Austria, RI celebrate
55 years of relations with
cultural shows

Austria, which is celebrating its 54th anniversary on Monday, is a good friend of Indonesia. Its friendship with this archipelagic nation is already 55 years old. Surprisingly, Austria established diplomatic relations with Indonesia in 1954, one year before regaining her own complete sovereignty from the Allied Powers.

After the World War II in 1945, Austria was under the direct control of Allied Powers, the US, France, the UK and the former Soviet Union - until 1955, when it regained its independence and sovereignty.

This shows how the tiny but prosperous Central European country attaches importance to its ties with Southeast Asia's largest economy.

"Indonesia has always been a stable and reliable partner for Austria. That's why we have excellent relations with Indonesia," Austrian Ambassador to Indonesia Klaus Wolfer told The Jakarta Post last week at his office in Jakarta.

Ambassador Wolfer, a career diplomat, submitted his letter of credence to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Jan. 30, 2007.

When asked about what brings these two distant countries together, Wolfer said it was due to common approaches and policies.

"It's may be because of our common attachments to the multilateral diplomacy, which brings us close together. Both believe in the importance of UN organizations," Wolfer said.

"We have common perspectives on many international issues. We work closely in several international organizations. We also have had steady and high level exchanges and visits since president Sukarno's time."

Wolfer said as a further step in both countries' relations, which have endured all the phases of Indonesia's various transformations, Indonesia and Austria launched their first ever political dialogue this year.

In economic field, the ties are even more stronger.

"I think it's quite remarkable that over all these years the trade between the two countries has really flourished and became quite tangible, especially if you think of the distance *between the two countries* and of the size of Austria," said Wolfer, who married Diane Wolfer - an Indonesian lady - in 1987.

Austria has currently around 8,2 million people, while Indonesia has 240 million people, mostly moderate Muslims.

The bilateral trade in 2008 surged to 413.5 million euros (US$580 million), a significant increase from 354.9 million euros in 2007. The balance of trade is slightly in favor of Austria.

Austria mainly exports electronic equipment, machinery, paper, pharmaceuticals and steel to Indonesia, while Indonesia exports mostly shoes, textiles, spices, coffee and electronic goods to Austria.

In recent years more and more Austrian companies have been showing interest in investing in Indonesia.

"There are around 15 Austrian companies that have affiliate companies are representative offices in Indonesia. More companies want to come here. Austria's biggest company in Indonesia, PT South Pacific Viscose, plans to invest $150 million to boost its production," Wolfer said.

As part of the celebration of the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Indonesia and Austria, Wolfer is planning to organize a series of cultural events starting from this week.

"In connection with this big event, we will launch our new book Austria and Indonesia during our National Day reception on Monday," Wolfer said.

On Sunday, the Vienna Mozart Trio from the Austrian capital performed in Bali, their first performance in Indonesia. There is another big event: the Vienna Ball.

"Vienna Ball, the first event of its kind in Indonesia, will be organized at the Kempinski Grand Ballroom on Friday. It will be completely hosted by Hotel Indonesia Kempenski. We will be cooperating with them," Wolfer said.

Austrian royal family member Princess Gabriella von Habsburg and Dewi Sukarno, wife of Sukarno, will be attending the colorful and authentic Viennese evening.

Wolfer said there will be some prominent Austrian films screened at local festivals such as JIFFEST and the European film festival.

Wolfer said Austria, every year, offers about 30 scholarships to Indonesian students. Around 40 Austrian students visit Indonesia every year.

"We have close cooperation between the Austrian universities and Indonesian universities like Gadjah Mada University and the Bandung Technological Institute.every year," Wolfer said, around 20,000 Austrian tourists visit Indonesia.

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