The Hon. Erhard Busek (Former Vice Chancellor of Austria; Former Minister of Science and Research of Austria; Former Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs of Austria)

11.03.2011 - Interview conducted by Kim Cornett

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Q1. Relating to tourism, I think that one of the most comical forms of advertisement Iíve seen so far for Austria is promoting ďThere are no kangaroos in AustriaĒ to distinguish Austriaís identity from that of Australia. I also find that many Austrians, such as writers, authors and composers, are also confused with Germans. What other methods have been used to promote Austria and distinguish it from other nations?

I think that the presentation of Austria is very much based on culture and therefore I think itís quite helpful. Sometimes I think that to look at outstanding persons like artists, writers, and composers in a nation is nonsense because what they are producing is always a mixture of the experiences from a time period. For example, Mozart was writing operas with a lot of Turkish music and Schubert also wrote a Turkish March. So I donít think itís not possible to identify and nail it down on a national level.

Q2. The arts industry attracts a lot of tourism and it is both publicly and privately funded in Austria. Recently, countries like the UK have cut their arts budgets by quite a bit. How important do you think that investment in the arts and in its promotion is and how much should governments subsidize for the arts?

I think it is extremely important in Austria and it is not discussed by the taxpayers. The state opera costs us a lot of money but nobody is criticizing it and the reason is not tourism so much, but because it adds to the feeling of our own identity. There is an expression is the German language that states that ďwe are a cultural nationĒ and you can discuss this expression but I think that in describing the Austrians it plays a very important role. After a lot of disasters, especially in the 20th century, we are describing ourselves in this way and so far itís been helpful. Taxpayers are also prepared to pay for it. I think our cultural budget is between 2 and 3 percent of our GDP and thatís quite something.

Q3. How important do you think it is to nurture and promote modern cultural initiatives such as ARS Electronica Center in Linz and to maintain a balance between the classic and the modern identity of Austria?

That is extremely important. I think there are some groups saying that it makes no sense to invest money in this. I am on the contrary and our minister is also in favour of promoting a museum of modern arts, which we did. I think that it is also important because there is a certain quality expected. It has improved but it can still be better.

Q4. Linz was awarded the European Capital of Culture designation in 2009. Do you think that such cultural initiatives increase the interest in tourism in Austria?

I think partly yes. I think it is a better exercise in the European context and not only for tourism. Tourism has changed in the last years depending on the political situation. So far, I think that as a result of the economic difficulties, tourism from Germany or Great Britain or Netherlands has gone down. We have a lot of Russian tourists but they are sometimes with strange backgrounds. Oligarchs are depositing money in Austria, buying hotels and so on. Politics plays also a very important role as a background for tourism.

Q5. The Austrian Development Cooperationís goals are to reduce global poverty, ensure peace, human security and preserve the environment in an international framework. How do you think that this has impacted intercultural relations between Austria and the world?

First of all, I am critical of my own country. I think we should invest more in these issues. Itís not enough whatís been done. I think it is helping to fight one situation which is sometimes boring, a kind of provincialism. I think that we are happy that Austria is a country running well and often we donít look to the outside. But in terms of global responsibility, it is quite necessary to do it.