This is a figure that has divided much of Austrian society and is always guaranteed to heat up the conversation should it be flagging. Born in upper Austria, his career was launched here in Carinthia under the Freedom Party banner.
In my opinion he is a populist with nationalist tendencies. He said some pretty irresponsible (to say the least) comments regarding Hitler, National Socialism and immigration policy. I say irresponsible not because there should be an absolute taboo on such subjects but because in Austria a significant percentage of the population are sympathetic towards the policies of national socialism. Some of Haider’s speeches carry enough wait to make this Austrian minority of extreme nationalists legitimized within mainstream politics. His speeches carry the risk of increasing race crime and passive discrimination.
Some of the more controversial comments he made were:
Referring to concentration camps as punishment camps,
Describing a gathering of Waffen SS veterans as respectable, whilst accusing the Interior minister Franz Loeschank of making ‘primitive attacks’ on the veterans whilst letting crime by immigrants go unchecked.
Praising Hitler’s employment record.
The mainstream press in the rest of Europe including the UK, and internationally, pigeon holed Haider as an extreme far right politician, a wild card that by chance made it into the mainstream. The focus was entirely on his most controversial speech excerpts. Indeed many here in Carinthia will say that there was a sustained and calculated campaign to discredit Haider to the disadvantage of Austria. Haider was seen in this sense as the only politician standing up for Austrian rights. It is interesting how the press enjoyed framing him as the fascist politician from Austria. It makes good copy. Austria escaped punishment largely unscathed for its contribution towards the national socialist dream. So there is a narrative in place for emergence of such a character. Certainly discussion of Nazism is not nearly as taboo here as it is in Germany where legislation allows for prosecution of those voicing Nazi politics. I think it is interesting that Haider was depicted as an extreme nationalist whilst Berlusconi, president of Italy, who’s rhetoric was equally abhorrent, was depicted as, well, Italian. I am again reminded of former UK prime minister Gordon Brown’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ speech.
Now here in Carinthia, Haider is much loved. I was at a Bushenshanker farm restaurant last night and the owner could claim that Haider had visited it. Mara’s father could claim that Haider had visited his farm in remote Stockenboi. Indeed everyone here seems to have either met him or know someone who met him. This is his lasting image in Carinthia as the champion of the rural class. He introduced a series of measures to protect small farms. He sought to increase the welfare benefits for Austrians out of work. Haider chased investment opportunities from Russian oligarchs to help develop the Austrian countryside. He voiced opposition to EU policies that would expose Austrian farmers to unfair competition from abroad.
Ofcource not all were happy with Haider. One Klagenfurt DJ said that Haider was the death of the dance scene in Carinthia. Once he became governor the police began carrying out stop and searches on every car that left a club. A sustained campaign against popular youth culture lead to the closing of Fabrik, a Worthersee club that had been a cultural-music intersection for Austrians, Italians, Slovenians and Hungarians. Ironically, Haider ever the publicist, had his picture taken at Fabrik’s once yearly launch night dancing with the youth, this shortly before he had the club closed down.
Then, three years ago his car was found crashed outside Klagenfurt and he was pronounced dead. Days later it emerged that he was secretly homosexual. And then the conspiracies begun.
Who killed him? The Austrian secret service? Russian or Italian mafia? Mossad? Why was he killed? For his anti-EU position? For his anti-Semitism? For an investment that lost someone a lot of money? For taking money that did not belong to him? Two contracts he was working on at the time of his death were a water treaty with Egypt to supply drinking water through pipelines. The second was an oil contract with the now deceased president of Libya, Gadaffi. Both of these contracts were upsetting sectors of the European establishment. Then there was his ties with the Saddam regime, some contacts of which he maintained long after the Iraq war.
The Haider enigma remains a charming mystery of Carinthia.