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Europe's Unsettling Immigrants - Haider the Horrible?

Is Jorg Haider, former leader of Austria's Freedom Party, a dangerous, antidemocratic, Naziphilic xenophobe or an Austrian Margaret Thatcher?

He likes to characterize himself as the latter, though his party is a populist-nationalist strain of the former British prime minister's Conservative Party that intones a distinct note of Austria-first jingoism.

Haider, who resigned as head of his party in February to appease a chorus of criticism and diplomatic chilliness from other European Union nations over the Freedom Party's alleged fascist tilt, is a fiscal and political conservative who favors eliminating a slew of government jobs, selling off state-owned industries, reducing taxes, bringing traditionally neutral Austria into NATO, raising the retirement age, and cutting pensions for early retirees. He also wants to strengthen families and boost the country's dangerously falling fertility rate by returning taxpayer funds to mothers through monthly checks of several hundred dollars each.

The 49-year-old former party leader, who retains his influential post as governor of the southern Austrian province of Carinthia, has apologized profusely for remarks he made years ago hailing Hitler's employment policies and praising the character of Waffen SS veterans.

Haider also ran as a political reformer, railing against the cozy relationship between the Social Democratic Party and the People's Party, which had ruled Austria for most of the postwar period and was characterized by rampant political patronage.

"On the one hand I am a kind of Margaret Thatcher pushing lean government and the end of party influence," he said in an interview with New York Times writer Roger Cohen. "On the other, I am a new Social Democrat, pushing family values and taking care of the smaller people against the powerful. That is why I like to say that I am not to the left or the right of my opponents. I am simply ahead of them."

Paper magnate Thomas Prinzhorn, a leading Freedom Party legislator, seemed to invoke the "compassionate conservatism" of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, saying, "We want to do it the American way. We're Austria's only free-market party. At the same time, Mr. Haider feels passionate about the family and social justice, so we have to balance these things."

----The Editor

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Author:Ladika, Susan
Publication:World and I
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:May 1, 2000
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