Anger as FPÖ official claims Haider was gay

Right-wing Austria is entangled in a bitter war of words over the sexual orientation of its late icon Jörg Haider after controversial statements by a Vienna councillor.Vienna Freedom Party (FPÖ) official Gerald Ebinger tried to encourage homosexuals to support his party at the 10 October city parliament elections.Asked why people should support the FPÖ which has been accused of having homophobic tendencies, Ebinger said – apparently referring to former party leader Haider – at a platform discussion organised by AGPRO (Austrian Gay Professionals) yesterday (Thurs): “We are the only (Austrian) party which was headed by a gay man for 17 years.”Haider’s sex life was wildly debated throughout his terms as FPÖ boss and governor of the province of Carinthia. Rumours he was gay or bisexual came up shortly after he became leader of the right-wing faction in 1986.Public debate intensified after his death in October 2008 when it emerged he drank at a popular gay bar in Klagenfurt before steering his Volkswagen Phaeton totally drunk against a roadside barrier.Some of the world’s most renowned investigative journalists spent weeks of research in Austria to find out whether the speculations were true following his death. None of the numerous international reports on the controversial politician’s life and death made clear whether the married father of two – who founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) in 2005 – was homosexual or not.Now BZÖ Styria chief Gerald Grosz has launched a harsh attack on Ebinger over his remark. He said: “The FPÖ bids farewell to Haider and spits in his grave. The BZÖ continues to walk the political path paved by Jörg Haider.”Grosz – set to act as front runner for the BZÖ in the provincial elections of Styria on 26 September – added: “The FPÖ revealed by stupid statements made by an even more stupid city councillor that it was lacking character.”It is the second time in weeks that Grosz hit the headlines with controversial statements. The right-winger infuriated Austrian journalists by comparing some media coverage dealing with alleged secret payments of Saddam Hussein to Haider with the methods of the infamous Third Reich era newspaper Der Stürmer.A recent report by magazine profil said that Haider’s team received millions of US dollars from the late Iraqi dictator’s regime following meetings between Hussein and Haider which caused outcry around the world eight years ago. The article suggested Haider could have raked in US dollars worth up to 45 million Euros as Hussein appreciated Haider’s visits as bids to improve his crippled reputation in Europe.The weekly magazine claimed the money was stashed on several secret accounts in Liechtenstein, and that members of Haider’s team gambled away most of it in highly risky investment activities.Prosecutors have declined to make clear whether they were investigating the issue.Haider’s last big appearance in federal politics was just days before his death when he headed the BZ֒s campaign in the general elections of September 2008. The party sensationally overtook the Greens for fourth place by bagging 10.7 per cent, up by 6.6 per cent from the 2006 ballot when it narrowly managed to enter parliament.A series of dramatic losses at various provincial votes followed and current party leader Josef Bucher has still not managed to position his party as a more liberal faction focusing on economic issues.Polls have shown that the majority of Austrians regard the debt-stricken BZÖ as a far-right party opposing more immigration.Some analysts claimed last December the BZ֒s end was near after hundreds of members of its Carinthian stronghold walked out to set up the Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) which now cooperates with right-wing rivals FPÖ on a federal level.The BZ֒s election campaign in Styria has so far done rather badly in grabbing media attention as public debate focused on the FP֒s decision to put a shooter game targeting mosques, minarets and muezzins online.Bucher’s party is nevertheless expected to improve in the upcoming vote since it just won 1.7 per cent in the 2005 election which took place around half a year after it was set up by Haider.Researchers have however ruled out that the BZÖ will enter the provincial parliament as the FPÖ (2005: 4.6 per cent) is expected to keep ahead.The BZ֒s chances for success in next month’s Vienna vote are even lower.Campaigning in the federal capital is dominated by the “duel” between FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache and SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl. While the FPÖ bagged 14.8 per cent five years ago, the BZÖ only won 1.2 per cent – less than the Communist Party of Austria’s (KPÖ) Vienna branch which garnered (1.5 per cent).