Joerg Haider

1 minute read
Andrew Purvis

Far-right politician Joerg Haider, who died in a car crash on Oct. 11 at 58, was Austria’s best-known person, his sharp and perpetually tanned features ubiquitous on television and in magazines. He was also its most polarizing figure. During a long and checkered career, Haider stood out from the crowd of postwar Austrian politicians with his good looks, athletic lifestyle and devilish talent for provocation: he played on and amplified anti-immigrant and anti-E.U. sentiment, courted pariahs like Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein and at one point praised Adolf Hitler’s “orderly” employment policies.

Born to parents who were early supporters of Hitler’s National Socialist party, Haider never held national office, preferring to work behind the scenes while keeping his post as governor of the mostly rural southern province of Carinthia. In 1999 he led the rightist Freedom Party to 27% of the national vote, a result that triggered outrage in Europe and, ultimately, sanctions from the E.U. In last month’s elections, the far right had its best showing since World War II, with support from nearly 50% of Austrians under age 30–an outcome that ensures that Haider’s divisive legacy will live on.

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