Austrians, the Austrian journalist Alfred Polgar sardonically noted in the early 20th century, are a people who “look with foresight into the past.” He was referring to Austrians’ tendency to seek comfort in Die Welt von Gestern, the world of yesterday, as the writer Stefan Zweig titled his autobiography. When Austrians flocked in 1955 to the cinemas to see the film Sissi, a kitschy love story about the young Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I and the Empress Elisabeth, they didn’t merely enjoy the couple’s love story: They sought refuge, after the horrors of World War II, in the film’s old world composed of hierarchy, law, and order underpinned by a general respect for traditional values.
Today, another young conservative Austrian leader, Sebastian Kurz — the 31-year-old chancellor of Austria and chairman of a revamped version of Austria’s traditional center-right party — projects a similar profile as Sissi’s young emperor. In part, that’s due to his style of conservative populism, an original synthesis of heavy-handed social conservatism and law enforcement with traditional fidelity to established European institutions and economic policies. Since becoming leader of the Austrian People’s Party, he has steered it toward a coalition with the far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party, which had previously been ostracized by the bien-pensant Austrian establishment. Since taking office as chancellor, he has spoken of an urgent need to crack down on illegal immigration and maintain Austria’s traditional culture.
Read the full article here in Foreign Policy.