On this late-December night, it's minus seven degrees Celsius in the Alpine boonies of southern Austria. A warm glow issues from the windows of a tavern on a dark road, where the far-right party known as the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (Alliance for the Future of Austria), or BZÖ, is throwing a boozy holiday bash.
Inside, the festivities are getting toasty in every way. There are pink-faced factory boys smashed on schnapps. Leathery middle-aged ladies in black Westernwear, line dancing to "Sweet Caroline" sung in German. Potbellied bricklayers bowling in a back room while their Goth-haired teen kids sulk at the bar. And in the midst of it all is the BZÖ's lovelorn and recently ousted chairman, Stefan Petzneran icicle-thin 27-year-old whose revelations about his love affair with the party's married leader, Jörg Haider, have gripped Austria and led to extensive scrutiny of Haider's Nazi-flirting past.
Austria hasn't been embroiled in such a firestorm of controversy since Haider came to national power in 2000. Haiderwho praised the Third Reich's forced-employment policies, socialized with SS veterans, and lobbed the Nazi-favored term überfremdung, "foreigner-overrun," during his anti-immigration rantshad won an electoral victory that gave him a place in Austria's governing coalition. Outraged that a Nazi-sympathizing extremist could hold sway in a modern state, the European Union placed sanctions on Austriathe only time it has ever done so to a member nation.
Now, after Haider's death at age 58, the fog lights have swung back, landing on Petzner, who was his protégé and anointed successor. On the night of October 10, the two men had been at a party when Haider reportedly stormed out after a lovers' quarrel; he died later that night in a drunken car crash. A heartbroken Petzner, who had assumed leadership of the party upon Haider's death, effectively outed himself and Haider in a tearful interview on a national-radio breakfast show. "We had a relationship that went far beyond friendship," Petzner said. "Jörg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life." He added, "I only had him. Now I am alone."
Petzner's disclosures didn't come as a complete shock to political insiders. Rumors about Haider's sexuality had circulated since the early nineties, though Haider had always refused to discuss the subject. As a macho, mountaineering father of two daughters, a man who espoused an ultraconservative agenda and traditional values, he likely feared that addressing such rumors would alienate thousands of his followers. "It was an open secret that Haider was gay," says Anton Pelinka, a noted scholar of nationalism who, as a professor at the University of Innsbruck, tracked Haider's rise. "But no one cared. No one talked of it. Because Haider did not attack gays. With Haider, you will not find a negative word on homosexuals. You will find anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, but not a word on gays."