From our December 2000 issue.
Prospects for a Merry Christmas in St. Peter's Square dimmed a bit at news that Jörg Haider would be bringing the tree. A visit by the Austrian politician infamous for his praise of the Third Reich is bound to recall the Pope's meetings in the late 80s with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim (veteran of a German army unit that committed atrocities in World War II). This year's encounter may be even more embarrassing to the Holy See; Haider is not a head of state, nor is he known to be especially religious. Yet there was no diplomatic way for the Vatican to hack out. It accepted the pledge of a tree from the province of Carinthia, which Haider governs, back in 1997--long before his party joined the Austrian government, bringing on sanctions from the rest of the European Union. For the governor, of course, the trip to Rome is a magnificent chance to claim international respectability.