The Austrian politician Jörg Haider was one of the most influential members of the extreme right in Europe until his death in 2008. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment occurred in 2000, when he created a coalition government with his party, gaining success for the extreme right like few had. Haider’s early years had a great effect of him, and on his desire to enter politics.
Jörg Haider was born on January 26, 1950. The region of Austria that Haider’s family inhabited, the Salzkammergut, was remote, but few would consider it a backwater region. During Haider’s youth, the region was quickly becoming one of the centers of Austria’s thriving tourist industry.
It is not difficult to see where Haider got some of his extreme right views from. Both of Haider’s parents had direct ties to the Nazi party. His father became part of the Hitler Youth in 1929 and the Nazi SA storm troops the following year. Haider’s father is said to have traveled to Munich with Adolf Eichmann and Alois Brunner in 1933 as a member of the Austrian legion. When Haider was born, his father was working as a shoemaker, while his mother was the daughter of a wealthy medical doctor. Haider’s mother was a part of the Nazi Party’s League of German Girls. When Haider was asked to comment on his parents’ roles in the Nazi party, he stated that “In retrospect one is always wiser. As a descendant, one should not be so arrogant as to say, ‘I would have known better.’”
Haider’s Academic Life
Haider’s parents decided to enroll him in a private grammar school near Ischl. His teachers have reflected that he was a gifted pupil and very enthusiastic during school performances. During his time in high school, he joined the local fraternity, The Albia, which included members from many of the wealthiest and influential families in the region. It is worth noting that of the two types of fraternities in Austria, the Catholic and Pan-German ones, both excluded Jews. The Albia was Pan-German, and it has produced an unusually high crop of Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) politicians.
Entering the Freedom Party of Austria
In 1966, Haider took his first steps to becoming a politician, when he was recruited for the youth wing of the FPO, the RFJ (Ring of Freedom Youth). He excelled in his duties, and in 1968 he was elected its Upper Austrian leader. After he took over the RFJ, Haider attempted to steer it into more adult directions, and refrain from the boy scout activities it was most associated with.
The FPO was a party that began with a group of people advocating the view of Pan-Germanism. It represented what was left of the Austrian liberal subculture, which had traditionally stood for a mixture of anti-clericalism and German nationalism. The party advocated the idea that Austria was actually an intricate part of the German Kulturnation, which caused controversy since its very concept implicitly challenges the very legitimacy of the Austrian nation. The party itself was founded in 1956, and it is a direct descendant of the German national-liberal camp that actually dates all the way back to the revolution of 1848.
The State of the FPO when Haider Joined
Haider entered the party at a time when it was beginning to come to prominence. For most of the postwar period, the Austrian Freedom Party had been only a minor party and did not play a very prominent role in society or the politics of the nation. It was still finding its footing, but steadily gaining attention and support.
Haider would eventually become the leading figure of the FPO, though it would take many years.
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- Schain, Martin, Aristide Zolberg, and Patric Hosay, eds. Shadows over Europe: The Development and Impact of the Extreme Right in Western Europe. New York : Palgrave MacMillan, 2002