Austria builds relationships that extend beyond Mozart

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Austria builds relationships that extend beyond Mozart

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On the eve of Austrian National Day (Oct 26), celebrating the country’s adoption of a constitutional law guaranteeing neutrality after World War II, Austrian Ambassador to Korea Wilhelm Donko spoke to the JoongAng Daily about the political environment in Korea, growing economic and cultural ties between the countries and his career as a diplomat.
Sitting in his office in the Kyobo building, at the heart of the Gwanghwamun district, it came as a surprise to find that this composed, yet approachable diplomat once dreamed of becoming a sailor. “It was always very clear to me. I wanted to sail the seven seas, I wanted to be the captain of a ship,” he said, laughing. “After I finished high school, I went to sea. I was aboard a ship for a couple of months but realized it wasn’t the job for me, so I went to study at university.”
After graduating from the University of Salzburg with degrees in history and geography, he started postgraduate studies in history at the University of Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yan Donko. “The decision to become a diplomat came at a comparatively late point in my life,” he said, adding that passing the entrance examination to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vienna came as a pleasant surprise, and he never regretted making that decision.
He spoke enthusiastically about Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean foreign minister appointed as the next secretary general of the UN, saying, “The only posting he [Ban Ki-moon] had as ambassador in his life was as ambassador to Vienna. I know him and his wife very well.” Mr. Donko also said the new secretary general “is very familiar with the organization [UN] and for Austria, it is important that he knows the UN headquarters in Vienna very well.” During the national day celebrations held at the Millennium Seoul Hilton hotel, Mr. Donko gave a speech and again spoke fondly of Mr. Ban’s appointment.
The ambassador, his wife and two children, have been in Korea for about one-and-a-half years. He said there is one slogan that best represents the image of Korea to him. “The slogan ‘Dynamic Korea’ is really the best term to describe the country for me. It is a very dynamic country, everything is ppalli ppalli (meaning quickly, quickly in Korean), and this serves as the background for the amazing success of Korea during the last generation.”
In Seoul, the ambassador has had an intense time in 2006, as it is “Mozart Year,” marking the 250th anniversary of the musician’s birth in Salzburg. “Yesterday, I went from the parliament to the Kyobo building and I saw so many advertisements for different Mozart events in all the major concert halls of the city,” he said. For him the highlights have been the 15 concerts at the Sejong Center of Performing Arts in Seoul under the title of “The Complete Mozart Concertos,” a “Birthday Concert” for Mozart on Jan. 27 at the Mozart Hall in Seoul, concerts by the Vienna Boys Choir in various cities and two concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Seoul this September.
Although happy to see such active cultural exchange in the realm of classical music, the ambassador feels that they have sometimes taken too much prominence, overshadowing other fields such as architecture, design, literature and art. He spoke of plans to promote further exchanges in these fields, including upcoming exhibitions and projects in Korea by artist Ernist Friedrich and architect Karl Landauer.
Along with communication through culture, trade relations between the two countries have been growing fast. As of last year, Korea is Austria’s fourth largest trading partner, outside of Europe, with a total trade worth 1.29 billion euros ($1.63 billion.) Korean exports to Austria numbered 822 million euros while Austrian imports to Korea reached 471 million euros). Mr. Donko said that Austrian exports to Korea are “predominantly in specialized fields such as atomization techniques” and that in consumer goods, Austrian products do not have the position that he would like. Meanwhile in Austria, he said that Korean cars, mobile phones and computers are selling well, adding, “This is an exceptional development for Korea, within just one decade.”


by Cho Jae-eun
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