Austrian Foreign Ministry, May 13, 2016
Speech by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on the occasion of 60 years of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel.
Mrs. Ambassador [of the State of Israel], President Deutsch [of the Vienna Jewish Community], Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am honored to be present today to commemorate the 60 years of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. The relationship between our two countries is special in a variety of ways: Not only because of our shared history, but also because of the fact that diplomatic relations resumed only 11 years after the end of the Shoah, a time during which there hadn’t been a real and sincere debate about Austria’s role. Today, I am very glad to be living in a country where a lot has changed. Discussing our past has become increasingly important and today’s generation not only learns extensively about World War II but also about the grim details of our country’s darkest hours. I am part of a generation that visits the concentration camp memorial in Mauthausen during school trips regularly and yet, I personally feel that one can hardly fully understand the extent of this dark period in our past until having talked with a survivor. During such a conversation, I have come to realize that I am probably part of the last generation to have the chance to talk to survivors of the Holocaust. I think this should serve as a reminder of our responsibility to openly address our past and to acknowledge that on 15 March 1938, the cheering people who gathered on the Heldenplatz were definitely no victims. When commemorating sincerely, it is not only important to look back but also to learn the lessons and to draw the right conclusions for the politics of the future:
First of all, due to our historical responsibility, it is our obligation to engage in an intense dialogue with Israel. I am humbled to be in Israel over the weekend [15-16 May] and I am grateful to be accompanied by a large delegation as our economic relations have reached an all-time high and tourism is flourishing. It is crucial for our bilateral relationship to lead this dialogue and Austria has to continue to foster it.
Secondly, our historical responsibility should shape our foreign policy. We are a small, neutral country and home to thirty-seven international organizations. We serve as a place of dialogue and we aim at building bridges. As a result, we see the need to talk to all players active on the international stage, but not without being firm on our basic principles. It is crucial for Austria to function as a place of dialogue and to be in touch also with countries of which Israel might not always approve. However, it is equally important to adhere to fundamental principles, like the need for the security of Israel; principles that are not debatable and that we have always stressed and will always stress when talking to those third parties.
Finally, the lessons learnt from the past constitute a mission for Austria: There are still dangers for Jewish life in Austria and Europe. During the last few years, it has become clear that life has not necessarily become better or safer. Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure that Jewish life is secured in Austria and I am determined, as the Minister for Integration, to not only tackle existing but also newly imported antisemitism.
I am aware, Mrs. Ambassador, that the Austrian-Israeli history and the history of Austria and Judaism has seen bright but also very dark hours. But it is my firm belief that those past 60 years of diplomatic relations do not mark the end but rather the beginning of even more progress. As foreign minister, I would like to make a contribution to this development and continue to work together towards this goal. Thank you for this invitation and congratulations on this anniversary!