Ex-diplomat seeks to bridge Korea and Austria

A few like-minded Austrians based in Seoul are seeking to create a non-profit organization aimed at building additional bridges between Korea and Austria.

Walter Kalteis, 66, a retired Austrian diplomat, is one of the key initiators of the project. Since last year, Kalteis said, he and three other Austrian friends have discussed ways to launch the “Austrian Korean Society” to facilitate human-to-human and cultural exchanges between the two nations. “Four of us had a meeting in December to discuss how to create and what to do once it is launched,”

Kalteis told The Korea Times on Thursday at his office in Seoul. “The four include me and another Austrian who previously served as the European Chamber of Commerce based in Seoul and also as a representative of an Austrian company here. ”The former Austrian diplomat said that he and his colleagues agreed on the necessity for an independent, non-profit group that can connect Korea and Austria. “We, Austria, have an embassy here. We also have a commercial office. But we don’t have a tourism board office or a cultural agency. This is regrettable, given that the rapid growth of human-to-human exchanges between the two nations in recent years.

”According to him, the number of Korean tourists to the European country has increased 50 percent in recent years. More Korean students also go to Austria to study, especially music, Kalteis said. He noted that Korea has become increasingly important to his country as a trade and cultural partner.

“In 10 or 15 years ago, few Austrians would have known that Hyundai and Kia are Korean companies. They thought these automakers were Japanese. But now, most Austrians know they are Korean brands. ”The former Austrian diplomat noted that the two countries also have their areas of strength and his organization, which is expected to be launched soon, can play a role in facilitating exchanges of good practices between the two sides.

Kalteis lauded Koreans for work ethics and competitive education. “The economy will not be working if people have too many days off,” he said, adding that he was impressed by hard-working Koreans. He said Austria has a comparative advantage in green technology and this can facilitate cooperation between the two sides.

The Kalteis team is now preparing for a website and an office to be based in Seoul and is working on action plans.

Kalteis recently retired from the Austrian foreign ministry on Dec. 31, 2013, after 40 years of service there. Korea was his last foreign posting where he served for 4.5 years before retiring from the acting ambassadorial post. Over the past four decades, he served in many countries, including Britain, the United States, and India. Before he arrived in Seoul in July 2009 to serve as an acting ambassador, Kalteis served as consul-general of Austria’s Shanghai mission in China where he met his wife. Before joining the foreign ministry, Kalteis worked with the Austrian army as a career officer.

He plans to stay in Korea to lead the organization after it is created.