By H.E. Werner Druml, Ambassador of Austria.
The two can look back to an old and also complicated past. Their common history began in the 15th Century, they have though taken completely different paths, a land with an ancient calvinist and republican tradition and on the other side a catholic imperial past, the conditions could not have been more different. Today the Netherlands and Austria are two modern and successful countries and important partners in the EU. Perceptions of each other, as often is the case, are dominated by stereotypes. Tourism, skiing, Mozart, the New Years Concert and the ball season still dominate the public perception of Austria abroad. There is obviously a lot of truth in all that, but needless to say, Austria is much more, as much as the Netherlands, which goes way beyond cherished, but stereotypical images.
For sure, tourism is an important, and increasingly so, economic and also human factor in our relations. One out of ten Dutchmen go on vacation to Austria, 6 out of 10 winter tourists prefer skiing – and I suppose, everything around it – in the Austrian mountains. However beyond this traditional service sector Austria is an innovative, industrial High-Tec location – a successful automotive industry being only one exemple – and for good reasons an interesting destination for Dutch investments.
For sure, the Ball season with hundreds of balls in the carnival season is a very specific Austrian tradition, and the Viennese Ball in the Netherlands a well cherished institution. The yearly Life (Aids) Ball in the Vienna Rathaus, that is probably the craziest of its kind in the world, is definitely beyond such traditions. For sure, Mozart and the classical music tradition is an important cultural factor, and rightly so, given the highest standard of all kinds of performing institutions in the whole country. But also culturally is Austria a place of and for contemporary expressions. Be it in modern experimental music, be it in theater, the Wiener Festwochen, a major festival for partly eccentric expressions, be it ImPulsTanz, the biggest modern dance festival in Europe – obviously always with Dutch participation – be it in architecture, and here also a significant presence in the Netherlands with the Amsterdam Opera House or recently the spectacular Eye Film Instituut Nederlands in Amsterdam from Austrian Architects.
Admittedly, the tourist boards do, and for good and understandable reasons, use cherished clichés, mostly attractive and simpatici, addressing needs and expectations. But that the “Sound of Music”, one of the most successful films in the US, which has formed stereotypical views of Austria, is practically unknown in Austria should speak for itself.
Austria and the Netherlands are, and how should it be otherwise, open and modern countries, and also with an important international presence. Finally Vienna and The Hague are two cities with a particular international aspiration, here the City of Peace and Justice, there a UN seat and host of many important International Organizations.