The successor of the Austrian far-right leader Jörg Haider was dismissed yesterday after he revealed a “special” relationship “far beyond” friendship with his former mentor.
In emotional interviews with the national broadcaster and a tabloid newspaper Stefan Petzner spoke openly about his affair with Haider, who died at the age of 58 in a high-speed car crash after heavy drinking session at a gay club this month. Haider’s party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria, captured 11 per cent of the vote in national elections last month .
Mr Petzner’s appointment as party leader was widely seen as a fulfilment of Haider’s last wish, as he had frequently said in public that he would like his young protégé to take his place one day. Mr Petzner dropped out of university when he met Haider at a party. At that time he was working as a journalist, writing about cosmetic treatments.
Outraged by the interviews, the party felt compelled yesterday to dismiss its leader amid reports of his alleged role in Haider’s tragic death. Local papers said that, on the night of his accident, Haider and Mr Petzner had a row at a magazine launch party. Haider left in a hurry and drove to a gay club in Klagenfurt, his home town, where he drank vodka with male escorts. The reports said that he was hardly able to walk to his car.
Haider, in leading a revival of the Austrian Far Right, set out to say what is rightly unsayable in modern Europe. He praised the employment practices of the Nazi era, said that the SS should be honoured and called concentration camps “punishment camps”. He distanced himself from those remarks later, sort of, but many doubted a real change of heart. The war years appeared to arouse his passion more than anything in current policy, but he also launched an assault on immigration. He took his critics’ loathing as proof of his courage, as he did the diplomatic sanctions slapped on Austria in 2000 by the European Union in protest at his party’s role in government.