Hannes Richter

Culture - a Core Element of Austrian Foreign Policy

Hannes Richter

Remarks by Ambassador Martin Eichtinger

Most people who attribute to Austria the status of a cultural nation refer to Austria’s rich cultural heritage in all the different areas of culture, ranging from music to the fine arts and from architecture to film. This traditional basis of the country’s cultural wealth is being carefully cultivated and adapted to new forms of expression.

Austria takes good care of its artistic potential and – even in times of financial and economic crisis – sticks with its policy of public support for the arts as a core task of the state. This way, it strongly differs from the cultural policies followed by the United States, where the private sector is the main sponsor of the arts.


Ambassador Eichtinger during his talk on the importance of Culture as a Core Element of Austrian Foreign Policy © Karl Schrammel

Among European Union member states, Austria ranks at the top when it comes to public support for the arts: the funds which Austrian public entities disperse for cultural activities (money spent at the level of municipalities, provinces, and the federal state) and which Austria offers to its cultural community, amount to €274 per capita.

The respective figures for other countries are €177 for Switzerland, €103 for Germany and €2.8 for the United States. On the other hand, however, statistics suggest that the private sector in the United States spends more than 10 billion dollars annually on sponsoring art. In the case of Austria, public funding for the arts as a share of GDP is almost equal to the level of Austria’s expenditures for defense.

This holds true even in times when Austria has stepped up its commitment in international military and security policy missions in the Western Balkans and the Middle East (Austria will add a deployment of troops to Lebanon in the framework of the UNIFIL operation to its long-term participation in the operation on the Golan Heights).

This Year, cultural institutions in Austria have organized 200 summer festivals, including the prestigious Salzburg and Bregenz Festivals, as well as a highly acclaimed Festival at Grafenegg Castle near Krems at the entrance of the Wachau Valley, where the renowned Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder assembles the world’s best classical music. One in five people who travel to Austria state exclusive or special cultural interest as a reason for their visit.

Cultural tourism, therefore, plays an important role in Austria’s economy. Creative industries, including design, film, and music production, make up some 10% of Austria’s GDP. At the European level, already four percent of the EU’s workforce is employed in the creative industries. This is why the European Union has put a major emphasis on the further development of creative industries in its Europe 2020 economic growth plan.

Since 1973, the department of foreign cultural policy has been part of the Austrian Foreign Ministry, or the Federal Ministry for European and international Affairs as it is called today. The department has three major tasks: cultural activities abroad, international scientific cooperation and – since the late 1980s and 1990s – activities in the field of cultural and religious dialogue.

The Austrian network of cultural institutions has grown steadily, in particular after the fall of the iron curtain in 1989, when Austria was very quick in establishing an extensive cultural network with the former communist countries of Central, East, and Southeast Europe. During the tenure of Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Alois Mock, the first Austrian libraries, Austrian chairs, and even some Austrian schools were established in the region.


The Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City. Photo: David Plakke

Today, the Austrian international network of cultural institutions comprises 30 cultural fora, two of which are located in the United States (Washington and New York), cultural activities at 93 embassies and consulates general, 61 Austrian libraries and nine Austrian institutes. Funding for cultural activities abroad has fluctuated over the past years depending on the budgetary situation of the Government and the overall economic situation in Austria and the EU.

However, the Foreign Ministry has been able to secure the current amount of funding for foreign culture for the year to come, as well. Over the past year, this cultural network has organized 5,400 cultural events in 110 countries and 800 cities worldwide and has also been highly successful in attracting private sponsors, mostly from Austrian companies, which love to affiliate themselves with professionally managed cultural programs.

Every euro spent worldwide on cultural activities already generates 45 eurocents in private funding. Last year, the Foreign Ministry has decided to adjust the foreign cultural strategy to the new challenges of today’s global cultural landscape. New players have appeared in the world of culture, direct cultural cooperation between artists and institutions has become the most common way of doing things, new media offer the opportunity to be globally present and reach a global audience.

The process has matured from a mere presentation of culture to a cooperative participation in a global dialogue, where state cultural institutions have acquired a new task by acting as a launch pad for artists to engage in this global cultural dialogue with their cultural statements and creativity. It would be impossible for the Foreign Ministry to fund the thousands of Mozart and Strauss concerts around the world or to support the many concerts by the Viennese Boys Choir. However, it can put its logistical network at their disposal in order to carefully weigh decisions and make sure that funds are being used in the best possible way.

Therefore, the Ministry’s primary cultural goal is to offer our creative and innovative artists the opportunity to go international. Many of the current stars have started their international careers through this network. Within these activities, special focus areas have been determined, such as modern dance and performance; after all, Vienna is home to the biggest modern dance and performance festival in the world, ImpulsTanz.

Another focus area is architecture, in which Austrian architects combine their art with new technologies of passive or energy-neutral houses. It was only recently that the first Austrian passive house embassy has opened in Jakarta, Indonesia. The second goal of this foreign cultural policy relates to the integration of Europe, to which Austria has always attached great importance. In the EU, the promotion of culture is designed to kill two birds with one stone; firstly, the EU member states are supposed to get to know each other better and get closer by learning more about each others’ cultures.

Secondly, cultural initiatives within the EU may permanently coin the image that non-EU states have of us. Austria has a significant interest in positively developing the process of the European integration. Therefore, Austrian foreign cultural policy includes cultural initiatives launched by the EU and the development of projects with other partners to strengthen our shared EU identity.

This goal of foreign cultural policy also includes support for a foreign policy focus which was developed by the current Foreign Minister, Michael Spindelegger: a specially designed program for the countries of the Danube and Black Sea regions. Upon the initiative of Austria and Romania, the European Union has launched a specific macroregional strategy for the Danube Region.

It encompasses eight European Union member states and six non-member states, covering the Danube basin from its origins in Germany to the Danube Delta at the Black Sea and the riparian countries of Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania. The strategy aims at unleashing the full potential of this region with its rich cultural heritage.

The priority areas of the strategy focus on promoting infrastructure, the environment, economic development, security issues, and capacity building. At the same time, it also includes the development of knowledge-based societies, culture, and tourism. The work for the implementation of the strategy has just begun and the cultural department at the foreign ministry is actively participating in several Danube Strategy projects.

This Danube Strategy encompasses an efficient and coordinated approach linking │ politics, the economy, science, culture and civil society that will benefit the classical ‘wealth of nations.’ Governments and the private sector are combining their efforts. In this context, it is particularly important to enhance public diplomacy by promoting festivals, exhibitions, lectures, literature and drama, concerts, and music through conferences and seminars, public discussions and meetings. Overall, stronger support for our knowledge-based society is needed.

There can be no alternative to European and American values common to all of us on a continent traditionally divided and fragmented by a heavy burden of old and deep conflicts. The Danube River embraces Germanic, Slavic, Latin and Hungarian traditions, the heritage of Ancient Greece and Rome, of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity, of Islam and Judaism. There is no river worldwide that offers such diversity and yet such discrepancies in living standards within comparatively short distances. At the same time, this region exhibits fast-paced development and innovation, and offers serious comparative advantages that should become known on a larger, international scale.

Above and beyond the Danube and Black Sea region, Austria continues to be committed to a global cultural outreach: just this year, the Foreign Ministry together with the Chinese organized more than 100 events in Austria and China on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations between the two countries. Next year and in 2013, Austria will celebrate anniversaries of diplomatic relations with Korea and Vietnam by putting together special cultural programs with these countries.

Next year, Austria, Poland and Switzerland will be the host countries of the festival Cervantino in Guanajuato in Mexico, one of the biggest art festivals in Latin America. Last year, Austria participated in the Bicentennario celebrations in Latin America with a variety of cultural events, from visual arts to exhibitions and concerts.

Another goal of Austrian foreign cultural policy strategy refers to a longstanding commitment of Austria: the dialogue between civilizations and religions. Since the late eighties and early nineties, Austria has aimed at launching initiatives to promote the intercultural as well as interreligious dialogue in order to combat the spread of stereotypes, thus supporting peace and security.

The intercultural and interreligious dialogue is designed to promote democracy and the universal respect for human rights and basic human freedoms, including the freedom of religion and of conscience. Dialogue is an important instrument for fostering intercultural and interreligious co-habitation and integration in Austria and Europe.

The main points of this dialog are the promotion of basic human freedoms and rights worldwide, the integration of cultural, religious, and ethnic minorities into our modern democracies, the promotion of women’s independence and freedom in religious environments, the fight against prejudices and misunderstandings and the promotion of cross-border cooperation between young leaders from all areas of society.

In 2012, Austria will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Law on Islam. Austria was the first country to recognize Islam as an official religion as early as in 1912. Ambassador Martin Eichtinger is the Director General for International Cultural Policy at the Austrian Foreign Ministry