Open talk about Austria
Ambassador Wolfgang Waldner
Wolfgang Waldner went to school in Lienz and completed law and romance studies at the University of Vienna in 1981. After entering into the Austrian Diplomatic Service, he spent 16 years in the USA. He was working as a Cultural Attaché at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and later became Director of the Austrian Cultural Institute in New York, a position he held for 12 years. In 1999 he came back to Austria to be Director of the MuseumsQuartier, Vienna, for another 12 years. Afterwards, he became State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. He was a member of the provincial government in Carinthia before coming to Budapest to head the Austrian Embassy in Hungary as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. He will hold this position until the end of the year before taking over his new position as Head of the Cultural Diplomacy Department in the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs in Vienna.
You have a well-known sister, Gabi Waldner, who is a journalist and TV presenter. Reporters and politicians are usually slight exhibitionists and fairly interested in public issues. Did you both know what direction your lives would go into? Did you know what you wanted to do as a grown-up all along?
I can only speak for myself, when I say that I have always had the urge to look beyond and to cross borders – I went to Bologna, Italy, for a post-graduate program, later to Grenoble, France. Living in foreign countries has always been of great interest to me, which is why I learned English, Italian and French in the first place. – Currently, I am eagerly trying to learn Hungarian. – I was basically leading a nomadic life, which finally led me to diplomacy.
The fact that Austria ranks among the top ten countries in several fields of the OECD Better Life Index, shows that it performs well in many measures of well-being. In terms of employment, for example, over 73% of people in Austria aged 15 to 64 have a paid job. During such an insubstantial international financial and economic period, how could Austria manage to preserve its stability?
The current international situation is marked by economic, ecological and social challenges, increasing global competition and constant structural changes in economy and society. Nonetheless, in the past decades local and foreign observers have repeatedly declared Austria’s political system exemplary. Political stability and the unique system of social partnership, as a strong social and political factor, have ensured stability in the economic sector and the development of Austria. Innovative ideas and sustainable products give us the chance of forming the basis for long-term growth.
Workers in Austria face a 3.4% probability of losing their job and young Austrians aged 15-24 face an unemployment rate of 8.7%. What is the cure for youth unemployment?
In effect, in the past 10 years, Austria’s overall economic development was substantially better than that of most other European countries, although economic growth slowed down because of the world economic crisis. This development speaks for favorable conditions on the labor market. In this regard, the advantages of dual vocational training, compared to other systems, are often brought up.
The advantages are obvious: Firstly, instructions are always up-to-date and the trainee becomes acquainted with new developments in the sector from the beginning. Secondly, seeking work and the process of initial integration on the labor market are very often no longer necessary, because many young adults are offered a permanent job in the training company.
International migration is the great challenge of the 21st century and throughout the past fifty years Austria has always been a popular destination. Which future developments do you expect in Austria regarding rising migration?
Not only Austria, but all European countries need qualified immigrants in large numbers, in order to ensure the survival of their economies and welfare. Awareness on how diversity is an opportunity has grown in Austria. However, the fact that contact between people of different cultures, with dissimilar personal history causes conflicts, may not be ignored. They must be recognized and social conviviality must be improved by offering solutions. Austria is one of the few countries actively pursuing integration policies under the responsibility of the foreign ministry. With the National Action Plan for Integration it has developed a future program for social peace in Austria. We see the Action Plan as a framework for a sustainable process through which we can continuously address emerging new challenges. Successful integration of migrants is a key factor for strengthening social peace and prosperity.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼QUICKIES, APART FROM DIPLOMACY:
You have been appointed to a neighboring country. Did you follow Hungarian political affairs before your posting?
Yes, as a diplomat it is my duty to follow international, political developments, so I was of course aware of on-goings in our neighboring country. Upon arriving in Budapest, I have devoted myself to current issues more intensively.
Vienna is the city with the world’s best quality of living, according to the Mercer 2014 Quality of Living rankings, and in Europe, it is followed by Zurich (2), Munich (4), Düsseldorf (6), and Frankfurt (7). What is the secret of Vienna?
Vienna has a lot to offer: It has cultural diversity and high standards of infrastructure and recreational facilities. Healthcare, political stability and relatively low crime levels enable citizens and visitors to feel safe and secure. A diverse countryside including mountainous and rolling landscapes, with wine areas and lakes make Austria an attractive country for outdoor sports and/or vacation.
Vienna, a city full of life and history, has cultivated itself through many eras and embodies the very definition of culture. You have always worked in cultural affairs. What does culture mean to you? How would you describe Austrian culture?
Culture has always been an important part of my life and profession. As a matter of fact, I devoted most of my diplomatic career to cultural diplomacy. In addition, I had the privilege to work in the cultural management sector as Director of one of the hotspots of Viennese art scene, when I was head of the MuseumsQuartier for 12 years. Part of my position of State Secretary included overseeing cultural diplomacy and in the Carinthian provincial government I was commissioner of culture.
From my experience I know that Austria is a country of music according to the perception of the outside world, but also the Austrians’ own perception. Concerts, festivals and balls are as popular as ever. Yet abroad, Austrian music is usually solely seen in a traditional way, albeit Austrian music culture is not limited to great artists like Mozart and Schubert. Contemporary musical developments are promising; young groups and soloists of various genres are surfacing. These young artists represent modern musical aspects of composition and embody the openness of modern society. This is why the focus of the foreign ministry’s cultural policies lies in emphasizing all aspects of contemporary and not only classical music.
Beyond music, also literature, theater and the fine arts reach back for centuries and are constantly changing and flourishing. The Austrian dance and performance scene is growing and attracting more and more international attention. Fashion is very present and always developing. In recent years the international success of Austrian film productions has been rising. Austrian culture is quite far-reaching, it is historic and contemporary and represented in all fields.