Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider died last Saturday in a high-speed car crash. Much of the world paid little attention to his death, but I noticed. I admit I thanked God that this extremely charismatic politician never came to complete power in Austria. Haider had recently enjoyed some measure of success and was having considerable influence upon the national political scene. He was the governor of Carinthia and the leader of far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria, a political organization that carried on some of the ideas and policies made famous by Adolph Hitler and the fascists in Germany in the 1920 and 30s. The president of Austria describe Haider as "a human tragedy." That is putting it mildly. Haider's spokesmen, sounding eerily like a devotee of the fuhrer, said, "For us it's like the end of the world."
Haider was active in politics in the affluent Alpine country since his teenage years! In 1999 he received 27% of the vote in national elections as the party's leader. The Freedom Party's involvement in the European Union led to sanctions against the party. Haider was clearly an anti-Semite and openly sympathetic to Adolph Hitler's labor policies. He eventually toned down his rhetoric but he never significantly moved away from his past.
His rightist past included a comment in 1991 that the Third Reich had "an orderly employment policy" and in 1995 he said concentration camps were "the punishment camps of National Socialism." He held that Israel was a dictatorship and called members of the SS "men of honor." He declared Austria to be under siege by the Turks and went to Iraq shortly before the American invasion to show solidarity with Saddam Hussein. He even once said the Iraqi dictator and George Bush were much the same, arousing indignation even in Europe.
Haider was a brilliant and important politician. He took his party from nowhere to make it prominent. That prominence was something I began observing with more than passing interest a few years ago. Why? I think National Socialism is not only alive, it could see a major comeback given the leftist tendencies of much of Europe. Hitler may have died in the twentieth century but some of his ideas live on. Haider was a champion of some of them. Austria, and Europe, are better off without him. When such a man dies it is hard to know how to respond. As a Christian I pray for God's mercy but as a citizen of a shrinking world I am grateful that one less charismatic leader, with madness in his thinking, is gone. The amazing irony was that I had planned to write on Haider, as a kind of warning, when his obituary appeared in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune.