THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Austria in disbelief after Haider is outed

By Dan Bilefsky
International Herald Tribune / October 24, 2008
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PRAGUE - Austria has been suspended between shock, indifference, and denial since Jorg Haider's successor, Stefan Petzner, said in a radio interview that the controversial and charismatic far-right politician, who died in a car accident this month, had been "the man of my life."

Petzner, the 27-year-old who took over as head of his right-wing Alliance for the Future of Austria, has made teary-eyed appearances on television since Haider's death. On Sunday, he told the Austrian radio channel O3 that he had felt a magnetic attraction for Haider, whom he met five years ago.

"We had a special relationship that went far beyond friendship," he said in the highly emotional interview. "Jorg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life."

Officials at Haider's party, which gained more than 10 percent of the votes in September elections, attempted to limit the political fallout from the confession by dismissing Petzner as party leader. But their requests that the radio interview not be rebroadcast were rebuffed by Austrian journalists.

Haider, 58, the governor of the province of Carinthia, was the son of a shoemaker; his parents were both active Nazis. He rose to national prominence in Austria over the last two decades, championing traditional family values, railing against the European Union, and calling for an end to immigration. He had cultivated a macho, man-of-the-people persona, and was married with two daughters.

While his country has been clearly gripped by a somewhat un-Austrian outpouring of emotions, commentators there said the effective outing of Haider had been underplayed or largely ignored in the Austrian media, which tend to shy away from the private lives of politicians and other national figures.

While Vienna has an active, obvious gay community, homosexuality remains a taboo in some more conservative parts of the society, and Haider's supporters are intent on preserving his legacy as a traditional family man.

Yesterday, for instance, the website of at least one prominent Austrian daily, Kurier, gave big play to a story about the doubts of Haider's widow, Claudia, on the circumstances of his sudden death.

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