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Tuesday, 29 February, 2000, 15:56 GMT
Profile: Controversy and Joerg Haider
Joerg Haider
Joerg Haider: High ambitions
Austria's most controversial politician, Joerg Haider, has more than once said he wants to be the country's leader.

His resignation as head of the far-right Freedom Party just weeks after it entered government would seem to be a surprising way of going about it.

But analysts are already saying Mr Haider's latest move is part of a masterplan to give his party greater power and eventually propel him to the top spot.

... in the Third Reich they had an orderly employment policy ....

Joerg Haider, June 1991
Mr Haider's rise to prominence has horrified many 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 rightwing rabble-rousers, Mr Haider is educated, and he has charisma. Commentators say he works a room like Bill Clinton, embracing supporters and using the familiar 'du' form of address.

Nazi parents

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

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

"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
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.


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 securing 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, where he has been re-elected governor.

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 back the remark with regret.

Joerg Haider, after his "employment policy" comment caused uproar in the Carinthian provincial parliament
He has also compared the deportation of Jews by the Nazis to the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II.

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


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 last October's 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".

His views on the EU are unlikely to have been changed by the decision of its members to isolate Austria after the Freedom Party joined the new coalition government.

As a man who enjoys the limelight, Mr Haider's move away from centre stage may not be easy for him.

But analysts say it is designed to take international pressure off Austria and will give him more time to plan for his return.

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