More on Austria

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I returned yesterday from a four-day trip to Vienna, which I blogged about briefly last week. As I mentioned in that post, it wasn’t clear to me at the outset why the city of Vienna was interested in hosting 20 young professional Jewish New Yorkers, but I’ll hypothesize a bit below.

First though, I should mention that the city pulled out all the stops, packing our schedules and introducing us to oddly high-level officials.

This was Thursday’s itinerary:

– Discussion with Jiri Grusa of the Diplomatic Academy Vienna. This was one of the highlights of the trip. Grusa is a Czech philosopher and writer (and president of International PEN) who was an outspoken critic of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia and, like his colleague Vaclav Havel, became a politician after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A few hours after our meeting, I went back to the Diplomatic Academy to interview Grusa (along with the New York Sun’s Gabrielle Birkner). I’ll write more about that later in the week (when I remember to bring my notes to the office).

– Meeting with Dr. Herbert Stepic (CEO Raiffeisen Int. Bankholding AG, European Banker of the Year 2006)

– Informational session with the head of PR at OPEC, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Though I fell fast asleep during the film, which detailed the history of OPEC, the presentation was interesting, if somewhat apologetic. One member of our group challenged the presenter on the democratic and human rights records of the OPEC countries, which she largely dismissed.

About her own country of origin, Qatar, she said: “We love our Sheikh. He takes care of us, so we like him making decisions for us.” Afterwards, another member of the group was livid about the way she handled these questions, dancing around the issue of how the Arab leaders distribute (or don’t distribute) their oil revenues.

– Next we met with Oskar Bronner, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Bronner, who is Jewish and is also an artist who lived in New York for 13 years, is obviously a fascinating, brilliant person, but he was rather subdued in his meeting with us. He did speak a little bit about the intersection of business interests and journalism (cf. Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover of the Wall Street Journal) and opined that, when push comes to shove, if current journalistic options are compromised, new media sources need to be, and will be, formed.

Posted on July 2, 2007

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