German word of the day: Lebensmensch means “life partner.” Haider, right, is shown here with Stefan Petzner, who said after the married politician’s death: “He [Haider] often said to me, ‘You are my lebensmensch.’ ”
Two weeks after the death of Joerg Haider, former leader of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, media attention has moved from Haider’s fascistic political life to his personal life, with the politician’s sexual identity undergoing a bit of a queering, much to the surprise of his ultranationalistic supporters. Haider was a 58-year-old married father of two.
In life, Austria’s best known far-right politician, Joerg Haider, was a media staple. In death, interest in him has skyrocketed again, thanks to the revelation that he may have been gay or bisexual.
Haider was killed in a high-speed car accident on October 11. Since then, Europe’s newspapers, especially those in Germany, have published stories and photographs of the leader surrounded by young men in what the newspapers call gay bars. “Was Haider Living a Double Life?” the mass market German daily Bild blared this week. A later story showed photographs of Haider’s deputy Stefan Petzner in low cut jeans and a dolphin tattooed on his hip.
Even the otherwise circumspect Austrian media is broaching the topic. Newspapers there have published pictures of Haider, who was 58, partying with groups of young men, including shots from the night of his death. “Everybody knew about his sexual orientation,” Thomas Hofer, a former magazine editor who is now an independent political consultant in Vienna, says. “But there was a consensus in the Austrian media not to write about it.”
No Austrian newspaper has openly declared Haider gay so far. But the revelations of the past two weeks are far more specific than in the past. “The Austrian press has already gone well beyond where they’d been up to now,” says Hofer. “It’s a crucial period for the media here.”