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He loved to push the opposite line. They called it Haiderising - making small-minded prejudice acceptable, whipping up the people against immigrants and the EU, but backing Turkish entry. He visited Saddam twice as the West prepared to go to war in Iraq and made friends with the Gaddafis. In 1999, his tub-thumping paid off. With 27 per cent of the vote, VPÖ chief Wolfgang Schüssel formed a government with the FPÖ. President Thomas Klestil refused to accept Haider but FPÖ member Susanne Riess-Passer became Foreign Minister. He could smell power, but it was whisked away from under his nose.

Everywhere the heat was turned up against the FPÖ. Some Austrian papers imposed a ban on pictures of Haider, wounding his sense of vanity. He told the world that he was fitter and better- looking than his detractors. The EU briefly imposed sanctions on Austria to no obvious avail: within Austria, supporting the EU sanctions was tantamount to disloyalty. On 17 February 2000, he was “outed” by the novelist Elfriede Jelinek in the Berliner Morgenpost. The story was taken up elsewhere, particularly by the homosexual pressure group Hosi, which confirmed the politician’s sexual inclinations. Hosi had not seen fit to mention his sexuality before, because he was a bad advertisement for the cause. Besides, Haider had never opposed measures aimed at normalising homosexuality.

It was all part of the process of nobbling Haider. Asked whether his party was a descendant of the Nazi Party, he replied candidly that it was not, but had it been so, he would have won the election. More damaging was his outburst against the head of the Austrian Jewish community, Ariel Muzicant. Addressing the party’s Ash Wednesday meeting in 2001, he said: “I can’t understand that someone called ‘Ariel’ (ie the soap powder) should have so much dirty linen hanging on the line.” It might not have been anything more than a witty put-down (he referred to the socialist leader Gusenbauer as Gruselbauer — “creepy peasant” — throughout), but he was certainly aware that his supporters would think “dirty Jew”. The outcry was deafening. On the advice of his lawyer, he apologised to Muzicant. Whether it was because he had been “outed” as a homosexual, a Nazi or an anti-Semite, Haider resigned and headed back to Carinthia — down, but not out. Perhaps he understood that a protest party could never be a party of government. To offer the FPÖ portfolios was to remove its sting.

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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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