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Most of his scandalous and never-forgotten utterances date from early days. Haider was the master of the half-truth: that concentration camps were punishment camps (yes, but you could be punished for your race, politics or sexual inclinations); that the SS was a normal military unit, telling a pack of former SS men they were decent people (some were no worse than the Wehrmacht, but many of them were thugs). Then there was the statement about the orderly employment policies of the Third Reich that cost him the governorship of Carinthia. He was aware that such comments added to his allure. He wrested the FPÖ from the liberal Norbert Steger - vice-chancellor in a coalition government of the socialist Franz Vranitzky. During the putsch that brought Haider to power, his supporters called Steger a Jew (he wasn't), and threatened him with the gas chamber. Vranitzky promptly cancelled the pact with the FPÖ.

Nazis were crawling out of the woodwork at the time. Questions were being asked about Kurt Waldheim's past and the FPÖ's Minister of Defence Friedhelm Frischenschlager had shaken the hand of Nazi war criminal Walter Reder, a former SS major who had served 40 years in Italian prisons for a massacre of 600 civilians in Marzabotto, when he returned from Italy. Haider spoke up for the underdogs, listened to their complaints, dished out the free drinks and later 100-euro bills. He presented himself as the saviour of the common man. He railed against political corruption and crime. Austria was politically congealed and ruled by the Parteibuch (party membership and the "protection" that it afforded). With its inevitable "grand coalitions" and increasingly faceless leaders, it was a paradise for an "I'm all right, Jack" attitude.

Haider had no faith in ideas. In the left-wing socialist SPÖ or the VPÖ he would have been rapidly drowned in the machinery of mediocrity. His style bore a passing resemblance to that of Ken Livingstone: both were irresponsible demagogues who promised much, and occasionally delivered. Within Carinthia, Haider imported industry and looked after his people. There were grants to school starters, increased child benefits for all mothers. He picked fights with the Slovenian minority, but it seems he enjoyed the occasional excursion to the other side of the border where he would descend on nightclubs with a posse of suntanned boys. Some Carinthians criticised his "village Kaiser" approach, but it was clear people thought him a good man and did not question how much he cost, or what he did for their reputation abroad.

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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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