It's clear from Petzner's later remarks that he and Haider had issues in their May-December relationship. Petzner told one interviewer, "[Haider] worried, and said so, because there is this age gap between 58 and 27. And he often said, 'You still have your whole life in front of you, also your political life.' He already had walked a long political road, while mine was just beginning. And so . . . knowing that my road would be longer than his, which meant someday I would have to walk my personal, my human and political road alone, this worried him a lot."
Petzner's string of confessionals culminated in the now-infamous national-radio interview, broadcast on October 19, in which he seemed to cross the line between sincere mourner and self-aggrandizing martyr. Party leaders and Claudia Haider tried to stop the interview from being rebroadcast, begging the show's host to pull it from the schedule. Even Petzner seemed to realize that he was going too far, at one point telling the host, "I must protect myself from myself." The BZÖ higher-ups moved quickly to strip him of his leadership, and have maintained strict media silence on the matter. "Stefan Petzner destroyed himself," says Bernhard Torsch, a Carinthian political blogger. "The first time it captured the mood of the population. After that, he was just playing the May widow."
But Petzner's weepy performance was not the only revisionist myth-making at work. In death, Haider was being transformed into a national hero. More than 25,000 people attended his memorial, a lavish Carinthian event with a military honor guard escorting his coffin. Grandees referred to him as "the father of our province." Many Austrians began calling him "our Lady Di."
Once a fixture on the Vienna scene, Stefan Petzner is a cautious, reticent man these days. Whether out of fear, grief, or a sense of decorum, he lives alone in Klagenfurt and is rarely seen in public. He spends most days writing campaign briefings and tending Haider's legacycompiling books, CDs, and DVDs of his speeches. Petzner's proclamations of love have made him what his hate speech couldn't: a pariah. He has no clear prospects beyond the March elections, after which the party's leadership is expected to kick him to the curb. So it's surprising to find him at the party's holiday bacchanal, but it's not hard to understand why he's getting drunk and clinging to old ladies.
"We see that on his own, Stefan Petzner has no power," says Rudy Voulk, the civil-rights lawyer. Were Petzner's tears a calculated ploy? "It was this feeling that he wanted that everyone should know in what context he was with Haider," Voulk says. "He was proud. Without Haider he is invisible."
Here within the bubble of the BZÖ celebration, surrounded by his adoring, oblivious party members, Petzner looks like a man who could possibly run for office himself. "That takes charisma," he says blithely as he signs autographs for the elderly eagerly waiting in line. "You either have charisma or not. I have some amount."