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Home|Euro 2008|Travel|Guide|Culture|Joerg Haider

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Austrian Culture: Joerg Haider

Robert Easton

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The election by Austrian voters of far right Nazi sympathiser Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party into a coalition government sent shock waves around the world in 1999.

Haider has been accused of racism and anti-semitism, but in the Austrian media he is considered to be a normal part of politics.

The Austrian head of state is the president who is directly elected for a six-year term. The Austrian parliament consists of two chambers, the National Council of 183 members which is elected by proportional representation, and the Federal Council, which is elected by provincial parliaments. Austria became a full member of the EU in 1995.

From after World War II Austria was ruled by either the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, or SPÖ), or the conservative Austrian People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei or ÖVP), either independently or in coalition together, until 1983.

From 1983 the SPÖ ruled in coalition with the Freedom Party, until Haider became the Freedom Party's leader in 1986.

When Haider took control of the Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) it was only a minor political player with about 5-6% of the vote, only just over the 4% required to gain representation in parliament.

Over the next decade he steadily built support, culminating in the 1999 election which saw his party receive 27% of the vote.

Haider's controversy stems from his personal background, his political views, and his political methods. Both his parents were Nazi Party members. His father joined the Party long before Hitler came to power in Germany, and fought for Germany on both the Eastern and Western fronts before being discharged after being wounded several times.

Haider's mother was a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, an organisation which could be described as an early female equivalent of the Hitler Youth. After World War II both of Haider's parents were punished for their roles, in accordance with the new Austrian law. Haider says that his parents' past was rarely discussed during his childhood.

Mr. Haider is generally anti-immigration and anti-EU, but his policies are often contradictory. For example, he is against EU expansion, but supported Turkey's bid to join the EU.

He has often attracted controversy through ill-advised outbursts. In 1989 whilst governor of Corinthia, a speaker criticised his plans to reduce payments to the unemployed, and compared the idea to the Nazi's system of forced work placements.

Haider replied, 'It would not be like the Third Reich, because the Third Reich developed a proper employment policy, which your government in Vienna has not once produced.' Haider was forced to resign.

Haider has also said that the SS was 'part of the Germany army which should be honoured', and referred to concentration camps as 'punishment camps'. Mr Haider has apologised for all these controversial incidents, but it is easy to understand why some suspect his true views may not have changed.

In the 1999 election the FPÖ increased their share of the vote so significantly that they overtook the ÖVP and become Austria's second most powerful party. The SPÖ got the most votes, but not enough to rule alone, and were unable to form a coalition government.

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The result was a coalition government between Haider's FPÖ and the ÖVP. Demonstrations against the new government took place every week for two years, and for an extended period foreign diplomats and leaders refused to shake hands with members of the government.

Haider's stint in government was not very successful, and he resigned as the leader of the Freedom Party in 2000. It has been suggested that he continued to control the party from behind the scenes, and may have been responsible for the downfall of his successor, an event which triggered another general election in 2003. In that election the FPÖ's support plummeted to around 10% of the vote.

Shortly afterwards Haider broke away from the FPÖ to form a new party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria, (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, BZÖ). The next parliamentary elections are in October 2006, and some analysts suggest that the BZÖ will struggle to attain the 4% of the vote needed for a seat in parliament, and may disappear entirely after this election.

Others suggest that Haider's decision to break away from the Freedom Party he once led is just part of a greater masterplan which will one day see him instated as Austria's leader.

The current government, formed after the 2002 elections, is a coalition between the ÖVP and the Freedom Party, without Haider.

In 2005, Haider launched a new party, the Alliance for Austria's Future, following a split in the Freedom Party and was subsequently expelled from the Freedom Party. The Alliance for Austria's Future won 11% of the vote in the September 2008 national elections.

Joerg Haider died aged 58 in a car accident in Klagenfurt, Austria in October, 2008. Haider was drunk and speeding at the time of the crash and the incident involved no other vehicles.

Rumours of Haider's homosexuality only came out following his death.

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