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Maverick Haider Keeps Ahead of Past, Future

Austria's Freedom Party leader Jrg Haider, who has toned down his extremist, rabble-rousing image in recent years, likes to say that he is neither left wing nor right wing, but out in front. A maverick, he has plucked ideas, policies, and styles from a wide variety of sources.

He often compares himself to Britain's "New Labour" Prime Minister Tony Blair, for example, and had no compunction in borrowing House Speaker Newt Gingrich's initiative to fashion his own "Contract With Austria." Mr. Haider also has taken summer school courses at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., learning free-market economics.

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This modernizing, forward-looking image has helped lure younger voters who say they are fed up with Austria's stodgy, outdated political and economic traditions, and who welcome some bright new thinking, even if it does not always bear much scrutiny.

At the same time, Haider has exploited older peoples' nostalgia for Austria's past. He has been especially generous in forgiving the huge number of Austrians who welcomed the Nazis 60 years ago. He ran into trouble in past years for calling a convicted Nazi war criminal "a soldier who had done his duty," for example, and sparked more controversy by addressing a meeting of Waffen SS veterans in 1995.

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