There were rumors for years, but they were widely ignored in Austria, a conservative nation not much interested in prying into the private lives of its leaders. Now, grieving over the death of Jörg Haider, the charismatic far-right politician, the country has been forced to confront directly the question of his sexuality after his political successor asserted that Mr. Haider had been “the man of my life.”
“We had a special relationship that went far beyond friendship,” the successor, Stefan Petzner, a former fashion and cosmetics reporter, said Sunday in a highly emotional interview on Austrian Radio 3. “Jörg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life.”
Mr. Petzner, 27, took over the Alliance for the Future of Austria after Mr. Haider, 58, died in a car crash on Oct. 11. He had been drinking at what has been reported as a gay club before flipping his car at nearly twice the legal speed limit.
Officials at Mr. Haider’s party, which gained more than 10 percent of the votes in September elections, tried to limit the political fallout from the statement by dismissing Mr. Petzner as head of their parliamentary group and denying that the men were lovers. However, their requests that the radio interview not be rebroadcast were rebuffed by Austrian journalists.
Mr. Haider, the governor of the province of Carinthia, was the son of a shoemaker whose parents were both active Nazis. He rose to national prominence in Austria over the last two decades, championing traditional family values, railing against the European Union and calling for an end to immigration. Married with two children, he had cultivated a macho, man-of-the-people persona.
While the country has been convulsed by a somewhat un-Austrian outpouring of emotions, Austrian commentators said the effective outing of Mr. Haider had been underplayed or largely ignored in the Austrian news media, which tend to shy away from the private lives of politicians and other national figures.
Vienna has an active gay community, but homosexuality remains a taboo in some more conservative parts of society, and Mr. Haider’s supporters are intent on preserving his legacy as a traditional family man.
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