Hannes Richter

Recounting the Fulbright Year Abroad: Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch

Hannes Richter


Wolfgang Petritsch

There are two grand American post-WW II initiatives which had a lasting, even formative, impact on my life: First, the Marshall Plan - whose program helped Austria to achieve peace and prosperity in the Cold War era - which morphed into the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), where I have been serving as Austria's Permanent Representative since 2008. 

The second grande idée  which gave my entire professional life a decisive turn again bears the name of a visionary U.S. politician – the Fulbright Program, of which I am one on the long list of recipients. It is only now, towards the end of my professional career that I realize how important the year was that I spent as a post-doctoral student in the U.S.

The Fulbright grant (in conjunction with a scholarship from the European-American Foundation and the University of Southern California (USC) Los Angeles) provided me during the early seventies (1972-1973) with the unique opportunity to experience the U.S. firsthand, its politics and everyday life, the superb university system and the legendary hospitality.

It was in California - where else - that I could equally  immerse myself in the casual lifestyle -  oh, the seemingly endless summer on  Venice beach -  and the serious, yet relaxed  academic work at the university. It prepared me for a career in government where I served as the Federal Chancellor's press secretary and chief of staff between 1977 and 1983.

Moreover, my job as Director of the Austrian Press and Information Service in New York for almost a decade (1984-1992) was clearly enhanced by my “U.S. education.” And so were, even more so, the challenging jobs as the European Union Special Envoy for Kosovo and European Chief Negotiator in the Kosovo peace talks in Rambouillet, France. 

The three years as the International Community’s High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in charge of the implementation of the U.S.-brokered Dayton Accord seem, retrospectively, barely manageable without the backing of my lifelong ‘American connection.’ The Clinton and Bush Administrations were, apart from the EU, the principal partners and supporters in my challenging work to build a state from the ashes of the Yugoslav wars of secession in the 1990s. 

Looking back on my year at USC, I can only say how grateful I am to the American people who so generously supported Europe to get back on its own feet. The wisdom and foresightedness of the late Senator William Fulbright will forever be a shining example of enlightened politics securing the close relations between the United States and Europe and, if I may say, Austria.

Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch
Austrian Permanent Representative to the OECD