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Haider, Jörg (1950-2008)  
 
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That same year, in the federal election, the FPÖ received more votes than the ÖVP (Austria's conservative party). Those two parties then formed a governing coalition, which led to the ostracism of Austria by many foreign countries. For example, all fourteen other members of the European Union ceased cooperating with Vienna. To the international democratic community, Haider had become a pariah.

The FPÖ's success came soon after the presidency of Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, and the controversy over his attempt to hide some aspects of his service as an intelligence officer in World War II. An independent international commission of historians found Waldheim guilty of knowing about, though not participating in, crimes against humanity.

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In this atmosphere of suspicion about Austria's denial of its fascist past, many politicians abroad saw the FPÖ as right-wing and neo-Nazi.

In 2000, Haider resigned the presidency of the FPÖ, but he continued to exert powerful influence on the party. Two years later, Haider's party suffered its worst defeat ever at the polls, receiving only 10% of the vote, a double-digit loss. When he attempted to reclaim the party's leadership, he was rebuffed.

In 2005, Haider left the FPÖ and founded the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ), or Alliance for the Future of Austria, a party with a new name but basically the same ideals as the FPÖ. (Ironically, one of the reasons Haider gave for leaving the FPÖ was its extreme nationalism.)

At the federal election on September 28, 2008, two weeks before Haider's demise, his party received over 10% of the vote, which together with the FPÖ tally of 18% amounted to a strong showing for the right-wing parties.

The Social Democrats and the Conservative Party received a majority of seats, but since they had been in a highly unsuccessful coalition that ended prematurely, analysts are unsure about the stability of Austria's political future.

Funeral and Aftermath

Haider's funeral was attended by Austria's political and clerical elite, including the president, the chancellor of the country, all the governors, and several bishops, as well as by various dignitaries from all over the world.

Problematically, the son of Libyan president Gaddafi, representatives of right-wing fraternities, and separatist politicians from Northern Italy also showed up. They were vivid reminders of Haider's questionable dedication to democracy and European integration.

Haider's premature death elevated him to the status of a martyr. Indeed, his supporters have established a Haider cult. Some journalists have even spoken of a "Diana effect," referring to the outpouring of grief after Britain's Princess Diana died, also in a car accident.

And because Haider was alone in his vehicle, in the middle of the night in foggy conditions, speculation about possible foul play and conspiracies immediately began to swirl.

Much was also made about the poignant symbolism of his wrecked car, a Volkswagen Phaeton. The mythological Phaeton hubristically lost control of his sun chariot and plunged to his death. Phaeton, driving at reckless speed, set the world on fire with his actions and came to a tragic end.

Controversy

Haider was a polarizing figure with an absolutist worldview that divided people into winners or losers. The list of his resentments was long: the construction of new mosques, European integration, multiculturalism, Western support of Israel, feminism, "Polish laziness," political correctness.

Haider called concentration camps "punishment camps," attended ceremonies by former members of the Waffen-SS, used racial slurs, and paired former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with Communist dictator Stalin as the two politicians for whom he felt the most contempt.

He also liked to travel to "rogue" countries such as Libya and Iraq. Right before the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, for example, he paid homage to Saddam Hussein on a trip he recalled in his richly illustrated book Visiting Saddam: In the "Realm of Evil."

Haider became an issue even in the United States. (Haider traveled repeatedly to the United States and modeled his party program, called Contract with Austria, after former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich's Contract with America.) In her early Senate campaign in 2000, Hillary Clinton brought up her then opponent Mayor Rudy Giuliani's meeting with Haider the year before, while John McCain, in his first presidential campaign in 2000, criticized the European Union sanctions against Austria as counterproductive.

Yet Haider also sometimes apologized and could deprecate himself, although contrition was not his strong suit. Klaus Ottomeyer draws attention to his practice of "the inconsequential denial": habitually making inflammatory comments only to follow them with weak disclaimers. In this practice, he was able to send his supporters a strong message while also guaranteeing himself a spotlight in the media twice--once for the outrageous statement and again for the disclaimer.

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