Hannes Richter

Austrian Patriot and European Visionary

Hannes Richter

by Martin Eichtinger

On the death of Ambassador Friedrich  Hoess: A model diplomat, a friend of the U.S., a builder of bridges in transatlantic relations.

January 5, 2007 marked the passing of former Ambassador Friedrich Hoess. Austria has lost an outstanding diplomat, a great patriot, a humanist with an extraordinary knowledge of history, a European visionary and an ardent supporter of transatlantic cooperation.

Born in Vienna on October 7, 1932, he received a classical secondary education and later earned a doctorate in law. In 1956, following a year of practical legal training in the courts of Vienna and St. Pölten, he began his professional career by working in trade policy and foreign trade with the Federal Economic Chamber. He then served in the Division of Economic Coordination within the Federal Chancellery before he was assigned to the Austrian Embassy in Washington as Attaché for Economic Affairs (1958-1965) and later to the Austrian Embassy in Tel Aviv (1965-1967), where he was responsible for press and culture. After serving in the cabinet of Federal Chancellor Josef Klaus, he continued his diplomatic career as Consul General and head of the Austrian Delegation in Berlin (1971-1974) and as Ambassador to Australia (1975-1979). After experience as head of the Department of International Atomic Energy Affairs and relations to the Council of Europe within the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs (1979-1981) and as Austrian Permanent Representative to the IAEO, his career culminated with his appointment as Ambassador to the United States (1987-1992) and as Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany (1993-1997).

Ambassador Friedrich Hoess (1932-2007)

An impressive personality among diplomatic circles, Fritz Hoess was highly regarded by his peers. His broad diplomatic experience in the USA, Israel, the former DDR and later unified Germany, greatly influenced his vision of a strong, united Europe in partnership with the USA. He believed that establishing strong ties between the EC/EU and the USA was necessary for maintaining world peace. Based on personal experience after the war, he never allowed Austria to forget its debt of gratitude to the USA for having liberated the country from National Socialism and for providing protection and assistance necessary to rebuild the country.

Through the creation of the European Union, he believed Austria and Europe had finally established a stable and democratic footing that would successfully overcome the legacy of two world wars and the subsequent division and occupation. But despite the existence of this supranational umbrella, he repeatedly emphasized Austria’s need to retain its identity, particularly in its relations with other countries within the Donau region. The eastward expansion of the European Union was always of great importance to him.

Fritz Hoess was not only a successful and skilled diplomat in dealing with political issues but was equally effective in his relation to the media. As a staff member in the cabinet of Federal Chancellor Josef Klaus he developed his talent for dealing with the media. As a head of the Office of Styria in Vienna he gained a reputation as a troubleshooter making full use of his extraordinary national and international network of contacts.

He assumed the position of Ambassador to the United States in 1987 at a dramatic point in the bilateral relations between the two countries. He realized the difficulties the watch list decision involving then Austrian President Dr. Kurt Waldheim would cause for his work, but he accepted the challenge and tried to ameliorate the damage caused by the decision.

By applying the concept of “public diplomacy” (outreach to all relevant groups of society), he was able to achieve diplomatic success during these difficult times. He was also strongly committed to promoting the Austrian economy and worked strategically with the State Governors in the United States. His appearance before the state legislature of Virginia was legendary. At that time a regular smoker of thin Virginia cigars, he made news by presenting the astonished members with Austrian cigars which had been a tradition since the time of the Monarchy and a favorite of Austrian Federal Chancellor Julius Raab.

Since his retirement he has acted as Special Representative of Austria to the U.S. during the period of Austria’s EU presidency and has served as a consultant to the Chairman of the Federation of Austrian Industry. In this capacity he advised the leadership of the Federation on national and international policy. The Federation was able to benefit from his excellent analysis of the political climate and also enjoyed the best possible preparation for European and transatlantic visits while taking advantage of his strong network of contacts.

For a large number of Austrian diplomats, Fritz Hoess was a teacher and a model. He was the recipient of many awards, an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman, a lover of the arts and an exceptionally gifted communicator. His companions and colleagues all attest to his skill as witty entertainer and, unquestionably, an Austrian patriot. The nation is deeply indebted to him.

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In memoriam, the Austrian Embassy and the American-Austrian Society held a memorial service on Sunday, February 4, 2006 at 2:30 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Chapel of Our Lady of Mariazell. As Ambassador Nowotny pointed out in her words of commemoration, it was also more than appropriate that this ceremony took place in the chapel dedicated to the Magna Mater Austriae, “The Great Mother of Austria,” when recalling Ambassador Hoess’s commitment, drive and energy in seeing this chapel built as a place of worship.