southern Ukraine."17
In June 2014 Strache had reportedly met with the Russian far-right Eurasianist ideologue Alexander Dugin.18 Strache had taken part in a seminal meeting in Vienna, organized by “Orthodox businessman” and oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, celebrating the 200th anniversary of Metternich’s Holy Alliance. It brought together the A-list of the European far right with the hope of developing a pan-European strategy. It included the Neo-Eurasianist ideologue Alexander Dugin, the well-known nationalist painter Ilya Glazunov, and the leaders of several European far-right and monarchist groups: Prince Sixtus Henry of Bourbon-Parma, leader of the Catholic-monarchist Carlist movement in Spain; Aymeric Chauprade, former right-had man of Marine Le Pen and vice-chair of the EU parliamentary group Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy; the Viennese politician Johann Herzog; Volen Siderov, chairman and founder of Ataka; several right-wing extremists from Croatia; and noblemen from Georgia and Russia. These contacts may seem disparate at first, but they are not. All are campaigning for the establishment of a European ultraconservative international that would bring together monarchists, far-right parties, as well as Catholic and Orthodox groups.19
- 1. a. b. Leila Al-Serori und Oliver Das Gupta, “Teil 1: Die Akte Strache,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 10 October 2017, https://gfx.sueddeutsche.de/apps/e563408/www/.
- 2. "Verbot des Vereins Wiking-Jugend e.V.,” Ministerium des Innern des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, https://recht.nrw.de/lmi/owa/br_bes_text?anw_nr=1&gld_nr=2&ugl_nr=2180&bes_id=567&aufgehoben=N.
- 3. Vandalia, http://www.vandalia.at/cms/index.php.
- 4. a. b. c. "Heinz Christian Strache im Porträt,” Die Presse, 1 September 2008, https://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/neuwahlen/wahlchat/411596/DiePressecomChat_Heinz-Christian-Strache-im-Portraet.
- 5. "Court Hands Nine Year Jail Term to Leading Austrian Neo-Nazi,” HighBeam Research, 14 January 2013, https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-314762942.html.
- 6. Nina Horaczek, "Drehen Sie nach rechts!,” Falter, 20 October 2017, https://www.falter.at/archiv/wp/drehen-sie-nach-rechts.
- 7. "Identitärer wirbt bei Fest für Hofer um Unterschriften,” Kurier, 7 September 2016, https://kurier.at/politik/inland/identitaerer-wirbt-bei-fest-fuer-hofer-um-unterschriften/220.000.254
- 8. Günther Oswald, "Herbert Kickl: Blauer Cop mit Agenda,” Der Standard, 7 July 2018, https://derstandard.at/2000082976357/Herbert-Kickl-Blauer-Cop-mit-Agenda.
- 9. “So national wird der neue Nationalrat,” Kurier, 25 October 2017, https://kurier.at/politik/inland/fpoe-und-die-burschenschaften-so-national-wird-der-neue-nationalrat/294.000.877.
- 10. a. b. c. Katrin Bennhold, "As Far Right Rises, a Battle Over Security Agencies Grows," The New York Times, May 7, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/07/world/europe/austria-far-right-freedom-party.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share.
- 11. Twitter post by Heinz-Christian Strache, May 6, 2019, https://twitter.com/HCStracheFP/status/1125435297326608384.
- 12. Philip Oltermann, "Austria's 'Ibiza scandal': what happened and why does it matter?," The Guardian, May 20, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/20/austria-ibiza-scandal-sting-operation-what-happened-why-does-it-matter.
- 13. a. b. c. "Bundesregierung geht gegen Firma des angeblichen Hintermannes vor," Die Welt, May 23, 2019, https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article194080009/Strache-Video-Deutsche-Bundesregierung-geht-gegen-Firma-des-angeblichen-Hintermannes-vor.html.
- 14. Ramin Mirfakhrai, http://www.mirfakhrai.at.
- 15. "Ibiza-Connection: Schaltzentrale in Wiener Innenstadt," EU-Infothek, May 24, 2019, http://www.eu-infothek.com/ibiza-connection-schaltzentrale-in-wiener-innenstadt/.
- 16. "Ibiza-Video: Anwalt legt Geständnis ab - "investigativ-journalistisches Projekt"," Kurier, May 24, 2019, https://kurier.at/politik/inland/krass-anwalt-will-bei-ibiza-video-auf-wallraffs-spuren-gewandelt-sein/400505215.
- 17. Herbert Lackner und Martin Staudinger, "Eurasier unter sich: Mit wem sich Heinz-Christian Strache in Wien traf," Profil, 10 June 2014, https://www.profil.at/oesterreich/eurasier-mit-heinz-christian-strache-wien-375880.
- 18. Fabian Schmid, “Russischer Neofaschist Dugin vor Akademikerball in Wien,” Der Standard, 18 January 2018, https://derstandard.at/2000072514481/Russischer-Neofaschist-Dugin-kommt-vor-Akademikerball-nach-Wien.
- 19. Bernhard Odehnal, ”Gipfeltreffen mit Putins fünfter Kolonne,” Tagesanzeiger, 3 June 2014, https://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/ausland/europa/Gipfeltreffen-mit-Putins-fuenfter-Kolonne/story/30542701.