Words MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
Her Excellency Ms Eva Hager has acquired extensive experience in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America as well as Europe over the course of a long and successful diplomatic career. Her posting in Bangkok is her initiation to Asia.
Ambassador Hager came to Thailand at the end of 2017, around the time the Austrian mission moved into the newly constructed embassy built inside the same park-like compound that housed the old embassy. The new embassy in Soi ‘Nantha-Mozart’ off Sathorn Soi 1 looks super-modern, but it retains a classical feel, starting with a sign out front marking the name-change of the soi to Nantha-Mozart in 2012 to honour Austria’s most famous native son. Ambassador Hager gave a tour of the embassy compound during a wide-ranging interview.
At one point we spotted a long-time resident of the embassy sitting under a tree in the spacious garden. It was a splendid male peacock, who began slowly walking away when he saw us approaching. “He is a very cute, beautiful and old territorial animal who likes to be solitary. Embassy people feed him.”Ms Hager said.
Background and duties in Bangkok
Asked if the posting in Thailand was her choice, she replied: “Yes, in a way. In our system you have to submit applications for several posts in order to be eligible for assignment. I was pleased to learn I had been chosen for Thailand.
“I am also Ambassador to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. It’s not an overloaded job for me, because while serving as Ambassador in Mexico between 2013 and 2017 I was also looking after seven other countries – Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
“I have to keep up with the latest information on all four countries I am ambassador to, and I do it on my own, already in the morning from my residence at the embassy compound. This is the first thing I do over breakfast or immediately after. I read Thai English-language news sources and other sources on the internet. Then I look at news from Austria, the EU and around the world.
“After getting acquainted with what’s going on in the world and especially Thailand and the region, I take the short walk to the embassy. I decide what the priorities are, especially in regard to Thailand, and I may call on my staff and collaborators to discuss matters and distribute tasks for them. Then I get to less pressing duties, which includes office work.
“Essentially, the task of an ambassador is to promote relations with the country we are assigned to in the best possible way, in all fields – politics, economic relations, culture, education, you name it. In order to do that, you have to take part in a lot of activities such as attending meetings and give presentations. You also have to participate in cultural and social events such as –but not limited to – national day receptions and organize events for guests and so on. Most of this occurs in the evening hours. You have to develop and maintain good relations with officials as well as people from the civil society in your host country.
“It is a very versatile and flexible job, and it requires a lot of travel. I travel to each of the other three countries I am accredited to a couple of times a year, and maybe more. It depends on whatever operations and activities, like official meetings, there may be.”
“The new embassy was designed by an Austrian lady-architect whose creation was selected from 80 submissions in a European-wide competition. Construction started in 2013 and was completed in 2017. The building has received several international rewards for its high sustainability standards, e.g. the Austrian national Green Planet Building award, and the Green Good Design award of the Athenaeum Museum for Architecture and Design of Chicago.
“We have a little over 20 employees at the embassy, plus a commercial section which is formally under the embassy but located somewhere else. In all, the embassy employs almost 30 people, more than a third Austrians and the rest Thai. As far as work load is concerned, it’s about 30% on consular work and 70% on politics, culture and economic relations. The operation of the Consulate section is very complicated and absorbing, and staff is kept very busy because there is so much tourism between our two countries.
“According to records and estimates, around 100,000 Austrians visited Thailand in 2018 and about 105,000 Thais visited Austria. Thai nationals with service and diplomatic passport don’t need visas to enter Austria, but those holding a normal passport do need a visa. We outsource the visa process to a company in Bangkok so that applicants don’t need to come to the embassy, but the consular department at the Embassy reviews all files and makes the final decision based on the evidence in the file and the corresponding regulations.
“What I think most Thai people are doing in Austria is sightseeing. I haven’t heard too much about them going specifically to ski. They also like to visit our spas, not because of our skills in massage – this is done much better here – but because we have many natural springs with water that has special qualities. This is what makes our spas famous.
“We reckon that about 4,000 Austrians reside in Thailand and a few dozens or hundreds in my other three countries. But we only know about those who register with our missions. Austrian nationals are not obliged to do so.” 150 years and counting
“This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of friendly relations with Thailand, which began in 1869 with the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation. It acknowledged good relations and committed to continued friendship and exchanges in all fields of interest between the Kingdom of Siam and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
“So this year we are organizing many cultural events, starting with the VIP-launch of the jubilee year by a performance of the famous Viennese Boys Choir on January 9. We will fill the year with around 25 top-class events, among them twinning initiatives such as concerts of the Princess Galyani Youth Orchestra in Vienna and Bangkok under the baton of the Austrian conductor Johannes Meissl, or a joint celebration of our friendship with Thailand and the jubilee of 150 Years of the Vienna State Opera with live opera screenings in Bangkok which took place in May. I can’t promise that we can keep on in such a dynamic way in the future because it is a huge burden on our embassy, as all the events are organized from within the Embassy with limited staff resources.” (See Box with a list of events)
“With regard to the events to celebrate the 150th anniversary in Austria, we very much appreciate the visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn who graciously presided over the above-mentioned concert held at Schlosstheater Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace Theatre) in Vienna on June 23. During her visit the Princess also visited important projects, museums and other sites in Vienna. She was also awarded a very high Austrian decoration for her outstanding services to science and arts.”
“Relations between our two countries are excellent, deeply rooted in a shared history of 150 years. We have developed good and easy economic, cultural, political and educational ties.
“Members of the Thai Royal Family in particular have contributed a lot to our good relations. I’ve mentioned the recent visit of H.R.H Princess Sirindhorn. H.R.H. Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati has boosted relations as Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to Austria between 2012 and 2014 in a very energetic way. H.R.H. Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya is also a good friend to Austria. This stems partly from a keen interest in horses. The princess has competed in equestrian events in Austria and other European countries.
“Princess Sirivannavari is also the royal patron of the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and recently visited Vienna to make contact with our famous Philharmonic Orchestra there. She is instrumental in nurturing the close and excellent Thai-Austrian musical cooperation that have begun a long time ago. In 1964 His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit made an official visit to Austria in which they enjoyed a number of musical performances. His Majesty also actively participated in a jazz performance with Austrian musicians. After the royal visit, the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts offered the King the prestigious rank of Honorary member, bestowed to only 36 personalities world-wide.
“There’s a very good musical partnership between Austrian institutes and Mahidol University, Chulalongkorn University, the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music, and other universities. In a related development, Silpakorn University and the Austrian University of Applied Arts signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at establishing a regional centre for renovation and conservation in Thailand.
“I would like to add a little about another bilateral development in education and culture. Austria and Thailand are integral members of ASEA-UNINET (ASEAN European Academic University Network). This is a network that includes 80 universities in Asia and Europe. Austria and Thailand are the most active partners in the network; Austria has 19 participating universities and Thailand has 18. This network brings a lot of financial and other support for international scientific and educational cooperation, for example in the exchange of students and professors, and the organization of master classes, seminars, joint laboratories and research projects. Thai and Austrian universities cooperate very closely in all of this.”
“Economic relations between Austria and Thailand are very important to both countries. The combined trade volume is about US$1 billion, and actually Thailand’s exports amount to about twice Austria’s. On both sides the items exported are more or less similar quality products, like glass products and jewelry, machinery, appliances and that kind of thing. In addition, Thailand also exports auto parts, motorcycles, tools, textiles and accessories.
“Around 100 Austrian companies are present here and at least 40 of them with producing factories. Some have huge operations here. We have two companies that have several subsidiaries each and each subsidiary employs about 10,000 workers. Austrian companies here produce crystal glassware, instruments for grinding and cutting, rubber wear, animal feed, blood collecting tubes, auto parts, air bags, renewable energy, baby clothes, ladies’ underwear, you name it.
“On July 29, I was present at the inauguration of the extension of the Metropolitan Rapid Transit Blue Line which now extends to the historic centre of Bangkok and to Chinatown. The trains we rode in during the inauguration ceremony came from Austria. We have a lot of experience in the field of sustainable transportation systems,” said Ms Hager.
“I have settled very well in Bangkok. I like living at the embassy compound. The residence I stay in is behind a teakwood fence and I cannot see the embassy from the house.”
The normal term for an ambassador of Austria is about four years. Ms Hager will be eligible for retirement when she turns 65, in a couple of years. Besides German she’s fluent in Arabic, English, French and Spanish and has a basic knowledge of Modern Greek. Her successful professional career may have been given a boost by her linguistic skills, but clearly it doesn’t depend on them. The Austrian ambassador’s diplomatic skills and experiences are immediately apparent.
Overview of cultural & social activities to commemorate 150 years of Austria-ThaiFriendship
· January 9: Launch event of the anniversary year with Vienna Boys Choir.
· January 10: Public, ticketed concert of VBC at KBank Siam Pic Ganesha Theatre.
· January 14-25: Duo Siedl/Cao Workshops & Lectures at Mahidol University, Chulalongkorn University, PGVIM and Rangsit University, performances at De Commune Club and Mai Space/ Chiang Mai.
· February 8: Master Class by mdw at College of Music, Mahidol University – final concert of students and professors on the occasion of 150 years of Austria-Thai Friendship.
· February 12: Screening of “Erik & Erika” at Open Air Kino 2019 film series at the Goethe Institute.
· February 25-March 3: Kay Walkowiak Exhibition “The Shape of Absence”; February 25 opening with short films and artist talk at Bangkok Screening Room.
· February 28: VIP wine tasting with TOA and Winegarage at The Continent Hotel.
· February 26-March 17: CARE photo exhibition at BACC.
· March 1: CARE exhibition grand opening ceremony with concert of Agnes Palmisano and Paul Gulda at BACC auditorium.
· March 3: CARE small photo-exhibition and opening ceremony with concert of Agnes Palmisano and Paul Gulda in Chiang Mai, Imperial Mae Ping Hotel.
· April 30-May 5: YoVA4 exhibition; Friday, 3 May: Architecture Talk with DI Alice Größinger (Idealice) and DI Katharina Bayer (einszueins architektur) as part of the ASA Expo 2019 at Impact Arena.
· May 25-26: Opera Weekend with screenings of two operas and one ballet (especially for children) at the Bangkok Screening Room to celebrate 150 Years of Vienna State Opera.
· June 6 and 8: The jazz ensemble Woody Black 4 gave a concert at the Austrian Embassy’s multipurpose room (June 6) and performed at the Hua Hin Jazz Festival (June 8).
· June 14: Concert by the Giocoso String Quartet at the music hall of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
· June 17-18: Presentation of the Thai translation of the Austrian children’s book “The Grandmother in the Apple Tree” at schools for vulnerable kids in Loei province in cooperation with UNICEF (mobile library).
· July 11: Screening of the Austrian movie “Egon Schiele – Death and the Maiden” at Alliance Française Bangkok as part of the German Film Week & Guest countries 2019.
· July 14: Concert by the Princess Galyani Youth Orchestra under the baton of the Austrian conductor Prof Johannes Meissl at the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music.
· August 5: Master class and exclusive Food & Wine pairing dinner with the Austrian sommelier Dorli Muhr at the Austrian Embassy and Ambassador’s residence respectively.
· August 10: Screening of the Austrian movie “The Counterfeiters” at River City Bangkok as part of their RCB movie club.
· August 22: Opening evening of a small exhibition by the Austrian visual artist Olivia Jinghran in the multi-purpose room of the embassy.
· Early September: workshops and concerts by the Austrian world music group Kusimanten at various locations, Bangkok, in cooperation with PGVIM and Mahidol University.
· September 16-19: Literature event in Bangkok and Chiang Mai involving the Austrian Thomas Raab, novel “Die Netzwerk-Orange” (as well as one Swiss and one German author) in cooperation with the German and Swiss embassies.
· November 22: Fashion Show von Sabine Karner at Celebration of Silk, 2nd Thai Silk International Fashion Week + Grand Opening Show.
· First half of December: Participation with the Austrian movie “Wild Mouse” in the EU Film Festival in Bangkok (to be confirmed).
· Sometime during the year 2019: VIP presentation of the commemorative book on 150 Years of Friendship produced by the Thai and Austrian foreign ministries.
· January 2020: Closing of the commemorative year with an Academic Forum on student’s mobility in Bangkok.
“I also like very much to swim. I have a nice swimming pool where I live in Bangkok and every day I swim there. I also like the lush tropical garden that we have around the embassy. When it is not too hot and the air is of good quality – which it is during most of the year with the exception of a few weeks – I really enjoy relaxing in the garden.”
· Since Dec 10, 2017: Austrian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Thailand, co-accredited to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
· Dec 3, 2013-Sep 19, 2017: Austrian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United Mexican States (Mexico City; jurisdiction: Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and until November 1, 2016 Panama).
· Nov 2009-Dec 2013: Head of Department for International Energy Affairs, Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
· Apr 2005-Aug 2009: Austrian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Cyprus (Nicosia; jurisdiction: Cyprus).
· Sep 2000-Apr 2005: Austrian Consul General in Strasbourg, and Deputy Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe.
· 1997-Sep 2000: Head of Division II.9.a (Latin America and the Caribbean), Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
· 2nd semester 1998: Chairmanship of the Brussels Council working group COLAT (Latin America & Caribbean), leading role in the preparation process of the EU-Latin America Summit (Rio de Janeiro 1999).
· May 1993-Mar 1997: Deputy Head of Mission, Austrian Embassy Mexico City, Mexico.
· 1990-1993: Deputy Head of Mission, Austrian Embassy Tunis, Tunisia.
· Mar-Sep 1992: Resident Chargé d’affaires ad interim to Algeria, Algiers.
· 1988-1990: Division II.4 (Middle East and Maghreb), Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
· Jan-Jun 1988: Attaché for Political Affairs, Austrian Embassy Damascus, Syria.
· 1986: Entry into the diplomatic service of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs and assignments to various departments.
Education and further assignments:
· 1975: High School graduation, High School for Modern Languages, Gänserndorf, Austria.
· 1985: PhD (Dr Phil) in Arabic & Islam Studies for Political Science, University of Vienna, Austria.
· 1987-1990: Lecture in contemporary Islamic school and Social Science topics in the Arab world, Institute of Oriental Studies, University of Vienna.
· Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Cyprus.
· Mexico’s Order of the Aztec Eagle Award in Band Grade.