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He had disappointed many when he chose to pursue his career in the clapped-out Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). The party had its roots in anti-clerical liberalism but had been rapidly taken over by German nationalists who despised the multicultural Habsburg Empire. After the war, it attracted a number of former Nazis as the conservative VPÖ had inherited the mantle of the Christian Socialist "Austrofascists" who had wound up democracy and created the corporate state in 1934. The Christian Socialists' leaders spent the war in Dachau and Mauthausen and although their politics had been dodgy beforehand, they returned smelling of roses.

The FPÖ was the natural party for Haider. His parents were proper Nazis. His father Robert was an illegitimate "cobbler" who married a schoolmistress, Dorothea. Robert joined the SA in 1929. When the Nazis were banned he fled, became an Illegale and joined the Austrian Legion encamped around Hitler's country house at Berchtesgaden. Both parents were youth leaders under the Third Reich, and Jörg, too, would make his strongest appeal to the young. He was the Erwecker: Siegfried awakening Brünnhilde in her ring of fire.

The Haiders had the misfortune to be in the American Zone when the war ended. Denazification was taken seriously. Robert was forced to bury the dead at the grisly camp of Ebensee, while Dorothea became a cleaner and was insulted by Jews. They had put the hard times behind them by the time Jörg was born in 1950. He soared to the top of the class at school and joined the right-wing Silvania duelling society - a Schlagende Verbindung (militaristic fencing fraternity). However, he never had the "membership scar" on his cheek that might have marred his enduring good looks. Haider belonged to the protest generation of 1968. In his perverse way he even typified it: a thorn in the side of the authorities to the end. What he didn't do was rebel against his parents, whom he always respected. After taking his doctorate in Vienna, he went on to teach law. He became secretary of the FPÖ in 1976.

He inherited an estate in the Bärental from his great-uncle, Wilhelm Webhofer, who had acquired the land from a Jew who had left in a hurry (but to be fair, Webhofer's father fled in a hurry, too, having been driven out of the South Tyrol by Mussolini). With 1,600 hectares of land, Haider was very rich, and his party didn't lack funds, although its donors kept their names out of the papers.

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brianson
December 4th, 2008
2:12 PM
It's not like we don't have our share of unfaithful politicians with various substance abuse problems, but...wow! I'll let you in on a secret Austria, across the pond you kinda' have a reputation for loopy politicians and this guy didn't help. Xenophobe or not.

Richard Murphy
November 30th, 2008
7:11 PM
Interesting piece, but a few factual errors. The Austrian People's Party is the OeVP, not VPOe. And Susanne Riess-Passer was Vice-Chancellor, not foreign minister.

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