Top photo: The White House
by Wolfgang Waldner
My first six months as Austrian Ambassador to the United States felt a bit like “back to the future.” I had previously spent 15 wonderful years in this country, both at the Embassy and as Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. It has been a pleasure to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and to see that the excellent relations between Austria and the United States are not only intact, but continue to grow and prosper.
The work as ambassador is both challenging and enjoyable, as I get to work in a multitude of areas with many people from different backgrounds. It is all of you who make my time in Washington most interesting. The many conversations I had with Americans all over the country from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta, from San Francisco to New York, show me how many friends Austria can count on in the U.S.
And they can definitely count on us! We will continue do our best to further strengthen the political, economic, and cultural bonds between the United States and Austria. From the international efforts to counter terrorism, where Austria has been and will remain an active part of the U.S.-led efforts against ISIL; the continuous promotion of economic ties between our two countries - the U.S. has recently risen to Austria’s second largest trading partner - to the Embassy’s fruitful relationship with the Jewish Communities in the U.S., our work here is diverse as is the Austrian culture!
The main theme of my exchanges over the course of the past six months has been the European migration crisis. From presenting my credentials to President Obama, meetings with Members of Congress to conversations with visitors at our Embassy: everyone wants to know how Austria, as an EU member state, has been coping with the influx and transit of several hundreds of thousand migrants since the summer of 2015. In my view, the situation presents a grave challenge for Austria, Europe, and the world. It also illustrates that we cannot solve this international crisis unilaterally as a small country, or even as the EU. Strong transatlantic cooperation is increasingly important in today’s world. Austria stands as a firm ally in the fight against terrorism and extremism.
It saddens me deeply to see that both Europe and the U.S. have been faced with horrible and cowardly attacks in the past months. Paris, San Bernadino, Brussels, Orlando, and Nice stand as proof for the need to be vigilant and balance our need for security with our personal freedoms and the ability to travel freely. As a passionate tennis player, I am happy to see that the first edition of Austrian Information during my tenure as ambassador focusses on sports! While some Austrian sports stars and stories are well known around the world, it is interesting to read about the lesser known aspects of Austrian-American sports relations.
The importance of Austrians in exporting our national sport number one, skiing, to the U.S. is a fascinating historic tale and the great achievements of young Austrian women shattering glass ceilings in former men’s domains like hockey or soccer is proof of how far our societies have come in recent years. This June, all of Austria was enthusiastically supporting our soccer men’s national team in the EURO 2016 which, despite Austria’s early exit from the tournament, serves as a perfect illustration of modern Austria.
No less than six players in Austria’s starting eleven have an immigrant background: With family roots in Angola, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Serbia or Turkey, all our players grew up and flourished in Austria, forming one pluralistic society from a multitude of religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In this respect, we can learn from the United States, which as an immigrant nation has formed one American society. While your country has changed a lot over the past decades, one thing has not: The hospitality my colleagues and I enjoy in the United States. Everyone makes me feel welcome and – most importantly – they do so with a smile on their face. I am looking forward to many more interesting encounters and will continue to travel the country, as I have done in the past six months.
Enjoy this issue of Austrian Information and the rest of your summer.
All the Best,
Ambassador Wolfgang Waldner was born and raised in Villach, Austria. He started his career in the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 1981. Previous to his appointment as Austrian Ambassador to the U.S., he served as State Secretary (Deputy Minister) for European & International Affairs in the Foreign Ministry from 2011-2012, as Minister in the state government of Carinthia, and as Director of theMuseumsQuartier in Vienna from 1999-2011.
He also served two postings in the U.S. as Director of the Austrian Cultural Fora in Washington, D.C. and New York. Most recently, Ambassador Waldner served as Director General for Cultural Policy at the Foreign Ministry in Vienna. Ambassador Waldner is married and the father of two daughters. He holds a Doctorate in Law and Languages from the University of Vienna and Post Graduate Diplomas from the Johns Hopkins University's, School for Advanced International Studies and the Université des Sciences Sociales in Grenoble, France.
He took up his duties as Head of Mission in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2016.