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Haider, Jörg (1950-2008)  
 
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On October 11, 2008, a heavily intoxicated Jörg Haider crashed his car while driving twice the speed limit. Thus, a remarkable but ambiguous political career came to an end.

Haider was a right-wing Austrian politician who had been featured on the covers of Time and Newsweek, caricatured as neo-Nazi industrialist Richard Dressier played by Alan Bates in the movie The Sum of All Fears (2002, directed by Phil Alden Robinson), and had shaken hands with Saddam Hussein before the American invasion of Iraq.

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The last thing Haider--who was variously described as chauvinistic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, populist, and charismatic--did before he died was visit a gay bar.

Haider matters to glbtq culture in several but contradictory respects. First, persistent rumors about his sexuality did not harm his political career, thus suggesting that homosexuality has ceased to be a major issue in Austria. However, the fact that no mainstream Austrian politician or journalist dared to out Haider may suggest the opposite: that homosexuality is so taboo as to be unspeakable.

Perhaps most pointedly, Haider did great damage to the Austrian glbtq community. In opposing pro-gay policies he reinforced the stereotype of hypocritical politicians who privately enjoy the freedoms won by the glbtq movement while taking public positions against the movement.

Biography

Haider was born January 26, 1950 in Bad Goisern in the Salzkammergut, an area known to many Americans as the location of the film The Sound of Music (1965, directed by Robert Wise).

Haider was raised in a climate of denial, resentment, and poverty. His parents, a shoemaker and a teacher, had been ardent supporters of fascism who, after World War II, were punished for their political activities. His father, who had joined Adolf Hitler's party in 1929 at age 15, was sentenced to help exhume corpses in a concentration camp, while his mother was barred from teaching for a few years.

While in high school, Haider excelled in all subjects and flirted with becoming an actor. He joined a right-wing fraternity, then completed his mandatory military service, and enrolled at the University of Vienna to study law and politics. As a college student, he joined a pan-Germanic, right-wing, mock-dueling fraternity.

He received his Ph.D. in 1973 and then taught in the University of Vienna's Department of Constitutional Law.

In 1976, Haider married Claudia Hoffmann, a fellow student. The couple soon produced two daughters, Ulrike and Cornelia. He insisted that his wife interrupt her studies and stay home in order to rear them.

Haider turned down a Fulbright fellowship at Columbia University in New York City in order to pursue a political career.

Political Rise and Fall

In 1971, Haider became the leader of the youth movement of the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, or Freedom Party), a party founded more or less on nationalistic, anti-clerical, and anti-socialist ideals. Since many German liberals were also fervent nationalists, the party included members from both sides of the political spectrum.

In 1980, at age 29, Haider was elected to the Austrian parliament and immediately began to oppose his more liberal colleagues.

When his party formed a coalition with the liberal SPÖ (Social Democrats) in 1983, Haider's hopes for a cabinet post were frustrated.

In 1986, having become a millionaire through an inheritance, Haider ousted the left-leaning head of the FPÖ to become president of the party. After his victory, shouts of "Sieg Heil" from some of his supporters reverberated through the arena where the party was meeting.

Upon Haider's election, the Social Democrats ended the coalition with the FPÖ. However, his party more than doubled its vote in the subsequent election.

In 1989 Haider became governor of the southern province of Carinthia after breaking the SPÖ's decade-long grip on power there.

In 1991, however, he lost the post as the result of a highly provocative speech in the provincial legislature in which he seemed to be defending Hitler's labor policies. He declared, for example, that "In the Third Reich, they pursued a proper employment policy, which is more than could be said about the government in Vienna these days."

In 1993, in response to Haider's support for a xenophobic referendum called "Austria First" (which failed), left-leaning members of the FPÖ split from the party to found their own party, the Liberal Forum, which proffered progressive views on such issues as drugs, abortion, and homosexuality.

In 1999, Haider was reelected governor when his party captured the most votes in the state election.

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Jörg Haider in 2007.
  
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