Is Austria rediscovering its Catholic roots? Or is the country moving further away from Christian values under its soon-to-be head of government, Sebastian Kurz?

The 31-year-old Catholic’s recent landslide victory has caused considerable consternation across Europe’s commentariat, even among some Catholic observers. The German satirical magazine Titanic raised eyebrows by proclaiming on its front page: “Time travel in Austria: It’s finally possible to kill baby Hitler!” This was accompanied by an image showing cross hairs aiming at the heart of the young Chancellor-to-be.

More serious-minded media expressed their alarm differently. The Munich-based broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung interpreted the victory of “the populist Kurz” as a warning to Germany. Vatican Radio’s German section published an article that described the election as a “swing to the Right that is difficult for Christians”.

As Stephan Baier, the veteran Vienna correspondent of the Catholic German newspaper Die Tagespost points out, however, voter turnout would suggest that many Christians are, in fact, pleased with Kurz’s ascent.

Eighty per cent of the electorate went to the polls on October 15 in a country that, as of 2016, was 60 per cent Catholic (a further 10 per cent were either Orthodox or Protestant Christians).

The results show that Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) won 31.5 per cent of the vote. In second and third place, almost neck and neck, came the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ). This suggests that a large number of Christians not only voted for Kurz, but also for the more right-wing FPÖ, with which the Chancellor-to-be is currently in coalition talks.

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