Austrian Ambassador to Mexico Franz Josef Kuglitsch. Photo: Flickr

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

Monday, Oct. 26, is Austria’s official national day, but because of the still-surging covid-19 pandemic, Austrian Ambassador to Mexico Franz Josef Kuglitsch and his wife Maria Kuglitsch will not be offering their traditional diplomatic reception to mark the day this year.

Notwithstanding, Kuglitsch, who will be retiring and returning home to Vienna in January, did send out a message to his diplomatic colleagues and fellow Austrians in Mexico commemorating the date.

“On this day, we remember the promulgation of the Constitutional Law of Permanent Neutrality of the Austrian Republic 65 years ago,” the message said in Spanish.

“This year, due to the pandemic, we cannot organize in-person ceremonies to mark the occasion in any of our diplomatic missions around the world, something I regret profoundly.”

Kuglitsch, who is also accredited to several Central American countries, went on to note that since the global coronavirus pandemic began last March, the Austrian Embassy staff has worked diligently to help repatriate more than 600 Austrian citizens from Mexico and Central America.

He congratulated this noble effort by all Austrian diplomats accredited in Mexico and his government’s network of honorary consuls throughout the region for their contributions in helping to accomplish this “very complicated task.”

“We also provided Austrian nationality to numerous victims and descendants of families that were persecuted by the Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) regime,” Kuglitsch pointed out.

In October 2019, Austria’s parliament unanimously approved a law assuming historic responsibility for and granting citizenship to the descendants of victims of Nazism who fled the country under Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

In the realm of international relations, Kuglitsch said that, despite the complications imposed by covid-19 restrictions, his government has continued to “seek out high-level dialogues for cooperation through virtual methods.”

“We congratulate Mexico for having been named a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council and as a member of the UN Human Rights Commission, which is presided over by Austria,” he said.

Kuglitsch likewise said that, unfortunately, all bilateral cultural exchange this year has been limited to online events, but that the embassy has made a great effort to help diffuse these programs through its cultural website.

As for academic exchange, the envoy said that his government was “very pleased with the continued development of the Colegio Austriaco Mexicano in Querétaro and the Instituto Austriaco Guatemalteco.”

Combined two-way trade between Austria and Mexico has continued to grow in recent years, he said, amounting to about $1.7 billion in 2019, placing Mexico in 21st place on Austria’s list of export destinations.

Currently, Austria exports pharmaceutical products, steel, aluminum and paper to Mexico, while Mexico sells Austria mostly machinery, electronics, auto parts and beer.

Austria is also Mexico’s 36th-largest foreign direct investor, with accumulated capital holdings of more than $200 million.

There are more than 100 Austrian firms with capital holdings in Mexico.

Diplomatically, Austria is an anomaly in Europe.

Although it is not the only nation in the European Union (EU) with a commitment to neutrality (Switzerland, Sweden, Malta, Finland and Ireland are also committed to international nonalignment, though in varying degrees and with varying stipulations), it is the only one that essentially had neutrality thrust upon it.

Back in 1955, the little landlocked country in the heart of Central Europe found itself in the middle of a political tug-of-war between the Soviet Union and three Western occupying powers (namely, the United States, Great Britain and France).

Basically, the only way that the Alpine nation could regain its sovereignty and get the occupation forces out of its territory as Cold War tensions increased was to proclaim an eternal commitment to military neutrality.

But imposed or not, Austria’s neutrality has served it well over the last six decades.

After having emerged from the Second World War so battered by massive inflation, unemployment and social instability that it depended on international handouts to feed its people, Austria (with the help of the Marshall Plan and a gung-ho, export-minded market economy) underwent a miraculous financial transformation in the years after the 1955 signing of the State Treaty (which established Austrian neutrality) that would eventually win it a ranking of the 17th-richest country on Earth, with an annual GDP of more than $440 billion a year and a per capita income of just under $50,000.

Consequently, the people of Austria chose the Oct. 26 anniversary of the signing of that compulsory neutrality pact (and the departure of the last occupation forces) as their national day.

Mexico first established diplomatic relations with the then-Austrian Empire in 1842, although those ties were temporarily severed from 1867 to 1901 due to the execution of Austrian Emperor of Mexico Maximilian of Habsburg.

In 1938, Mexico was the only country at the League of Nations to formally protest Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria.

Kuglitsch’s replacement, Elisabeth Kehrer, is due to arrive in Mexico within a few days of his departure early next year.

…Oct. 26, 2020

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