Somehow, this had to happen. Or at least it was difficult to imagine Jörg Haider dying quietly of old age in his bed. Being killed in a spectacular car accident was more in the style of the Austrian political enfant terrible.
During the last twenty years, Austria has given observers a number of shocks and surprises with the formation of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition in 2000 and the combined victories of the nationalistic right-wing parties FPÖ and BZÖ in 2008. And just like the bad guys in horror movies, Haider kept coming back on stage, after everybody had considered him (politically) dead.
That the FPÖ performed so strongly in the 2008 elections is an indication that nationalistic anti-immigration sentiments are deeply entrenched in (some parts of) the Austrian electorate. That BZÖ was very much a Kärnten affair is an indication that regional politics as well as Haider’s person played some role in the mobilisation of the right wing.
Are there any lessons for other European countries? Austria is not the only country which has seen nationalistic anti-immigration (or perhaps rather anti-Muslim) currents being mobilised during the 1990s and 200s – besides France, Belgium with its peculiar regional politics, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway come to mind.
Following the murder of Pim Fortuyn, the LPF collapsed but anti-immigration policies survived in the PVV, led by Geert Wilders, another high-profied personality.
More quietly, the Norwegian Progress Party seems to have more than survived the handing-over of leadership from Carl I. Hagen to Siv Jensen and at this point in time, my guess is the fortunes of the Danish People’s Party are not that dependent on Pia Kjærsgaard.
One thing which set Austria, Haider and the FPÖ apart from the other countries is history. That the ATS column in the Danish newspaper Politiken jokingly referred to Haider as “Jörg Heiler” was not without a base in reality: Haider was the son of convinced nazis.