Hannes Richter

Austria’s Second EU Presidency

Hannes Richter

 

Christoph Meran (2002 - 2006)
Christoph Meran, who succeeded Martin Weiss as head of the Press and Information Service at the Austrian Embassy in Washington in 2002, organized an interfaith Passover Seder evening at the Austrian Embassy in March of that year which brought together three generations of representatives from the Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities of Greater Washington. The event emphasized the role of communities in building peace and dialogue beyond the complex political obstacles of the Peace Process. The urgency of the message was underscored by the tragic coincidence of this celebration with the Passover massacre in the Park Hotel at Netanya, Israel, a suicide bombing carried out by a Palestinian militant on March 27, in which 30 Israeli civilians were killed. “One of Austria’s traditional public diplomacy tools is to build credibility through dialogue, which involves listening and exchange, and implies a readiness to be influenced and changed by the other side, free of the constraints set by an immediate political agenda,” Meran said. “This is important at all times, but was particularly critical at that moment in the U.S. where negative political perceptions about Austria’s coalition government of 2000 persisted over several years.”

During the Austrian EU Presidency, the Press and Information Service hosted monthly meetings with leading U.S. opinion leaders for all European Union member states, discussing the most important international issues off the record. In addition, Channel 5 TV aired a documentary on Austria which included an interview with the acting Ambassador. A major feature of our advocacy was to inform the American public about Austria’s restitution program for victims of National Socialism, which had been negotiated in close cooperation with the U.S. in 2000-01. The program was announced through a release via NAPS Syndicated Services, a news service for all local newspapers throughout the Midwest, the East and West coasts, and also through radio broadcast stations such as National Public Radio (NPR).

In addition to regularly publishing news on restitution and compensation programs, as well as cultural news of the Jewish Community in Austria, we decided to start a new online English-language newsletter in 2002, Jewish News from Austria. This newsletter, which disseminates news items published in local Austrian media, is emailed to subscribers in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, as well as Israel, where a large number of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors from Austria have found a new home.

The idea of the newsletter was to start a worldwide dialogue with Jewish communities on the basis of critical reporting from independent media. “It took some time for feedback to appear, but the responses were engaging and positive overall. They included requests for more frequent distribution of material, for example for class instruction. The educational aspect was important to us, so we felt something positive was happening. There were a few readers also who wanted to come to Vienna, some for the first time, having learned through Jewish News about Leon Zelman’s Jewish Welcome Service in Vienna. In such cases, we helped them establish contact or gave additional guidance for personal matters,” Meran recalls.

One of the most ambitious projects during Austria’s EU Presidency 2006 was the Transatlantic Conference “Immigration, Integration, Identity – Managing Diverse Societies in Europe and the U.S.,” which was held at the U.S. Capitol in May 2006. Organized by the Austrian EU Presidency together with the Delegation of the European Commission and a few other EU embassies, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, and Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic Relations, the conference brought together members of Congress and academe to discuss the urgent and unresolved issues of emigration, immigration and integration that have had different implications for both continents but are of equal importance for the U.S. and Europe.

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Christoph Meran, currently Deputy Director of the Austrian Foreign Ministry’s Near-, Middle East and Africa Department, holds an M.A. in International Studies from the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium; an M.A., Philology (Slavic Studies) from the University of Vienna, Austria; and a B.A in Music, Vienna Academy of Music, Austria. In 1996 he joined the Austrian Foreign Service and was posted to Tirana, Albania, in 1997. From 1999 to 2006 he was assigned to the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and was Director of the Austrian Press and Information Service at the Washington Embassy from 2002 to 2006. In 2007 he returned to the U.S. as a guest lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, followed by a Public Policy Fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.