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Joerg Haider was born in 1950 in Bad Goisern, Upper Austria. His father Robert Haider worked as a shoemaker, his mother Dorothea Rupp was a teacher.

Both parents were active members of the Nazi Party. Robert Haider joined the 'Hitler Jugend' when he was fifteen. In 1933, after Nazi organisations were banned in Austria, he participated in several illegal actions. In 1934 he took part in the failed nazi putsch and was forced to flee to Bavaria, where he formally joined the nazi party.

Mr. Haider's mother was active in the BDM, the female counterpart of Hitlerjugend. After World War 2, both Robert and Dorothea Haider were punished for their active commitment with nazism. Robert Haider was arrested for a short period, his wife lost her job as a teacher.

Though Joerg Haider later condemned the Nazi Dictatorship on several occasions, he insisted on defending war participants and even convicted war criminals, claiming that they, like his own parents, 'had just done their duty'. Throughout his political career, Mr. Haider would frequently attract public attention with provocative statements about Austria's past, like one comment he made in 1986: 'If the FPOE was a successor of the Nazi Party we certainly would have the majority.'

Despite of their financial problems Robert and Dorothea Haider managed to send their son Joerg to high school in Bad Ischl, where he joined the nationalist 'burschenschaft' Albia. There were several former nazis among Joerg Haider's teachers. He graduated in 1968 with excellent results, and went to Vienna to study law. While many students at this time - in Vienna as in other parts of the world - were influenced by leftist movements, Joerg Haider joined 'Silvania', another nationalist 'burschenschaft'.

In 1970, he was elected leader of the Freedom Party's youth movement. This was the beginning of an astonishing political career.

When Joerg Haider entered politics, the Freedom Party was led by liberals, although nationalists remained strong and influential. In fact, the partyís leader throughout the seventies, Friedrich Peter, was a former SS member, who eventually broke with his nazi past to get much credit as a liberal.

Under the subsequent leadership of Norbert Steger, a liberal without nationalist background, the FPOE even entered a coalition government with the socialdemocrats, and the young Joerg Haider tried hard - although with no success - to become minister of social affairs.

It was only several years later, after his ambitions had been frustrated by the liberal leadership of the party, that Mr. Haider closed ranks with the right wing, using Carinthia, a traditional stronghold of nationalism, as his power base.

As local leader of the FPOE since 1983, he backed a referendum against bilingual (german and slovenian) schools in multiethnic Carinthia.

His most spectacular intervention during that time came in 1986, when Walter Reder, a convicted war criminal, was released from prison and came back to his native Austria. Mr. Reder was welcomed by the Austrian defence minister with a handshake, a gesture that provoked strong criticism both inside the country and abroad.

Only Mr.Haider took the opportunity to defend the former SS officer Reder as somebody 'who had done his duty', and to ridicule the defence minister's apology to Israel as 'superfluous'.

In 1986, Joerg Haider gathered enough support to oust the Freedom Party's leader Norbert Steger and to take control of the FPOE. The socialdemocrats under Franz Vranitzky reacted immediately by breaking the coalition with the Freedom Party. 'No coalition with Haider' was to become a matter of priciple for Austria's biggest party. For 13 years - between 1986 and 1999 - the SPOE would share power with the christian-conservative People's Party (OEVP).

During this period, however, Mr. Haider's party grew from a small group of 5% to a major political force, representing 27% of the austrian electorate.

In 1989 Joerg Haider was elected governor of Carinthia, a function he was to loose two years later, through a scandal about - nazi history. In 1991, Haider announced he would reduce unemployment in Carinthia by putting more pressure on people who just donít want to work. As one socialist deputy compared the governorís plan to nazi methods, Mr. Haider replied by saying: 'At least, the Third Reich had a proper policy of employment!'

In 1991, there were still some liberal personalities in the Freedom Party, but now they left one by one. One of the crucial conflicts between liberals and nationalists was a referendum against 'Ueberfremdung' (foreign penetration), that Joerg Haider tried to push through in 1993.Among other discriminating measures, the referendum called for strict school segregation along ethnic lines. But the initiative failed to gain support in the electrorate.

In the same year, during the political battle about membership in the European Union, Mr. Haider came out as the main opponent of the EU. Nevertheless, more than sixty percent of voters wanted Austria to become a member. But Joerg Haider quickly recovered from this political setback, and in 1994, he won another victory at the governorís race in Carinthia. However, to become governor, he needed support from either the SPOE or the OEVP. After weeks of negotiation, both parties refused to support him, adding to his claim that he was 'the victim of political exclusion'.

In 1995, he changed the party constitution, transforming the party into a 'movement'. In a secret meeting with former members of the 'Waffen SS', Haider once more displayed his particular sense of continuity. He said that he was pleased to see people of character, who stick to their conviction (...) .

In 1998, Joerg Haider was elected governor of Carinthia for the second time: The FPOE had in the meantime become the strongest party in that province.

One year later, Joerg Haider was the big winner at the national elections: the FPOE is now Austriaís second party, beating the christian-conservative Peopleís Party. The main issue in Haider's electoral campaign was the fight against 'foreign penetration'. In his main campaign speech on the eve of the elections, Joerg Haider also used strong words to fight any enlargement of the EU. 'If chancellor Klima wants it, then why doesnít he run for elections in the Tzech Republic?'. Mr. Klima's last name indicates that his family has slavic roots.

 

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