Haider, Jorg

▪ 2009

      Austrian politician

born Jan. 26, 1950, Bad Goisern, Austria

died Oct. 11, 2008, near Klagenfurt, Austria
as the charismatic but controversial populist leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ; 1986–2000) and the prominent governor of the state of Kärnten (1989–91; 1999–2008), transformed the FPÖ and increased its appeal among conservative Austrian voters. Haider denounced immigration, opposed the expansion of the EU to the east, and exploited the Austrian people's disgust with their scandal-ridden government, but his extreme views and complimentary remarks about Nazi Germany eventually cost him (and the FPÖ) support. Haider studied at the University of Vienna, where he received (1973) a law degree and subsequently taught law. He became chairman of the FPÖ's youth organization and in 1979, at age 29, was elected to the parliament. In 1983 Haider was named to head the FPÖ in Kärnten; three years later he became chairman of the federal party. He was elected governor of Kärnten in 1989 at the head of a coalition with the centre-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP). He was forced to resign in 1991, partly as a result of his praise for Adolf Hitler's employment policies, but he was reelected in March 1999. In parliamentary elections that October, the FPÖ finished second with 27% of the vote and formed a national coalition government with the ÖVP. This development sparked international protests; the Israeli government recalled its ambassador; and the EU imposed political sanctions against Austria. Haider was forced to resign as FPÖ leader, though he remained active in the party and continued as governor of Kärnten. In 2005 he formed a new party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). Haider died from injuries sustained in a car accident.

▪ 2000

      In parliamentary elections held on Oct. 3, 1999, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), led by Jörg Haider, registered its strongest showing to date, threatening the coalition of the Social-Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) that had ruled the country since the mid-1980s. By securing 27% of the vote, the right-wing FPÖ edged the conservative ÖVP for second place. Much of the credit for the success of the FPÖ, which had become the largest far-right party in Europe since World War II, went to Haider.

      Haider was born on Jan. 26, 1950, in Bad Goisern, Austria. He attended school in nearby Bad Ischl and from 1968 to 1973 studied at the University of Vienna, where he received an LL.D. degree. For the next three years he taught law at the university. He became chairman of the youth organization of the FPÖ in 1970. In 1976 he was elected secretary of the party in the state of Kärnten, and beginning in 1979 he served the first of a number of terms in the national parliament. In 1983 he was elected chairman of the party in Kärnten and in 1986 chairman of the national FPÖ. In 1989 elections in Kärnten, the FPÖ came in second and formed a coalition with Christian conservatives, with Haider being chosen governor of the state. In 1991, partly as a result of Haider's praise for policies of Adolf Hitler, the coalition dissolved, and he was forced to resign. In March 1999 the FPÖ came in first in Kärnten elections, with 42% of the vote.

      Under Haider's leadership the FPÖ had a virtually unbroken string of successes in increasing its strength at all levels, as well as in elections for the European Parliament. Haider himself was a charismatic man and a skillful orator. He was a populist who virulently denounced immigration, but perhaps his most controversial views involved statements he made about Hitler and the Nazis. In a speech in 1995, for example, he defended and praised members of the Waffen-SS, calling them “decent people of good character.” He described Nazi concentration camps as “punishment camps” and praised certain of Hitler's labour policies. At the same time he said that he was not anti-Semitic and that he deplored the Holocaust.

      Some observers attributed a measure of Haider's support to the Austrian people's disgust with the ruling coalition, which had become an entrenched bureaucracy known for mismanagement and for a succession of scandals. In addition, certain of his positions, notably opposition to expansion of the European Union to the east, were popular among a wide spectrum of Austrians. Other observers, however, expressed alarm that the sentiments he gave voice to could find a large audience in a prosperous Austria in the 1990s.

Robert Rauch

* * *

▪ Austrian politician
born Jan. 26, 1950, Bad Goisern, Austria
died Oct. 11, 2008, near Klagenfurt

      controversial Austrian politician who served as leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (1986–2000) and Alliance for the Future of Austria (2005–08) and as governor of the state of Kärnten (1989–91; 1999–2008).

      Haider studied at the University of Vienna (Vienna, University of), where he received a law degree in 1973 and subsequently taught law. As a student, he became chairman of the youth organization of the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs; FPÖ). He later was elected secretary of the party in Kärnten (Carinthia). In 1979, at age 29, he was elected to the national parliament. In 1983 Haider was chosen to be chairman of the FPÖ in Kärnten; in 1986 he became chairman of the federal party. The charismatic Haider transformed the party, increasing its popular appeal. Prior to his leadership, it had performed poorly, while the country's two main parties, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs; SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei; ÖVP), had dominated at both state and federal levels. Following state elections in 1989, however, the FPÖ finished second to the SPÖ and formed a coalition with the ÖVP, enabling Haider's election as governor of Kärnten. But in 1991, partly as a result of Haider's praise for the employment policies of Adolf Hitler (Hitler, Adolf), the coalition dissolved, and he was forced to resign.

      Nevertheless, under Haider's leadership, the FPÖ had a virtually unbroken string of successes in increasing its strength at all levels, as well as in elections for the European Parliament. Some observers attributed a measure of his support to the Austrian people's disgust with their government, which had become an entrenched bureaucracy known for mismanagement and for a succession of scandals. A populist, Haider virulently denounced immigration and opposed the expansion of the European Union (EU) to the east—positions that were applauded by a wide spectrum of Austrians. Moreover, he was a charismatic man and a skillful orator. Yet many observers expressed alarm that the sentiments to which he gave voice could find such a large audience in Austria. Particularly controversial were the number of statements he made about Hitler and the Nazis. In a speech in 1995, for example, he defended and praised members of the Waffen-SS (SS), calling them “decent people of good character.” He also described Nazi concentration camps (concentration camp) as “punishment camps.” Still, he maintained that he was not anti-Semitic and that he deplored the Holocaust.

      Haider was reelected governor of Kärnten in March 1999, when the FPÖ won the state elections with 42 percent of the vote. In the national parliamentary elections held that October, the FPÖ registered its strongest showing to date; garnering 27 percent of the national vote, it overtook the ÖVP for second place. Its success threatened the national coalition of the ÖVP and the SPÖ. After months of unsuccessful negotiations with the SPÖ, the ÖVP unexpectedly formed a coalition government with the FPÖ. This development sparked protests throughout Vienna and in the international community; it prompted the Israeli government to recall its ambassador, and the EU imposed political sanctions against the country. Haider was forced to resign as leader of the FPÖ, though he remained active in the party and continued as governor of Kärnten. Despite the FPÖ's poor showing in the 2002 national elections, Haider was reelected governor in 2004. His final split with the FPÖ occurred when he announced he was forming a new party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich; BZÖ), in 2005.

Robert F. Rauch Ed.
      In the 2006 national elections the BZÖ won 4 percent of the vote, capturing seven seats. Two years later the party showed strong gains, garnering 11 percent, and Haider seemed poised for a comeback on the national stage. On Oct. 11, 2008, however, he died from injuries sustained in a car accident.

Ed.
 

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

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