The World Federation of Austrians Abroad and the Austrian Foreign Ministry in Vienna have recently introduced a number of initiatives in order to meet the needs of Austrians abroad. More than 450,000 Austrians are registered with the Austrian Embassies and Consulates worldwide. Most of them live in Germany (230,000), Switzerland (40,000) and the United States (30,300), with significant numbers in South Africa, Australia, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Austrian expatriates are distinguished representatives of their country and have contributed significantly to the positive image and fine reputation Austria enjoys. In view of their significant contribution to Austria’s image, they are often referred to as the “tenth Austrian State.” This was the subject of an exhibition two years ago in the Austrian Parliament. Today almost 170 member groups belong to the World Federation of Austrians Abroad, which serves as an umbrella organization for all associations and societies of Austrians abroad. It fosters and strengthens a sense of community and friendship among Austrians worldwide. It also provides a platform for networking and a forum for all organizations around the globe which serve Austria’s expatriates.
The World Federation of Austrians Abroad
The World Federation of Austrians Abroad was organized in the years immediately following World War II at a time of political unrest when the Soviet administration still governed Eastern Austria. Initially the Federation of Austrians Abroad was founded in 1952 in Dornbirn, Vorarlberg, and soon thereafter moved to Switzerland. Some years later, in 1955, a second organization for Austrian expatriates, the “Auslandsösterreicherwerk,” was founded under former Foreign Minister Karl Gruber and had its headquarters in Vienna. It was able to offer a diverse portfolio of services to Austrians abroad in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry. The Auslandsösterreicherwerk began to publish the journal, “ROTWEISSROT,” and provided support when contacting Austrian agencies and also offered social assistance to Austrians in need. Under the chairmanship of Prof. Fritz Molden, new transatlantic initiatives like the Austrian-American Councils were developed. The Councils provide a new platform for the many Austrians living throughout North America and still receive significant support from the World Federation of Austrians Abroad. As President Gustav Chlestil explains, the World Federation of Austrians Abroad works closely with a number of Austrian societies and councils in the U.S. and Canada.
When both organizations finally merged in 2002, Fritz Molden, who had been the President of the Auslandsösterreicherwerk for thirty years, became the first President of the newly established umbrella organization, the World Federation of Austrians Abroad. When President Molden retired, Gustav Chlestil, who had been the President of the former Federation of Austrians Abroad since 1997, succeeded him. Chlestil who currently resides in Antwerp, Belgium, worked for thirty-three years in the oil industry throughout Europe. After serving as executive director for ARAL Austria for seven years, he headed ARAL Belgium from 1977 as Chief Executive and later as Chairman of the Board of Directors until his retirement in 1997.
Today, the World Federation of Austrians Abroad acts as a large network, where Austrians through the internet chat forum, “austriansabroad,” can discuss interesting issues and maintain contact with one another. An initiative advocating expatriates acquire double citizenship while retaining their Austrian citizenship was successfully achieved in 2005 by an amendment to the law on rights of citizenship. Another legal initiative has been the Austrian Expatriate Fund Act, which is used to assist Austrian expatriates in need. A more recent legislative reform helped simplify the complicated election procedure for absentee ballots. Austrians voting abroad are no longer required to have their vote witnessed by a notary public or another Austrian citizen.
A newly-implemented initiative is the Advantage Card (“Vorteilskarte”) which entitles Austrian expatriates and emigres to certain advantages when visiting Austria, including discounts on Austrian Airlines or accident insurance. Members in the Auslandsösterreicher-World Federation of Austrians Abroad regularly receive the magazine, ROTWEISSROT. To meet the needs of the descendants of Austrian expatriates who are curious about their heritage and the country of their forefathers, the Weltbund has published a concise overview of the History of Austria by Marianne Rauscher with an English edition issued in 2008.
Every year the World Federation of Austrians Abroad organizes an annual meeting in a different state within Austria to encourage expatriates to visit their native country. Last year it took place in Salzburg which will be followed by Innsbruck, September 3-6, 2009. As Secretary General Irmgard Helperstorfer explains, the Federation has strong ties with Austria’s federal states, which also have representatives and departments to support Austrians abroad. Individual federal states, such as that of Lower Austria, also organize their own conferences. Every year at the annual meeting a person is elected as ‘Austrian Abroad of the Year’ to honor their work or service in promoting a positive image of Austria.
The Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs
The Austrian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Austrians Abroad is particularly a good resource on voting by mail-in ballot from abroad and for benefits provided by the Fund for support of Austrian citizens abroad. It also helps them to establish contact with those institutions that could address their particular concerns. It has been instrumental in introducing legislative reforms that benefit Austrian expatriates. It closely coordinates with the Austrian Embassies and Consulates information about upcoming elections and all Austrians registered with the Diplomatic Missions receive a letter from the Minister for European and International Affairs providing them with information on how to participate in Austrian elections. The next election will be the election to the European Parliament on June 7, 2009.
From March 12 – April 20, 2009, the Austrian Ministry for Foreign and International Affairs together with the World Federation of Austrians Abroad, will be conducting an anonymous survey for Austrians living abroad for the purpose of establishing their primary interests in regard to Austria. The survey will be made available at: www.aoe-umfrage.at from March 1 – April 20, 2009.
Austrian Foreign Ministry
Department for Austrians Abroad