The hip, charismatic Haider had always drawn young men like Petzner to his sideso many that his contingent was nicknamed Haider's Buberlpartei, or Boys' Party. Still, the passion of Petzner's confessions caught the nation off guard. Party officials rushed to prevent other interviews and limit the damage to the Haider myth. They reportedly forbade Petzner from speaking out further, questioned his fitness to succeed Haider, and finally stripped him of the party leadership.
Since losing his lover and protector, Petzner has become a very frightened man. When I first contacted him, by e-mail, he replied with a terse "No interview." When I arrive in Klagenfurt, where he lives, and call his cell phone, he is gracious but nervous. "It is very dangerous for me to talk," he explains. "I have been told, 'No more, any time.'"
The BZÖ's leaderswho include a former defense minister, a provincial governor, and Haider's sister, Ursula Haubner, a onetime federal minister of social securitymay despise Petzner for his revelations, but they cannot eject him from the party. Not yet. Petzner ran the BZÖ's media campaign during last September's elections, in which the party had surprised many by capturing 11 percent of the national vote, catapulting Haider and the far right back into a position of power. Petzner, who turned 28 in January, was overseeing this month's regional elections in the party's stronghold of Carinthia, the southern Alpine province on the border of Slovenia where Haider had served as governor. And a portion of the party's base clearly adored him. His apparent outing of Haider, and subsequent basking in the spotlight, may have alienated the party leadership and Haider's widow, Claudia, but by giving voice to his sincere grief, which Haider's followers shared, Petzner had endeared himself to many rank-and-file neo-Fascists.
At the tavern party, old women embrace him as he nestles at their tables, expertly milking the moment. Angular and orange-hued from the tanning bed, with skinny jeans, a white cotton motorcycle jacket, and a thick scarf swaddling his neck, he rubs the women's broad backs, asks after their health, and merrily joins in their champagne toasts. No one seems to mind, or acknowledge, the greyhound-slender fortysomething man shadowing Petzner. He tells me his name is Christian and that he is Italian, from Trieste, just over the border. He calls himself Petzner's "traveling companion" and says that he too knew Haider well, for 20 years. When I ask if he and Petzner are an item, he smiles tightly. "Everyone asks us this all the time, if we are a couple," he says, holding a drink in one hand, resting the other on an oversize rhinestone belt buckle in the shape of a dollar sign. "Why should I tell you?"
This event is a morale-booster for BZÖ supporters and a chance for them to greet a local candidate as he unveils the party's new anthem for Klagenfurt. Petzner claps along to the synth-heavy club beat and lip-synchs while his candidate belts into the mike, "Then I see Wörthersee in its most beautiful blue. Then I feel it in me: Oh, my Klagenfurt!"