Haider's male lover and party colleague reveals relationship


AUSTRIA'S BIGGEST open secret - Jörg Haider's homosexuality - finally has been confirmed in a tearful confession from Stefan Petzner, his party ally and lover of five years, writes Derek Scally

Mr Petzner's televised revelation cost him his job yesterday as leader of Haider's Alliance for Austria's Future (BZÖ), two weeks after the populist leader died in a high-speed car crash, drunk at the wheel and travelling at twice the speed limit.

"We had a relationship that went far beyond friendship," said the 27 year old, who shares the same love of sunbeds as Mr Haider, 31 years his senior. "Jörg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life." Mr Petzner attracted attention - and a considerable amount of criticism - at Mr Haider's funeral last weekend after television cameras showed him weeping more than Haider's wife Claudia and two adult daughters combined.

In the interview, he said that the Haider family was aware of his relationship with the politician and did not object.

It was a different story in BZÖ headquarters yesterday, where party leaders went into full damage-limitation mode.

Aware the revelations might scare off their core conservative voters in rural southern Austria, they replaced Mr Petzner with Josef Buchner, a 43-year-old divorced father of two, and leaned on public broadcast ORF to cease broadcasting the interview.

The revelation is another blow to the party that already faced a struggle to survive without its charismatic founder: Haider doubled the party's support to 8 per cent in last month's general election.

The revelation may hasten the BZÖ's already-likely merger with the populist Freedom Party (FPÖ), making the far right the second-strongest political force in Austria.

The revelation came as no surprise to most journalists and politicians in Klagenfurt and Vienna, where Mr Haider was a regular at the local gay bars.

Mr Petzner was with Mr Haider in a Klagenfurt gay bar the night he died and the couple parted after a row, according to reports.

However, it took days for details of Mr Haider's final hours to work their way into the Austrian newspapers, nudged along by Germany's Bild tabloid.

This final revelation about Mr Haider's sexuality has been handled as discreetly yesterday by the Austrian media as it was during his lifetime. Media outlets reject the criticism they showed unfair deference to the notorious Mr Haider, pointing out that despite harsh words for foreigners and occasional praise for Nazi policies, Mr Haider was never heard to utter homophobic remarks.

Meanwhile, in a new twist to his dramatic death, it emerged yesterday that Claudia Haider has postponed indefinitely her husband's cremation. Mrs Haider has expressed concern about the manner of the crash investigation, particularly the high level of alcohol found in her husband's blood after a short stay in a bar.

The family has declined to respond to reports that they commissioned a second, independent postmortem on suspicion that knock-out drops may have been added to the politician's drink.