Ex-Chancellor Kurz: – “Putin ready to cross any red line”

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Sebastian Kurz spent more than a decade in top politics before retiring a year ago. With the former Chancellor returning to the public eye, his new book “Let’s Talk About Politics” reflects on his time at the helm of the Republic. krone.at met him in Vienna and asked what Kurz thought about the war in Ukraine, what his new life in the private sector is like – and if he also changes diapers every now and then…

The diners who comfortably eat their schnitzel and drink coffee on the ground floor of the Viennese restaurant Stadtwirt in Vienna’s third district probably have no idea who is sitting on the first floor of the restaurant on that foggy autumn afternoon.

Classic in a dark blue suit, but without a tie Kurz would still continue as a top politician. But a change is noticeable, and so the former Chancellor and ÖVP boss doesn’t just talk about professional stuff, but also gives unusually open insights into his private life…

crown.at: Mr. Kurz, you have recently invested in a number of start-ups and companies, your most recent collaboration is being scrutinized, your new business partner has so far developed espionage software. What do you say about this and what is your current field of activity?
Sebastian Kurz: I left politics at the end of last year and started working in an entrepreneurial and private capacity, including for Peter Thiel at Thiel Capital in the US. In addition, I set up a consultancy and, together with Alexander Schütz, I started investing in a number of companies, also in Austria. I recently set up a company with partners in Israel and have already raised $20 million in investment funds. The company specializes in protecting critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks, an increasingly important topic.

What does a typical day in the life of Sebastian Kurz look like?
I’m quite challenged with all these activities – smiles – but of course try to spend as much time as possible with our young son, I enjoy that very much. About three out of four weeks a month I am on the road, in the Middle East, the US, but also in Europe and Asia. I spend a week a month in Austria, but I try to travel together as often as possible so that my partner and the little one are with me so we can have a little family time.

Does that mean you are actively involved in childcare? Does Sebastian Kurz change diapers?
Yes of course. But admittedly – my girlfriend is currently on maternity leave and therefore bears the main responsibility. But as often as possible I participate, of course I change the diaper and I play with the little one. In short: I really enjoy spending time with our little Konstantin.

And what about further family planning? Are the wedding bells going to ring soon?
I am someone who would rather talk about it at home than in the media. I ask for your understanding.
The latter will become a problem at some point. But I tend to treat that at home too – smiles.

Your new book is called “Let’s talk about politics” – so let’s talk about politics. Do you miss her?
I have always enjoyed being politically active, serving the country and contributing to the federal government. What I miss the most is the contact with people, you travel a lot, meet different people and can not only listen when people report their concerns and needs, but also contribute to move things in the right direction. That gave me great pleasure. Working with my team has always been great.

But?
Well, on the other hand, there are things like quarrels, the daily and domestic political struggles and frequent quarrels – I must honestly say I don’t miss that. I was very passionate about my ten years in government, but I am just as happy with my new duties. Being economically active in other countries also broadens my personal horizons.

Nevertheless, I assume that you are monitoring Austrian domestic politics to a certain extent. How do you view the re-emergence of staff debates in the ÖVP? For example, there were rumors about a transfer of Karl Nehammer, Finance Minister Magnus Brunner or Karoline Edtstadler were in talks, what do you say about that? Have you left a power vacuum?
No, I don’t think I left a power vacuum there. But you’d be surprised how little I follow Austrian domestic politics. I’m more concerned with geopolitics and the question of where our world is going. Karl Nehammer was my interior minister, succeeded me as chancellor and party leader, he leads the People’s Party very carefully – I wouldn’t overestimate anything else.

You were one of the youngest leaders in Europe and your rise to power has given many young people hope for change. Have you brought about this change, what is left of you in this regard?
As for the age, I believe something has changed. It is much easier for young people today to move into management positions than it was 20 or 30 years ago. We also have more and more younger politicians in other European countries like Denmark and Finland, I think that’s a good thing because this mix of younger and older, women and men etc. is just important in politics. The diversity that makes up our population must also be reflected in politics.

Are you actually ruling out a lifelong comeback in politics? Are you really saying, “I’m never coming back”?
I have clear opinions on political issues, and that has not changed. I remain interested in how our world is evolving. But as far as Austrian domestic politics is concerned, I have spent most of my professional life there and I am also happy to be doing something different now. This is also where I see my future.

Many Austrians are currently concerned about the climate bonus, have you already received yours?
Yes, I have already received it.

And what are you going to do with it?
With us, my girlfriend has more than the budget at home, so this decision is not made by me – smiles.

In the course of the chat affair came your withdrawal. Do you still have contact with your former employees who were involved?
I still have good contact with my team, with whom I have worked very closely in my office. We have been through a lot together and achieved a lot – two electoral victories, a lot of reforms – also one or two setbacks.

Is there anything you might regret or do differently today?
Yes of course. I kept thinking if there were wrong decisions or intersections where we took the wrong turn. In retrospect it is difficult to say. But I wondered if, after the Ibiza unveiling, it was right to go to new elections rather than try to continue the coalition. There are a number of fields where, from today’s perspective, someone else could trade with a different level of knowledge.

Usually the journalists sat or stood on the other side of the table. Now you have chosen a journalist to work with you on your book, namely my “Krone” colleague Conny Bischofberger. What was it like working with her, is it said that she has a great love for detail?
I have always known and appreciated Conny Bischofberger as one of the most renowned Austrian journalists, but I have come to appreciate her even more by working with her. It was certainly not easy for me, I have traveled a lot and it was often difficult in terms of time. She was always very patient and generous. And what you say is correct. I’m a perfectionist, but I’m not nearly as good as them at remembering details, moods, and impressions. She has a special eye and a special feeling, which I find very interesting, and I really enjoyed working with her.

Looking a little into the future, what does your son’s school history book say about Sebastian Kurz? Or what should there be?
Well, I don’t know how often these history books are revised, and hopefully the domestic politics of recent years won’t be the focus of history lessons. But I have tried to summarize my view of things in my book, it was certainly a busy and intense time, but also a phase of enthusiasm in which we have succeeded, in a country where the social democracy traditionally wins the elections, twice make a choice for us and develop the country in a different direction.

The current situation in Ukraine concerns the whole world. During your time as State Secretary, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chancellor you had good contacts with Russia. How would you go on now?
There will certainly be no shouting from me as far as Austrian politics are concerned. As for the situation in Europe, I must say that I am concerned. After meeting Vladimir Putin many times, I now believe that he is someone who is willing to cross any red line, defeat is not an option for him. We must be aware that one cannot exclude that he might as well be readyto cross the last red line and use nuclear weapons. I sincerely hope that everyone who bears responsibility here in Europe will try to de-escalate the situation.

Would you actively seek contact with Vladimir Putin?
I’m not a tipster. I know there are people who are in touch. There are also states outside Europe that are trying to get involved and build bridges, such as in the possible dialogue process that started in Istanbul. However you look at it, the goal should be to avoid total escalation.

Source: Krone

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