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Traveling between two worlds

Posted by Tom Haines, Globe Travel Writer  October 15, 2008 04:02 PM

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I once flipped over the handlebars of a mountain bike while descending a wooded trail in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia. It is an idyllic place - valleys with steepled villages and fields full of cows. After a visit to the ER that afternoon, I softened the train ride from Klagenfurt, the region's capital, back to Vienna with bottles of Austrian beer.
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A month before the bike accident, I'd sat in a swank Viennese hotel and interviewed Jorg Haider for a story for The Boston Globe about Haider's political rise. Haider was then governor of Carinthia, but he was far more famous, and notorious, for his provocative role as a far-right politician playing on Austria's past. When the Freedom Party, which Haider was leading at the time, won a spot in Austria's government the next year, European Union leaders staged a diplomatic boycott against Austria, then a young member of the union.
Then, and until his death in a car crash over the weekend, Haider drew his power from maneuvering between two extremes - the rooted identity of Austria's past as a Nazi ally and the uncertain future of urban Vienna and its European dreams.

News reports today confirm that Haider, who was traveling more than 80 miles per hour -- twice the speed limit -- at the time of the accident, was also drunk. Officials said he had more than four times the legal blood-alcohol content.
It remained unclear to the end exactly what motivated Haider, who praised the generation of the Nazi era, while condemning the actions of its leaders.
During the interview I had with him, Haider was dressed in his trademark stylish suit, hair well-coiffed, bold necktie perfectly knotted. I asked about his dangerous comments, which had earlier cost him, for a time, the Carinthian governorship, but also won support of his political base. Haider blamed others for misinterpreting his remarks and failed even in the gentle setting of a conversation to take responsibility for his clearly documented deeds.
"My fault," Haider told me, "was not to be careful enough, not to see the danger sometimes."

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