Brioche Kipferl in Vienna
The first morning after the Christmas holidays, my local bakery is bustling, as the Viennese emerge, blinking, from four days of festive hibernation to buy more groceries and some marzipan pigs for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
I am celebrating the almost-end of the worst geopolitical year in my living memory, and my first day back in Austria since Dec. 4, when the far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer was roundly defeated in the country’s second 2016 presidential election. So for breakfast I order the largest, most obscenely shiny brioche Kipferl, studded with sugar chunks like a spray of rough-cut diamonds.
There is plenty of good news in this second election result (in addition to, you know, simply not electing Europe’s first far-right head of state since 1945.) This sleepy district where I was born and am now wolfing down a sweet croissant went 70-30 percent for Independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, and this time he won every single one of Vienna’s 23 districts. The December result was a far more decisive victory (53.8 percent to 46.2 percent) over the Freedom Party candidate; in May, Van Der Bellen won by only 31,000 votes. More good news: the anti-immigrant Freedom Party had hoped Trump’s election would give them a boost by normalizing their cause. But fortunately, Austrians had the sane reaction to Trump’s post-election horror show, and elected the candidate that stood for the opposite of Trump’s values.
But my favorite part of all this is that Austria’s second 2016 presidential election was the stage for a slap in the face for Nigel Farage.
Farage—the former leader of the Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant U.K. Independence Party, and the original Mr. Brexit—was a malign specter haunting global affairs in 2016. Whether in the U.K., Italy, France, the U.S., or Austria, he sniffed out political turmoil and materialized as a lie-spouting talking head, opportunistically trying to shoehorn himself and his xenophobic, fear-mongering vision into a broader, global relevancy.
The truth is that Farage is, technically, a political non-entity. He is not popular at home; he has tried and failed seven times to win a seat in the British Parliament. His Brexit campaign (which was separate from the official ‘Vote Leave’ organization because they wanted nothing to do with him) was a buffet of shameless lies, and his classless, gloating rant to the European Parliament in Brussels after the Brexit vote (sample quote: “You’re not laughing now, are you?”) was, as The Guardian’s Marina Hyde put it, “like watching the live abortion of Churchill’s oratorial legacy.”
So allow me my own gloating rant that Austria was the battlefield where Farage’s weapons finally blew up in his face. He assumed, in his anti-Brussels one-track worldview, that Austria’s presidential elections were a referendum on the E.U. The irony is that it wasn’t—until he made it so. A couple of days before the election, Farage said on Fox News—falsely—that Norbert Hofer would hold a referendum on leaving the E.U. This was not on the campaign table; Hofer and his party are well aware that a majority of Austrians want to stay in the E.U. (and that Brexit has been a disaster). Hofer called Farage’s intervention a “crass misjudgement” and told him to fuck off out of Austria’s affairs. (Well, that was the gist.)
It’s hard to say if Farage’s big mouth cost Hofer the election. Some in the Freedom Party certainly blame him: it seems some right-leaning voters broke late for Van Der Bellen over the E.U. issue after Farage’s babbling. If so, I am in the peculiar position of being thankful for Farage’s usually toxic combination of attention-seeking and ignorance. Regardless, this small public rebuke (and hopefully, the beginning of the end of Farage’s political moment in the sun) is good news too.
So thank you, Nigel. And fuck you. I toast you with my sugary Kipferl. As the Austrians say, have a good rutsch (“slide”) into the New Year.