Saturday, October 11, 2008

Austrian far-right leader Jörg Haider dies

Kurt and Jörg'l: Austrian rightwing "populist" Jörg Haider visiting with then-Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, 1991.

Jörg Haider (1958-2008) caused quite a stir in Austria and beyond in the 1990s with his friendly references to the Third Reich and the SS, but in the end he turned out to be mainly an egotistical clown who liked seeing himself of television. Waldheim was actually around during the Third Reich and was happy to give Haider's "brown" clowning a boost at the time.

Haider was killed on Friday night 10/10/08 early Saturday morning 10/11/08 in a car accident. He lost control of his car and had an accident that totalled his car. He suffered severe head and chest injuries and died on the spot. (Landeshauptmann und BZÖ-Chef Jörg Haider tödlich verunglückt Der Standard 11.10.2008)

I plan to post more on current negotiations for a new government coalition. Here I'll just note that Haider was currently leader of the Bundis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ) party, which together with his former part the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ). Haider was currently serving as Landeshauptmann (governor) of the Austrian state Carinthia (Kärnten).

It's hard to guess what this means for the political future in Austria. In the short run, I would be surprised if it changes much. The social democratic (SPÖ) and conservative (ÖVP) are likely to negotiate a new coalition government between themselves. Columnist Hans Rauscher thinks it could increase the power of the far right. With Haider's narcissistic leadership style out of the way, the FPÖ and BZÖ could unite into one party. The BZÖ began in 2005 as a split-off party from the FPÖ. (Hans Rauscher über Jörg Haiders Tod Der Standard 11.10.2008)

If the other parliamentary parties (SPÖ, ÖVP, Greens) play it right, I think the result is more likely to be a reduction in the combined support for the far-right parties. Without Haider's star power, the FPÖ and BZÖ are likely to merge. Without Haider's undoubted star power, the far right has lost one of its strongest vote-getting resources. And the fact that there were two far-right parties in this year's election probably made it easier for some protest voters to select one of the two parties because they could tell themselves that this party is not as bad as the other far-right party.

The two parties did have different political brand identification. The BZÖ has cultivated more a Chamber of Commerce image. The FPÖ promotes more of a, well, beer-drinking thug image.

The BZÖ featured this memorial picture of their fallen leader at their Web site:

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