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Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Profile: Controversy and Joerg Haider
Joerg Haider
Analysts say Mr Haider never really gave up power
The collapse of Austria's governing coalition and the prospect of fresh elections could mark the return to centre-stage of the country's most controversial politician, Joerg Haider.

He is stepping back into national politics and retaking the leadership of his far-right Freedom Party.

Mr Haider had resigned as head of the party in 2000, weeks after it entered into a coalition government with the conservative People's Party.

He handed over the reins of the party to vice-chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, and publicly focused on his southern stronghold of Carinthia.


In the Third Reich they had an orderly employment policy

Joerg Haider, June 1991
But commentators say Mr Haider continued to wield considerable influence behind the scenes - and and it is no surprise that he is back at the top.

Mr Haider's prominent position has horrified many people around the world and in Austria who regard him as an ambitious, racist opportunist.

But to his supporters he is a patriot who has dared to speak uncomfortable truths.

Unlike many right-wing populists, Mr Haider is educated, and he has charisma. Commentators say he works a room like former US President Bill Clinton, embracing supporters and using the familiar 'du' form of address.

Radical course

The break-up of the governing coalition resulted from a growing power struggle at the top of the Freedom Party.

As the party - which took 27% of the vote in the 1999 elections - slipped in the opinion polls in the past two years, Mr Haider could not keep quiet.

He criticised government politics, challenging decisions taken by Freedom Party ministers in the cabinet.

Tension rose when Ms Riess-Passer - once seen as Mr Haider's most faithful lieutenant - refused to turn back party leadership to him in May.

But the issue that precipitated the final break between the two was her refusal to back his demands that the government maintain promised tax cuts.

Analysts say Mr Haider is likely to lead the Freedom Party on a more radical course - including opposing EU expansion - in order to woo back protest voters.

Nazi parents

Mr Haider was born in the Upper Austrian town of Bad Goisern in 1950.


The Waffen SS was a part of the Wehrmacht (German military) and hence it deserves all the honour and respect of the army in public life

Joerg Haider, December 1995

His parents were very early members of the Nazi party, who moved to Germany where they became party officials.

After the war they were punished for their affiliations and forced to take up menial work.

Critics say Mr Haider's views are shaped by this background, although he himself says there was little discussion of the past.

Power

After school, where he was reportedly almost always top of the class, Mr Haider studied law in Vienna and joined the Freedom Party in 1976.

He became its leader 10 years later, when the party was barely getting 5% at the polls.

In the last 14 years, he has increased that support to 28%.

In the past, some remarks have been attributed to me in connection with Nazism which were certainly insensitive or open to misunderstanding

Joerg Haider, November 1999
Around the same time he became party leader, Mr Haider inherited a controversial estate in the southern province of Carinthia, valued at $15.8m.

Barental, or Bear Valley, was bought during World War II by his great uncle from an Italian Jew who fled in 1940.

Critics say the sale was illegitimately forced upon the Jewish owner by the Nazis, but Haider has consistently denied this.

Nazi praise

Mr Haider has amassed a formidable power base in Carinthia.

His first stint as governor in 1989 ended abruptly when he praised the employment policies of Nazi Germany and was forced to resign.

A few years later, he described World War II concentration camps as "punishment camps" and said the Nazi SS was "a part of the German army which should be honoured".


I unequivocally made the point that this remark was not made with the meaning understood by you. If it reassures you then I take it back with regret

Haider, after his "employment policy" comment caused uproar in Carinthia's regional parliament
He has also compared the deportation of Jews by the Nazis to the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after the war.

In more recent times, he has apologised for saying such things but the suspicion remains that his real views have not changed.

Europhobe

Mr Haider himself has always denied being an extremist and even likes to compare himself politically to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

But whatever his current thinking about the Nazis, his opinion of foreigners is not exactly friendly.

During the 1999 Austrian election campaign, Mr Haider whipped up feeling against immigrants and suggested that without them the government's austerity budget would not be necessary.

He tried to stop Austria joining the European Union in 1995 and attempted to force a referendum on whether to join the single currency. On both issues he failed.

But his anti-EU views are still alive and kicking. He is opposed to plans to let in new countries and has called it a ''declaration of war against all working and upstanding people".

See also:

09 Sep 02 | Europe
07 Jan 02 | Europe
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