Top photo: Helmut Türk served as Austrian Ambassador to the U.S. from 1993 to 1999
Helmut Tuerk: Remember Austrian-American Day
Celebrating the 175th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Austria – in 1838 it was the Austrian Empire to be precise – also seems a particularly propitious occasion to remember Austrian-American Day celebrated annually on September 26. I took office as Austrian Ambassador to the United States at the end of January, 1993, and had the good fortune and privilege to serve in that position for more than six years. Having been an AFS high school exchange student in Pennsylvania, I was aware of the importance of, for instance, Irish-American, Italian-American, and German-American Day for highlighting the essential contributions different immigrant groups have made and continue to make to American society, and to the development of this great country. I, therefore, saw it as one of my major tasks as Ambassador, to draw the attention of the American public to present-day Austria and to the manifold cultural, scientific, economic and political contributions by immigrants from our country. What could be more conducive to achieving that goal than to follow the example of other nations, and to proclaim an Austrian-American Day? I discussed this idea with Fritz Molden, a long-standing friend of the United States and the father of the “Austrian-American Councils.” As the date for such a day, he suggested September 26. On that day in 1945, a conference of political representatives of all Austrian federal provinces took place in Vienna. This paved the way for the Austrian Federal Government, which was formed at the end of World War II, and up until then, only recognized by the Soviet Union, to be also recognized by the United States and the other Western Allies.
Such an endeavor could not bear fruit without the generous support from the Clinton Administration and from Congress, in particular from members of Austrian origin like Senator Mike Enzi from Wyoming and Congressman Doug Bereuter from Nebraska. On September 26, 1997, President Clinton officially proclaimed “Austrian-American Day” and both Houses of Congress passed respective Resolutions. I also managed to enlist the support of the National Governors Association in order to obtain similar resolutions by the legislatures of the states. During my tenure as Ambassador, two Governors were of Austrian origin: John Engler from Michigan and Don Siegelman from Alabama. A famous Austrian would years later become Governor of California and it should not be forgotten that the first Governor of the independent State of Georgia in 1777, John Adam Treutlein, hailed from Salzburg. Austrian-American Day has been celebrated ever since, with the Austrian –American Council in Los Angeles under the able guidance of Veronika Reinelt placing special emphasis on that occasion. This day, which underlines the intense links and great bonds of friendship between the United States and Austria, should continue to be remembered and also be celebrated by future generations.
Judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
Ambassador Moser: Mutual Understanding, Respect and True Friendship
It took the Austrian Empire more than 60 years after the Declaration of Independence to agree to open diplomatic relations with the United States, a democracy and a republic. It took another 80 years until Austria herself became a republic in 1918. Throughout this period, the U.S. had been an inspiration for democracy and freedom and became home for countless emigrants from Austria and other parts of the old world. During the years of Nazi rule in Austria, the U.S. became a safe haven for racial and political refugees. After World War II, Austria would not have survived and recovered so fast without the generous help of the U.S.
Austria will be forever grateful for this vital assistance. It was in these years after 1945 that I, as a little boy, benefitted from CARE parcels and learned of the Marshall Plan. Later in my high school years, I became a great fan of American movies. These early experiences personally for me were “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” - to borrow the ending words of Casablanca. Little did I know that my longing for the U.S. would find a fulfillment in my diplomatic career which gave me six wonderful years as Consul General in Los Angeles where I met many of the former Austrian refugees (among them also Paul Henreid from Casablanca). The four exciting years 1999-2003 as Ambassador in D.C., when I shared with the American people the horror of September 11 and its aftermath, were another opportunity. Relations have their ups and downs. They occur in personal life and in relations between states. “Nobody’s perfect” are the ending words of another famous movie and they are true for both Austria and the United States. Our bilateral relations have weathered transitory irritations and have proven to be of a lasting value. Mutual understanding, respect and true friendship have been the basis of our relations in the past and will help us to overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Eva Nowotny: Privileged to Serve as Ambassador
During my professional life, I have spent eleven years posted in the United States. In addition, I have visited the U.S. numerous times, on business as well as privately.Thus, I have gotten to know the country quite well and have experienced it under different circumstances and during different phases of its political and social development. The years 2003-2008, when I was privileged to represent Austria as Ambassador to the United States, were rather difficult ones for European Ambassadors. Transatlantic relations were strained and we had to deal with many issues, in which the U.S. and the EU did not see eye to eye – the Iraq war, the so-called “war on terror,” Guantanamo, the consequences of the Patriot Act, pro and contra of sanctions on Iran, to name just a few.
The regular contacts with the Administration and with Congress were often contentious and uncomfortable. On the other side, it was always possible to enjoy the genuine friendliness of the American people, their spontaneous warmth and the generous hospitality with which I was received wherever I went, be it Florida or Alaska. Not so long ago, The Economist newspaper of London described Washington as the intellectual capital of the United States, and indeed, there is an incredibly rich intellectual life in this city, emanating from its plethora of think tanks and academic institutions which are open and welcoming also for the participation of foreign diplomats – something I have always regarded as the greatest and most rewarding boon of our profession. A particular highlight of my years in Washington without doubt was the first half of 2006, the six months during which Austria held the Presidency of the European Union. During those six months the Austrian Embassy in Washington conducted all negotiations and consultations within the 27 EU Embassies, in 19 different working groups, and was the first contact point and interlocutor for the U.S. administration on many political transatlantic issues. We plunged right into it on January 1, at 8 a.m. with a phone call from the State Department concerning the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis. I had my grandchildren visiting from Vienna for the Christmas holidays and they were terribly excited – “we are in a crisis, we are in crisis!” Looking back, I have the feeling that for six months the phone did not stop ringing! For all Austrian diplomats, who worked at the Embassy during that period, myself included, this was a fascinating, strenuous, stimulating and all in all a most interesting experience.