Curious J�

2.22.2009

By Ilya Marritz

Michael Moser, a bartender at Stadtkr'mer, says that contrary to published reports, Haider did not drink an entire bottle of vodka at the bar. Moser recalls the governor had two Amaro Averna cocktails and a Red Bull. Staff realized Haider had had too much to drink, and suggested he get a ride home.

Five weeks after Haider's death, Schreuder traveled to Carinthia to host a sort of healing event: a Friday night gay-bar hop (there are three gay bars in Klagenfurt). He says he wanted to remind people that Haider's crime was driving drunk, not being gay. The group wore black T-shirts printed with a logo designed to resemble cigarette package warning labels: VISITING GAY BARS WON'T ENDANGER YOUR LIFE.

Yet being outed as gay could have ruined J'rg Haider's political life, as Haider surely understood. Like former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, Haider relied on hetero bona fides (wife, children, bungee jumping, mountain climbing) to deflect inconvenient questions. Like why Haider's closest aides (Stefan Petzner was merely the latest) seemed always to have a Y chromosome and be height-weight proportional.

Schreuder says that while Haider took calculated political risks by praising Nazi employment policies and inciting hatred of immigrants, he was conspicuously quiet about gay issues. Even through the worst days of the AIDS crisis, critics admit, Haider never gay-baited or demonized people with AIDS. This effectively preempted public conjecture on his sexuality: The hypocrisy charge wouldn't stick.

Instead, speculating on Haider's sexuality was a harmless parlor game for those in the know. 'Everyone knew someone who slept with him,' says Hannes, a patron at Willendorf, a gay caf' in Vienna, who gives only his first name. He then stops to correct himself: 'No. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who said they slept with him.'

Schreuder says he has no doubt Haider was a klemmschwester (literally, an 'uptight sister').

'Obviously, he liked handsome young men,' says longtime gay activist Kurt Krickler.

Krickler, who has a prickly salt-and-pepper beard and gets around Vienna on a muscular blue BMW motorcycle with the vanity plate W GAY 6, says his Homosexuelle Initiative debated the ethics of outing Haider for many years -- famous person, atrocious political views. The group always came down against it: 'He's not a positive role model, so there was no point in outing him,' Krickler says. Nevertheless, Krickler kept a dossier ready, including talking points and a list of likely paramours.

Krickler ticks off the names of several young men in Haider's circle. In 1994, Haider made Karl-Heinz Grasser, a 25-year-old with dimples like David Duchovny's, deputy governor of Carinthia. 'He had no qualifications whatsoever,' Krickler says. 'Everybody was wondering about it. And I think, of course, it was because they fucked or he gave him a blow job. I mean, that's just my assumption.'

Then there was Franz Koloini, 'der sch'ne Franz' ('handsome Franz'), the waiter who became Haider's personal secretary at age 22.

Krickler rifles through old editions of Lambda Nachrichten, the gay magazine he edits, to produce a picture of Haider running a marathon side-by-side with an earlier secretary, the baby-faced Gerald Mikscha. The accompanying quote, from a mainstream Austrian magazine, notes that 'political observers can scarcely remember a time when Haider was seen without his secretary.' Another photo shows Mikscha and Haider on vacation, sitting on a pier together, boat masts bobbing in the background.

'It was obvious as of '86 [the year Haider took control of the Freedom Party] that all these young men surrounding Haider -- this was not just political enthusiasm, this was something else,' Krickler says. Haider's circle was so strikingly different from anything else in politics, the mainstream media dubbed it die buberlpartie ('the boys' party').

But while Haider's appeal was plainly homoerotic, it's unclear whether it was actually sexual. Haider biographer Christa Z'chling says she chased down dozens of leads over the years, but never found a man who could make a credible claim to have had sex with Haider.

'I think he had sex with men,' says Krickler. 'But probably not very often.' More likely, Krickler believes, Haider was an ersatz daddy for the men around him -- sometimes with benefits.

Haider's close allies have refused to dish on his sexuality. But they resort to visceral terms when describing his political gifts. 'He had the ability to attract people. He was a magnet,' says Hubert Gorbach, a former party colleague and onetime vice-chancellor of Austria.

The buberlpartie dispersed over the past decade (many went into business, got married, and had children), and Haider retreated from national politics to the governorship of Carinthia. If his circle attracted less attention from the Vienna papers, Haider arguably became more comfortable with his sexuality. He directed state money to support a four-day 'Pink Wave' gay party on the shores of a Carinthian lake. And last summer he allowed himself to be photographed in a disco, gleefully boozing with dozens of teenage males who were too young to be drinking.

'I think for Haider it was also a possibility he just didn't care anymore,' says Schreuder. He notes that Haider unburdened himself of the Freedom Party's social conservatives when he split off to form his own, Haider-centric political party (the Alliance for Austria's Future) in 2005. Most voters in Carinthia had long since formed a view of Haider as a kind of benevolent prince (it's commonly said he shook every Carinthian's hand at least once).

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