The male successor to far-right Austrian politician Joerg Haider publicly admitted to having a long-term "special relationship" with the politician who died earlier this month in a car accident, The Independent reported Wednesday.
Stefan Petzner, 27, recently replaced Haider as the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Austria, and has appeared in public crying since his death. He admitted on an Austrian radio show that he was the deceased politician’s longstanding lover, the Independent reported.
Petzner admitted a “magnetic attraction" when he met Haider five years ago while working as a reporter.
“We had a relationship that went far beyond friendship,” the Independent quoted Petzner as saying during the emotional interview. “Joerg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life.”
He said that he rushed to Haider’s side when he heard of the 52-year-old politician’s car crash. Petzner insisted Haider’s widow, Claudia, was aware of their relationship and did not object.
Party officials were reeling Wednesday, trying to limit political damage by canceling Petzner’s upcoming interviews and trying to prevent his radio interview from being rebroadcast.
Petzner’s admission came after Austrian media outlets printed photographs of Haider in a gay bar shortly before his fatal accident.
Gay rumors began surrounding Haider almost a decade ago, but he refused to discuss them. He fathered two children with Claudi and had thousands of ultra-conservative followers, the Independent reported.
Haider’s far-right rhetoric in the 1990s was denounced as sympathetic to the Nazis.
Haider was driving drunk on Oct. 11 when his car veered off the road in southern Austria after overtaking another vehicle, and overturned, police said. He was alone in the car.
He suffered severe injuries to his head and chest despite wearing a seatbelt. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Haider had attended an event in the town of Velden before the accident happened.
Politicians from across the political spectrum in Austria expressed shock at Haider's sudden death.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer described Haider's death as a "human tragedy."
In 1999, Haider received 27 percent of the vote in national elections as leader of the Freedom Party. The party's subsequent inclusion in the government led to months of European Union sanctions as Haider's statements were seen as anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Adolf Hitler's labor policies.
Haider had since significantly toned down his rhetoric and in 2005 broke away from the Freedom Party to form the new alliance, meant to reflect a turn toward relative moderation.
Over the summer, he staged a comeback in national politics and helped the alliance significantly improve its standing in Sept. 28 national elections.
Haider sought to distance himself from his rightist past, which included a comment in 1991 that the Third Reich had an "orderly employment policy" and a 1995 reference to concentration camps as "the punishment camps of National Socialism."
Haider enjoyed tremendous popularity in Carinthia and was known by opponents and supporters alike as intelligent and politically savvy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.