Austrian politician and former leader of the populist Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) 1986–2000. He was a controversial figure because of his past praise of Nazi Germany's employment policies. In 2000 his party formed a coalition government with the mainstream People's Party, led by Wolfgang Schüssel, who became prime minister. This inclusion of the far right in a West European government for the first time since World War II led to protests from the Austrian electorate and across Europe, and the brief imposition of political sanctions by the European Union (EU). Haider resigned as party leader in May 2000, and in April 2005 he left the party, along with other senior figures, to form the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). He led the BZÖ until June 2006 and again from August 2008 until his death in October 2008 following a car accident.
Haider was forced to resign as governor of Carinthia in 1991 after giving a speech in which he praised the efficiency of Hitler's employment policies. However he was elected governor again in 1999 (and 2004), when the Freedom Party strengthened its campaign and continued to oppose Austria's membership of the EU. When the Freedom Party entered into a federal coalition government in 2000, Austrians protested in the streets in large numbers, bilaterial ties were reduced between Austria and the 14 other EU member states, and Israel recalled its ambassador. Schüssel and Haider sought to dampen the flames of international condemnation by signing a declaration pledging to work against xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism.
Born in the Upper Austrian town of Bad Goisern in 1950; his parents were both enthusiastic Nazis. He studied law at the University of Vienna 1969–73. He never practised law, however, and began his political career in the mid-1970s, concentrating on advancement in national politics. In 1979, at the age of 29, he became the youngest member of the Austrian parliament. He became Governor of the southern province of Carinthia in 1989.
Haider became Freedom Party leader in 1986, when the party was securing barely 5% at the polls. During the period 1986–99, Haider built up a formidable power base in Carinthia and his party increased its appeal, particularly among voters aged 19–30.
Haider transformed the far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party from one with barely 5% of the vote in the mid-1980s to one with 27% share of the national vote in the 1999 general election.