Haider, Jörg (b. 1950)

views updated

HAIDER, JÖRG (b. 1950)


Austrian politician.

An extreme right-wing populist, the charismatic leader of the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or FPÖ) Jörg Haider has had an uncommon political career. He led his party, which corralled only 5 percent of the votes in 1986, to become Austria's second most powerful political force, winning 27 percent of the votes in the 1999 general elections. This made him a figurehead of the European nationalist-populist movement.

Haider was born to a family that strongly supported pan-German nationalism and remained faithful to the Nazi regime. His father, a member of the Sturm Abteilung (SA), in 1937 joined the Nazi Party, becoming a permanent member after the Anschluss (German annexation of Austria in 1938). His mother, from a wealthy bourgeois family south of the Tyrol, was an active primary school teacher in the Bund deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls), Hitler's youth organization for girls. Haider has often thanked his parents for their sacrifices in enabling him to attend high school and later to study law in Vienna. His gratitude also found expression in his defense of the Third Reich's "generation of soldiers" in search of postwar respectability. Inasmuch as many Austrians preferred to see themselves as victims with reference to World War II, eschewing the more painful work of remembrance and acknowledgment, Haider's sympathy for the Nazi legacy found a ready reception.

Haider's career as an activist began when he joined the Freedom Party's youth movement while still in high school. At age eighteen, thanks to his oratorical skills, he became the organization's leader. Then, even as he held that position from 1970 to 1974, in 1973 he obtained a university post. Decidedly attracted by a political career, as early as 1976 Haider served the Freedom Party in the state of Carinthia. His ascent was dazzling. He become the youngest deputy in the parliament in 1979, chief editor of the party's newspaper in 1983, and party chief for the state of Carinthia. In 1986 he bested Norbert Steger, a liberal, and took control of the Freedom Party. Elected governor of Carinthia in 1989, his cynical remarks on the "Third Reich's employment policy" subsequently forced him from office. Elected once again in 1996, he continued to hold that post in 2006.

Haider's success within the party and on the Austrian political scene more generally enabled him to transform the Freedom Party. He eliminated the party's liberal wing while bringing in the extreme Right; he then repositioned pan-German nationalist politics to reach younger voters for whom the older movement had little historical resonance. Haider reconstituted the leadership on an authoritarian basis with a single leader, replacing its parliamentary system by a Bürgerdemokratie (democracy of citizens) whose legitimacy would be determined by plebiscite, or popular vote. Finally, he created a right-wing rhetoric that was xenophobic; anti-Semitic; and hostile to immigrants, the Islamic religion, and the European community.

From 1945, Austrian politics was so constructed as to prevent emergence of a genuine alternative to middle-of-the-road politics. This undoubtedly worked in Haider's favor. In 1986 the Freedom Party's ever more effective attacks against the powers that be shattered what was known as the Small Coalition of the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei österreichs, or SPÖ) and the Freedom Party; there ensued a coalition of the SPÖ and the Conservative Österreichische Volkspartei, OVP) that lasted until 1999.

The charismatic Haider succeeded in uniting political currents with diverse ideologies. Making use of the media, he presented himself as defending those left behind in the course of Austria's postwar modernization and leading them in the struggles to treat the ills of Austrian society such as unemployment, corruption, and injustice.

In February 2000, after the stunning elections of 1999, the Freedom Party entered a power-sharing arrangement in coalition with the Conservative Party. Haider was obliged to renounce a cabinet post and to resign as party leader, but he installed his loyal follower Susanne Riess-Passer in his place and continued to wield power. His political objectives included developing a new neoliberal definition of the role of the state and the promotion of private initiative at the expense of the "social partnership" that had characterized the Austrian government's covenant with its people since the end of the Second World War. He also promoted what he considered empowerment and homogenization of the Austrian people, whose unity and identity, he maintained, were threatened by foreign "parasites" that must be excluded. Finally, he sought to monopolize public space so as to eliminate potentially divisive opposition and criticism. However, Haider remained aware of the gap between pragmatic government policy that obeyed European rules of conduct and the need to remain in step with radical populism, which brought the Freedom Party successive electoral debacles after the victories in 1999, as voters deserted it in large numbers. The crisis in the coalition that Haider created in September 2002 and his threat to withdraw from politics on a federal level were expedients designed to cast populists and their leader as providential saviors of unity.

In 2005, after a series of electoral defeats and much dissatisfaction within the FPO, Haider announced the formation of a new party, the Alliance for Austria's Future (AAF). This party, which included the current FPO ministers in the coalition government, offered a broadened populist appeal, diminished hard-right rhetoric, and was Party (O even favorable to antiglobalization initiatives and acceptance of Turkey as a member of the European Union.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Austria; Islam.


Primary Sources

Haider, Jörg. Die Freiheit, die ich meine. Frankfurt, 1994.

Secondary Sources

Betz, Hans-Georg. "Haider's Revolution; or, The Future Has Just Begun." In Austria in the European Union. Vol. 10 of Contempory Austrian Studies, edited by Günter Bischof, Anton Pelinka, and Michael Gehler. New Brunswick, N.J., 2002.

Livonius v. Eyb, Thilo v. Die ideologische Entwicklung der FPÖ unter Jörg Haider. Munich, 2002.

Zöchling, Christa. Haider. Osijek, Croatia, 2001.

Fabien ThÉofilakis