중앙데일리

Austrian diplomat bids farewell

‘Usually diplomats tend to say that relations are excellent, but it is really true in our case.’

June 30,2009
Austrian Ambassador to Korea Wilhelm Donko officially leaves Seoul in August after his four-and-a-half-year stint here. By Lee Chan-weon
Wilhelm Donko is the quintessential foreign diplomat: dignified, serious, well-dressed and articulate.

But the Austrian ambassador to Seoul is much more than that, too.

He has a breezy personality and a strong sense of humor that lure you in almost immediately, erasing the stuffiness often associated with the position.

Maybe that’s why Donko is greeted so warmly by the Koreans he meets - though he’d be the last to admit it.

“I’ve got this impression that Koreans like Austria very much because whenever I introduced myself as the ambassador of Austria, their responses were like ‘Oh, Austria!’ with twinkling eyes and smiles on their faces,” said Donko, who will leave Seoul this summer after four and a half years of service in the country. “I could sense an immediate friendliness from them.”

The ambassador also noted that there is a special link between Austria and Korea.

Syngman Rhee, the first Korean president, was married to Austrian Francesca Rhee - the one and only foreign first lady the country has had.

“I think that has certainly helped the two countries feel closer to each other,” Donko said.

As he prepares to leave the country, Donko said that he’ll remember his time here fondly. Korea, after all, was his first post as an ambassador, leaving an indelible mark on his life.

“Korea is a very important country for me and especially for my children,” Donko said, referring to his 16-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. “Korea will be the country they will always remember whenever they look back on their younger days, which will have an impact on the rest of their lives.”

The outgoing ambassador has made promoting Austrian culture in Korea a priority, in part by attending numerous functions and events - including the Joseph Haydn festival and the Gustav Klimt exhibition this year, to name a few. Donko said that focus is more a reflection of his country’s policies than his personal approach.

“Promotion of our culture is an integral part of our foreign policy,” he said. “It is not only with Korea, but with all countries that Austria has relations with.”

Donko said he was surprised to see that Koreans have a great interest in Austrian culture, including fine art and classical music from Austrian composers like Mozart and Haydn.

The ambassador said promoting Austrian tourism alongside its culture is key. In 2006, for instance, the Austrian Embassy hosted a wildly successful exhibition of Baroque paintings that drew more than 240,000 visitors.

“[It had] paintings not only of Austria, but also from Austria,” Donko said. “I always try to promote Vienna as a city where you can find fine art from all over the world and to convince Koreans that they should visit Austria to see more.”

When asked about how he’d define the relationship between Austria and Korea at the moment, the ambassador said: “Usually diplomats tend to say that relations are excellent, but it is really true in our case. We have a good relationship without any major fractures.”

He said that Korea seems to send particularly strong ambassadors to Austria, mentioning the current United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was the ambassador to Austria in 1998.

“I think that those brilliant Korean ambassadors to Vienna, including Ban, are also an important element of supporting our good relationship,” Donko said.

Stressing that economic relations between Austria and Korea reached new heights last year, Donko said the countries can further strengthen their ties through environmentally focused efforts.

“Austria is a leading country in terms of environmental technology and renewable energy,” Donko said. “In that sense, we welcome that the Lee [Myung-bak] administration is putting great efforts in its ‘low carbon, green growth’ policy and climate change issues, and we see it as a chance to deepen our cooperation.”

He added that the trade section of the Austrian Embassy is currently preparing a mission in 2010 to seek possible cooperation between Austria and Korea in the field of environmental technology. The ambassador recounted the path that Austria - an industrialized, export-oriented country, mainly due to its small size - has taken to become an advanced country in terms of environmental technology.

“In the 1970s we were depending heavily on exports, mainly through tourism, and we had industrial and wastewater sent to rivers and lakes recklessly,” he said. The practice “was considered ‘cheaper’ and allowed you to export more at a lower cost.”

However, realizing the possibility of damaging the environment and the tourism sector in the long-run, Austria came up with a program to clean up lakes and rivers around the country. Under the plan, strict regulations were imposed on the country’s industries regarding wastewater, while technology to filter it was developed, Donko said.

“As a result, today many of our rivers and especially our lakes are of drinking-water quality, and I think such a heavy investment to reduce and even make use of wastewater is paying off now,” he said. “It is a long-term strategy. You cannot profit from the move the very next year. But after, say, 10 years it really pays off particularly because we are dependent on tourism for the economy. We pursue, so to speak, ‘environment-friendly tourism.’”

In leaving the country, Donko also has some farewell words for his Korean friends.

“Above all, I thank the Korean people for their great interest in Austrian culture, which I always found almost overwhelming,” Donko said. “I hope that Koreans take things easy now that they’ve come this far achieving remarkable [economic] development in such a short time. In other words, enjoy your life!”


By Park Sun-young [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]



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