Hannes Richter

The Participation of Haider’s Freedom Party in the Austrian Government

Hannes Richter

Martin Weiss (1999-2001)
Martin Weiss, who had worked at the Austrian Embassy in Washington as Counselor for Political Affairs and Public Diplomacy since 1997, succeeded Martin Eichtinger in 1999 upon his return to Vienna. It was the end of the Clinton era and the greatest challenge at the time was dealing with the international disapproval of the coalition government formed between the conservative People’s Party and the Freedom Party, whose contested leader Jörg Haider had been strongly criticized in the international news. Whereas the head of the Press and Information Service normally pursued the media looking for coverage, in those days the Embassy witnessed an enormous interest on the part of the U.S. media. The Ambassador was invited to Jim Lehrer’s News Hour, NBC News, ABC News and CNN for interviews and, as Martin Weiss recalls, “we had more interview requests than we had ever wished for – I guess this is what they mean when they say there’s no news like bad news.”

What proved to be invaluable was to conscientiously reply to the many thousands of letters the Embassy received at that time from individuals who raised their concerns about the new government. “We made it a point of entering all addresses into a database and responding to all of them. Some ignored our letters, others answered and in many a case a dialogue began. In creating this database we came up with a creative way of finding a new avenue for spreading ‘good news,’ or at least ‘correct news,’ about Austria. For example, once Austria adopted new laws governing restitution issues, we immediately knew where to find a ‘critical audience’ interested in news from Austria.”

Communicating information about Austria and its new government was a huge challenge. “This was a delicate situation since there were those in the House and the Senate who advocated taking measures (including an economic embargo!) against Austria. However, Austria was able to convince the U.S. administration not to immediately follow the ‘bandwagon of European sanctions.’ Instead, the U.S. government decided to give it some more time and see what the new Austrian government really was up to. An issue the U.S. government studied closely in this regard was the topic of unresolved restitution matters. Once we were able to make it clear that the Austrian Federal Government was working according to Austrian democratic traditions and that – in terms of restitution issues – all Austrian political parties supported appropriate legislation, things became somewhat easier.”

Martin Weiss returned to Vienna in 2001 and became the head of the Press Department and Spokesman of the Austrian Foreign Ministry. While Director of the Information Service at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C., he also introduced the new design of the newsletter Austrian Information.

Consul General Martin Weiss was born in 1962 and graduated from the University of Vienna (Austria) and the University of Virginia (U.S.) before joining the Foreign Service in 1990. After assignments to New York and Washington D.C., he became Foreign Policy Adviser to the Minister for Economic Affairs (1995-1997). From 1997 – 2000 he served as Counselor for Congressional Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, D.C. and from 2000 – 2001 as Director of the Austrian Press and Information Service, Washington D.C. From 2001 - 2004 Weiss served as Director of the Press and Information Department of the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Since 2004 he is the Austrian Consul General in Los Angeles.