Great article by Gary Silverman on how the EU curbs entrepreneurial quasi-monopolies of US giants: If there is one thing the leaders of our revolution feared, it was the concentration of power.
What is original? A review of a TED radiohour and some implications on how the Western world should change its perspective on the “Chinese technology threat”: give up your technology and trust in the invisible hand.
What is original? A review of a TED radiohour and some implications on how the Western world should change its perspective on the “Chinese technology threat”: give up your technology and trust in the invisible hand.
During the last decade I have been involved with technology transfer and intellectual property issues related to China. I have come to recognize some basic patterns in this field, which are nothing new but are somehow my main take away from working in the technology law industry in an emerging market:
- Since the mid 80ies China has opened up its economy and in the course of the following 20 years it has established a well drafted intellectual property framework based on international laws promulgated by bodies like WTO or WIPO and modeled after foreign innovation system like Singapore or Germany.
- This national legal framework – in spite of poor execution measures - was sold to the Western world as China’s acceptance of international law and was one of the entrance tickets to the Western dominated world economy.
- In the tradition of the Chinese proverb 指鹿为马 [pointing at a deer and calling it a horse] China reiterated for years that it had fulfilled all requirements and obligations but actually undermined the IPR framework by industrial policies which force foreign investments to gradually give up technology and know how. James McGregor described these policies in an APCO paper “China’s Drive for Indigenous Innovation”. The German author Frank Sieren calls one of the main elements of these industrial policies pointedly “Concubine Economy”.
- This reality caused foreign businesses to develop their own protection strategies, which try to circumvent a seemingly not navigable system, i.e. protecting know how without resorting to the legal system. A Swiss research team on technology management analyzed these measures in a paper titled “How Managers Protect IPRs Using de facto Strategies”.
- I have the impression that such de facto strategies can delay know how loss, but in the long run a technocrat government will succeed in absorbing what it wants; and more importantly it is the peculiar economic development stage at which China finds itself that creates know how spill over and thus intense domestic innovation.
- I moreover believe that all the obstacles that humanity faces can only be resolved if East and West collaborate. That’s not a call for world peace, but a pretty rationalistic understanding of which problems we face and what it takes to resolve them – just think of environmental pollution on a global scale. It might as well be that some required inventions for humanities progress are only triggered by great turmoil, disastrous warfare and close to end of the world scenarios. In other words: all is good, even though it might look dim and dark, because there is an invisible hand guiding all of us, all that is.
- Retiring from metaphysical and religious deliberations and resorting to mundane explanations, I would like to summarize a National Public Radio podcast called “TED Radiohour” which aired a program at the end of June under the title “What is Original?”
DJ and producer Mark Ronson: “You know, in music, we take something that we love, and we build on it. That’s just how it goes. Pablo Picasso is quoted: Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
T.S. Elliot built on this quotation: One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. Ronson continues: “Subconsciously we are influenced whether we like it our not.”
Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson claims that only the big bang is original, everything else is derivative. He describes Bob Dylan as a folk musician whose music was 2/3 copied from others, but acknowledges that in what he did, he followed the routine of all artists of that genre: folk musicians contributed to the body of folk music.
He dismantles George Lucas Star Wars movies as a copy of the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and shows with the iphone that American copyright and patent laws run counter to this notion that we build on a common body by considering creations a private property although the common body of inventions is a public good.
Where is the line between copying and building something new? Steve Jobs showed that it’s more a question of perspective that anything else: in 1996 he quotes Picasso and confirms that Apple has always been shameless about stealing from others. In 2010, when Google’s Android mobile phone is launched, he says “great artist steal, but not from me”.
Ferguson suggests to be transparent in using contents from others – what people want is credit for their contribution to the common body of inventions. I think that’s a reasonable approach.
Johanna Blakely tells us that the fashion genius is really in curating from the past and reviving it in the present; and since copyright law barely touches fashion, the industry benefits in innovation and sales. Why not extend this best practice to other industries?
Earlier this year, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk decided to give away his company's patents for free. It might seem like a strange business move, but Musk said he wanted to inspire creativity and accelerate innovation. Writer Steven Johnson says this is the way great ideas have been born throughout history. Therefore it’s maybe time to rethink how we try to control our know-how. SO why continue to spend a fortune on patent registration, IPR maintenance and enforcement, in particular in China, where as we have read earlier, it’s all in vain?
Ideas and innovation thrive in environments where ideas are free to flow from mind to mind and to be reused and repurposed and remixed in interesting and surprising ways. And a lot of the technology we're dependent on has come out of that kind of collaborative network.
Johnson continues to explain that these collaborative networks and a change in diet [from alcohol to coffee] were the reason for many inventions made during the age of enlightenment. Visionary people would come together in coffeehouses in Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris and Vienna to discuss visionary ideas.
I ask myself where these places happen to be nowadays. Where do visionary people meet to discuss visionary ideas? Silicon Valley or Shanghai Zhangjiang Hitech Park? Steven Johnson wrote a book about “What is the space of creativity?” but I am not sure if he only wrote about traditional Western spaces or new Chinese realms of creativity.
I see innovation not only happening in China because companies absorb foreign technology and the central government coerces hitech enterprises to jump into JV with SOEs. I see bursts of innovation because technicians, engineers and executives from all continents and industry backgrounds meet on a regular basis in technology parks like in Shanghai’s Pudong district Zhangjiang Gaoke. They might not meet in fin de siècle Viennese coffee houses, but they equally exchange ideas and spill over know how. I see intense innovation happen, because Chinese entrepreneurs who have spent a few years abroad return to China with ideas which they adapt and improve. I see innovation happen, because humanity faces in densely populated regions like Eastern China new challenges, which do not exist anywhere else. Think of mass transportation within urban centers and between them. Think of food provision for million of people, but a scarcity of arable land. I have seen pork farms and green houses in Yunnan entirely shaded with photovoltaic roofs to use land twice: for agriculture and power generation. And there is one thing I couldn’t agree more with Johnson: diet. Chinese are more innovative than they have been 10 years ago, because they slowly turn into a coffee drinking society. Starbucks already calls China it’s second home market.
Western innovation reports tend to emphasize the importance of formal basic research & development, but usually undervalue incremental research and development. Comparing European and Chinese businesses over the last years, I have the impression that the West sometimes innovates for the sake of innovation whereas China builds on top of existing inventions to commercialize.
Even the cold war created great inventions: Steven Johnson tells us that the launch of the first Soviet satellite caused the US to develop the global positioning system GPS. Insofar, even war and the build up of arms can do some good for humanity in the long run. Trust in the invisible hand and to throw in some Eastern philosophy, some Taoist thought and some Buddhist concepts: trust that all knowledge that is has only one source and worldly barriers and differences are nothing but avidya: a delusion. Abandon (intellectual) property law because it is the vehicle for division between yours and mine. In reality nothing belongs to us, but everything to all that is.
The Tibetan Buddhist master Ringu Tulku explains the nature of avidya (ignorance) as follows:
In the Buddhist sense, ignorance is equivalent to the identification of a self as being separate from everything else. It consists of the belief that there is an "I" that is not part of anything else. On this basis we think, "I am one and unique. Everything else is not me. It is something different."... From this identification stems the dualistic view, since once there is an "I," there are also "others." Up to here is "me." The rest is "they." As soon as this split is made, it creates two opposite ways of reaction: "This is nice, I want it!" and "This is not nice, I do not want it!"
1. its good to travel once in a while without children to rejuvenate a couple’s relationship. What was scary in the beginning (what would we be talking about, if our kids were not around?) turned indeed out to be closing the ever increasing gap between us that was actually only bridged by our offspring lately. Time spent together. Some fighting, but more caressing and getting closer to each other again. Daily obligations when caught up in the routine of work and family life can at times turn into an inescapable treadmill. Thus, our new mid year plan: travel once a year as a couple without children.
2. Spain, in particular Andalusia, is a great place to spend your holidays: fiesta, flamenco, siesta, sangria, tapas, tinto, playa, prado, etc. We will come again. Spain is a difficult place to live: wealth concentration in the hands of a few, abundant cronyism, vast inequalities of access to health care, education and in particular to the labor market. We don’t plan to move to Spain.
3. We were lucky to witness an ecstatic football victory celebration, a Corpus Christi parade in Cordoba, and La Saca de las Yuegas (the take out of the mares) in Huelva without having planned any of it. But such festivals contribute a great deal to an enjoyable and memorable holiday. Therefore we will plan all future holidays around local festivities. Pamplona next July might be a good reason to come again.
4. The Spanish railway network is great, although it is recommended to always choose AVE trains over all other train classes. Only AVE trains are new or kept in good shape. Moreover, book RENFE tickets in advance online, if you don’t want to pay twice as much at the counter.
5. Accommodation appeared to be really affordable and mostly great value. Preciously decorated double-rooms including a hearty breakfast for EUR 60 are not easy to find in other countries we have been traveling to.
6. Spaniards are probably the best-dressed people on Earth. Climate, a beautiful mixture of natural colors wherever you turn your head to and the Islamic-Roman heritages explain this easily. No surprise that many successful fashion brands like Mango, Zara, Massimo Dutti, etc. have their HQ in Spain. In an aesthetic crisis it is recommended to spend some time on the Iberian Peninsula, even more so if the decoration of your new home is on your mind. Students of architecture, design and other creative industries might well spend a semester or two at Sevilla’s university of bellas artes.
7. Whether in Madrid or in Sevilla, it’s quite obvious that all that splendor and grandeur is proof of a nation that once ruled the world as an empire. An empire that has been in decline since some time. Quite on the contrary to the Germanic nations, Spain has turned into an entry economy for Asian manufacturers. Tata and Mahindra, never ever seen on Germanic roads, seem to fulfill on Spanish roads EU exhaust and safety standards. Tata Hispanic produces passenger buses in Spain that are used e.g. by Madrid’s public transport provider. Spain will be most likely also the entry market for Chinese automobiles to Western Europe.
8. I was told before this journey to Spain that almost all of Madrid’s convenience stores are now operated and mostly also owned by Chinese. Even many traditional Spanish restaurants have been taken over by Chinese without the customer taking notice of it. Behold! this does either not speak for the Spanish gourmet or it speaks for the culinary competences of Chinese restaurateurs. After stops in Madrid, Valencia, Cordoba and Sevilla I can now confirm that at least in regard to convenience stores this is true. The amount of Chinese immigrants is considerable and the EU is advised to enact similar regulations on immigration as China does. Whereas China grants residence only to highly skilled foreigners, the most unskilled Chinese are washed upon the shores of Europe.
9. What has started in France with Chinese investors buying up Merlot and Bordeaux and Burgundy wineries, will continue in other parts of Europe. I already see my beloved Rioja being sold out to Asian entrepreneurs only to export the produce to Asia where profits for average grape juice are multiple of those in the Western world. The EU states are advised to enact legislation that thoroughly screens the funds of investors and limits real estate purchase to non EU citizens to JVs, in which the majority of stakes remains with a local owner.
10. Culture and history combined with nature and great food is so much better than lazy beach holidays. The excavations of Italica close to Sevilla confirmed my intention to propagandize the thousand-year-old cultural tradition of Europe. I am so sick of Chinese media and brainwashed individuals telling me of their [non-existent] continuous 5000 year history. What is continuous? What is culture? What is history? Its high time for Europe maybe even for the entire Western world (compare Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations) to develop a unanimous understanding of our common roots. China is great and I love many of its cultural aspects, but lately Confucianist propaganda is just giving me the creeps. And I mean it: Europeans have a grand Greek, Roman and Islamic heritage; the latter by some of our politicians purposely forgotten. Another plan thus: travel to places that tell important history like Rome, Sicily, Athens, Jerusalem, etc.
11. When we bought our tickets to Italica, a top notch archeological site at the same level as Xian’s terracotta army (tickets sell there for EUR 25), we were about to be charged EUR 1.50 for the entry ticket, but since we both have a EU residence permit, we got in for free. There are many other such examples where it just feels like Europe gives away its treasures for free whereas China rips tourists (domestic and international ones) off. The Madrid based world tourism agency reported that Chinese tourists ranked #1 in international tourism spending in 2013. Considering the size of the Chinese population this is rather not surprising. There will be an increase of 7 million Chinese tourists to the EU in 2014 compared to 2013. The EU member states are well advised to cash in on this trend. An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth.
12. But how do ideal holidays – putting aside my ruminations on orient and occident - really look like? There are a few aspects that seem to be key ingredients for a memorable and enjoyable vacation.
a. Share your travel experience: never travel alone unless you need to work out something very personal. Only a shared experience remains a good experience.
b. Chose a destination in which food you are interested. The value of great food is much too underrated. I don’t understand why Germans and Chinese continue to eat their home cuisine when abroad.
c. Chose a regional festival for your travel date. Festivals and holidays are windows in the lives of people where they let themselves go or open up some other insight into their lives. This makes a stay in their world much more interesting than any other time of the year.
d. Travel to fill your intellectual well with something new or forgotten about God’s creation, e.g. how the Roman Empire extended its reaches to the Iberian Peninsula or how the Islamic world influenced Europe for several hundred’s of years.
e. Combine language training with something applied, in particular for your children who suck up language certainly faster than you, but even more so, if they are immersed into some three-dimensional, captivating activity e.g. four weeks horse back riding camp in Huelva or two week sailing course in Valencia.
f. Make a clear plan of how many days to spend where, but then allow for some spontaneity and divine guidance to have a smooth experience. Otherwise you are either completely without any clue [only works if you have infinite time available] or you miss the great moments which even a great planner can not foresee. Listen to Arthur Eisenhower: Every time that I prepared for a battle I have found plans are useless; but planning is indispensable.
Pictures of this journey are posted under TRAVELS.
In July 2009, right in time to fill the summerly media-black-hole, the third president of the Austrian National Parliament provoked uproar and [let’s not be naïve] applause by announcing that South Tyrol should return to Austria. Like in Amsterdam some months ago, I had to take notice of my native Austrian inferiority complex that made me, as a very first sensation, feel good about Mr. Graf’s demand. Nevertheless a quirky feeling followed immediately, which told me that something was not right. The governor of North Tyrol formulated his rejection of Mr. Graf’s thoughts quite well by referring to a changed European landscape and a political mindset which does not look into the past but towards the future. Even Mr. Durnwalder, the Governor of South Tyrol, acknowledged that his heart would beat for Austria [probably referring to his Austrian partner, not the country], but since we would live in a Europe of Regions, no need for political reform could be spotted after South Tyrol having spent 80 years as an integral part of Italy. He added tough, that if South Tyrol should loose its autonomy, a referendum to access Austria would surely find a majority in his province.
Late July 2009. We spend our family summer holidays in Eppan an der Weinstrasse, close to Bolzano in South Tyrol. The landscape resembles North Tyrol, because topographically we are still in the Alps. Nevertheless, the air is filled with a taint of Italian odour, which grows stronger the more southern one moves, coming closer to the Italian cities of Modena, Verona or Venice. It is the odour which reminds me so much of my childhood vacations, when we left our home north of the Alps towards the Mediterranean Sea. People speak both German and Italian. Products in supermarkets differ from those we are used to in Vienna. The architecture of buildings has slightly changed and clearly demonstrates a mixture between Alpine and North Italian styles. Somehow I feel like being in both countries at once; and it is this peculiar perception of this region that gives it its special character. It is a special character which is also found in other regions bordering Austria, like for example in the Balkan countries which I described in Amsterdam. It is the amalgam of two or more different cultures which does not anymore fit into the simplistic Weltanschauung of people like Mr. Graf. Mr. Graf sees his world only in two colours. Black and white. White are the Germans, Black are the Barbarians; an attitude which reminds me of my Greek lessons a long time ago, where I was taught that the ancient Greeks only made a difference between themselves [helenas] and the others, who don’t speak their language [barbaros]. Only later with the creation of nation-like cities the still nowadays used term foreign [xenos] came into usage; the people of Athens, 2500 years ago, were though surely more tolerant towards other ethnic groups than Mr. Graf is today. I pity him, because he misses the richness of mankind. There is not only black and white, but many more colours in all hues and shades one can possibly think of. Mr. Graf possibly misses a very subtle cream yellow, if he can not perceive the differences between Austrians [themselves already a bunch of heterogeneous people] and the people of South Tyrol; and once, when he will announce as a next step that Austria and South Tyrol shall return to Germany, he will probably realize that he has much more in common with a Bosnian than with a Kraut from Bremen or Pommern.
It seems that topographically Germanic tribes used to settle in mountain areas only. Wherever the European Alps decline into low and flat lands other ethnic groups become a majority. The only exception is Germany itself, which extends from the Northern Alps to the North Sea and eventually found its ethnic and linguistic boarders with the French along the Rhine River and with the Polish in the East along the Oder River. But even there we can notice the same peculiarity as here in South Tyrol: two or more ethnic groups settle one area and at least since the beginning of nationalism in the 18th century political forces try to extend their power into these areas by expelling the respective “foreign” ethnic group. At Sigmundskron/Firmian, a ruin-like castle close to Bozen, where Reinhold Messner opened in cooperation with the city government [the city renovated the castle for eight million Euro] a museum dedicated to the world of mountains in general, one exhibition in the white tower tells the story of the castle itself and Tyrol, the land where the building was “originally” once located. Archeological relicts display a history that dates back more than 5000 years; a time when Homo sapiens did not have a concept of nation, but everybody apart from his own family or horde was an enemy. One might think that something like an ethnic and national identity must have existed in 476 AD, when Odoaker defeats Western Rome and unites today Italy, Austria and most of Croatia under his rule; but most probably it was not a strictly speaking political, but more a cultural and religious force that defined the identity of most people in South Tyrol. Throughout the 5, 6, 7 and 8th century the geographic area of today South Tyrol is divided and re-divided between East Gothic Rulers, Bavarians Earls and Langobard Kings until Charles the Great unites the entire area with his empire in 774 AD. It is though an organizational decision of the Roman Catholic Church, which probably has the most lasting impact on the political identity of the region. In 798 AD, the episcopal territory of Säben, close to today Brixen, is seperated from the Southern arch-episcopal territory Aquileja and transferred to the Northern arch-episcopal territory of Salzburg, whereas the episcopal territory of Trento remains with Aquileja. It could be said therefore, that the separation of autonomous region Trentino and Alto Edige and the autonomy status which was granted in 1972 derives from this rather not nationalistic motivated incident. Meinhard II from Tyrol re-unites the biscopal territories Brixen and Trient and Tyrol reaches its largest territorial expansion, which today is sometimes still displayed on maps of the region. Tyrol is incorporated into the Habsburg Empire in 1363 and the Habsburgs are able to confirm their territorial sovereignty in the Wiener Congress 1815. Italy gains control of today Trentino and Alto Edige after the 1st WW through the Peace of Saint-Germain, which still defines today’s borders between Austria and Italy. It is bequeathed that US president Woodrow Wilson lamented his decision to give 150.000 Tyrolese Germans to Italy in spite of a petition, signed unanimously by all South Tyrolese mayors, presented to the Allies in Saint-Germain.
The two nationalist and racist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini mark the darkest point in the politically aroused ethnic conflicts of the area. The two leaders sign in 1939 a re-settlement agreement, which obliges inhabitants of South Tyrol to either take on German citizenship and move north over the border or remain in South Tyrol and thus fascist Italy and relinquish all minority rights. Hitler and Mussolini where political figures who ignored history, only knew black and white and had no space for the shades and hues in between, the parts of mankind which are truly the most interesting, bridging two cultures and thus two ethnic and linguistic identities. It is only today, in a unified Europe that exactly Europeans from border regions have turned into a blessed group, fluent in at least two languages and equipped with an intimate understanding of at least two cultures. Politically interested people in Bozen understand Rome, Vienna and Brussels; the business community does not see any borders from the North Sea towards the shores of the African continent. South Tyrolese are privileged, and they shall be warned: Mr. Graf’s intentions are base and nationalistic. His long term vision for South Tyrol would surely resemble Mr. Haider’s vision for Carinthia: absolute expansion of Deutscher Lebensraum towards the national borders of Austria; no acceptance of bilingualism; no acceptance of anything that does not fit into the narrow definition of culturally purged Austrian FPOE politicians. The dangerous Gedankengut of Hitler and Mussolini lives on in fascist politicians like Mr. Graf, who still serves as third president of the Austrian Parliament. Mr. Graf is part of the Austrian political force which still deprives his “own” people of the privileges that a far sighted education policy could harvest: Austrians who do not only speak German, but also Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Slovenian, Croatian and Italian; Austrians who have enriched their cultural identity with shades and hues of their neighboring fellow European citizens.
I admit that my Austrian inferiority complex tosses and turns like a heavy pain body, when I read that one of my favourite authors, the Prague born Franz Kafka, spent his holidays in Meran and called the area the most beautiful landscape he has ever seen. Yes, then Austria-Hungary was a large, multiethnic empire, probably the political organization that was closest to what the EU is or could be today. But I believe the only way to overcome this collective pain body, which [I am sure of that] is still alive in many Austrians [although many are not aware of it], is the adoption of a policy that embraces its location not only business-wise, but also culturally. The Austrian Selbstbild needs to shift gradually from “Empire Leftover” [Monarchists], “Ostmark” [German nationalists] or “Neutral Nowhereland” [postmodern nihilists] to a new identity which consists of more than post-national consumerism; and I believe the key for this shift is an active implementation of a Europe of Regions, like since 2001 the Euroregion Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino. Since Homo sapiens establishes his or her group identity foremost by means of language, compulsory bilingual education in addition to Europe’s lingua franca, English, shall be the rule in all Austrian provinces that border another not-German-speaking EU country. Simply follow the example of South Tyrol, and a new heterogeneous Selbstbild can be forged.
From an anthropological point of view, the ancient Greeks [helenas] were right by calling everybody not capable of speaking Greek, a foreigner [barbaros]; thus there will never be something like a European nation. I don’t want to judge whether this is for the good or bad. We leave the autonomous province of Alto Adige as I read in the newspaper that the governor Luis Durnwalder, age 67, becomes father of his third child, little Greta. The 41 year (!) old mother is an Austrian citizen. Although subtitled the “enlightened governor”, by such important voices as Reinhold Messner, he sticks with his ethnic kind. We take the great Via Dolomitii into the autonomous province of Trentino, which once was the most southern part of the Dukedom Tyrol. The German speaking inhabitants already then, several hundred years ago, dubbed the non-German-speaking population Welsch, which simply meant people living in Tyrol, but not being adherent to the Germanic ethnic group, a terminology very similar to the one of the ancient Greeks. The mostly Italian speaking inhabitants of Trentino have always been Welsch to the German people of Tyrol; and this differentiation eventually lead to the splitting of the region into two autonomous provinces, one predominantly German, the other predominantly Italian speaking. Reinhold Messner writes that the conflicts between the two ethnic groups still exist nowadays, even if not obviously perceptible.
We spend a night in the Rifugio Auronzo at 2300 meters altitude just below the probably most famous peaks of the Dolomites, Tres Cime di Lavaredo. I there experience the anti-German bias of local Italians personally, when I ask the male host to provide us with some ice to cool the medication which we have to take along for our daughter. Like he did twice before, he roughly points us to his German speaking partner at the reception desk [although he himself understands German, too]. I walk over to her and patiently wait as she talks at length to an Italian guest. When they finish, I ask her for some ice, and she replies abruptly that she has none and turns her head to other guests. Since I had to tolerate this attitude before and we really needed the ice, I insist and interrupt her talking to the other guests. Her reaction was a wild gesticulation combined with the verbal eruption “Ah, wee are iin Iitaalyy and thiis iis not the Graand Hootel!” Well, come on, I think to myself, you just talked for five minutes to that nerd about mountain photography [that’s what I understood, when I waited at the reception desk next to them], but you don’t want to spend a minute to get some ice to cool antibiotics? She runs off into the kitchen and comes back with an ice block. I have my ice block, but apart from that, the hosts invoked a feeling in me that first of all, I belong to a minority, that is moreover foreign to this land [Italy]. And secondly, she made me feel like a neurotic Kraut, who demands impossible things from relaxed Italian hosts. We leave the Rifugio Auronzo shortly after and circle the Tres Cime di Lavaredo, enter South Tyrol again and suddenly we are again part of the German speaking majority at the Lange Alm Hütte, where we have lunch with stunning vistas of the Drei Zinnen. Narrow-mindedness can not only be encountered in Austria, but also in Italy.
The Via Dolomitii, once constructed under the rule of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef [and thus should have been originally called Kaiser Franz Josef Jubiläums Strasse to celebrate the emperor’s 50th ruling anniversary in 1898] ends in the beautiful Puster Valley which connects South Tyrol and East Tyrol. East Tyrol is cut off the rest of Austria and not directly connected to Tyrol, because the linking part, South Tyrol belongs to Italy. It is the only part of Austria without highways due to its remote location between the Hohen Tauern and the Lienzer Dolomiten, two high mountain ranges. After 10 days vacation in South Tyrol and then Trentino, I am startled as we enter Austria again. Topographically the same region with stunning mountain vistas, we have left an ethnically heterogeneous region and entered into Germanic monotony. I briefly feel deprived of a culturally enriching aspect, but soon realize that this monotony is my home culture. Full stop. We continue our journey from Lienz and drive into Carinthia, where we start ascending the Grossglockner Alpine Road in Heiligenblut and eventually reach the majestic Pasterze glacier just below the 3798 meter high Grossglockner, the highest peak in the Austrian Alps [it was the Ortler at the Southwestern border of South Tyrol with 3904 meters until 1919]. Driving along this mountain road, in the National Park Hohe Tauern, I realize again, what has made my life miserable throughout the years, i.e. that my inherent cultural identity is defined by boring monotony caused by the limitation of the small German-speaking Austrian world. A friend of mine keeps describing this limitation on an individual level as a too small pyjama, and I see it as a straightjacket, preventing us contemporary Austrians from transcending the limits of our small German speaking world.
Like this friend there are many more people I know, who have tried to transcend the limits of Austrian consciousness. Most of them – at least in my generation – have turned their minds to England, the US [like myself to a certain extent], France or Spain, only a few turn to the East and expand their consciousness with the Hungarian or Czech culture. And a few gifted go beyond language and transcend their inherent lingual limitation through music and arts. The former Austrian foreign minister Alois Mock (1987-95), once said in the 90ies at an European People’s Party congress in Budapest to his Hungarian hosts “Dear friends, I am ashamed. You all speak German fluently, but we do not speak a word Hungarian. I promise to you: our fathers spoke your tongue and our sons will do so again!”
Mr. Mock was a visionary for Austrian standards and a gifted speaker; but he was not able to keep his promise. According to the statistical handbook of the Austrian Ministry for Education, there were a total of 1,177,052 pupils in Austria in 2001/02 in the standard education system. 1,132,461 (96.2%) studied English, 124,806 (10.6%) French, 57,346 (4.9%) Italian, 16,643 (1.4%) Spanish, 3,765 (0.3%) Russian, 3,491 (0.3%) Slovenian, 2,543 (0.2%) Croatian, 855 (0.1%) Hungarian, 53,040 (4.5%) Latin, and 994 (0.7%) classic Greek. If the ancient Greeks were right, the people from our neighboring countries will always remain foreigners to us – at least they will be more alien to our mind than Spanish or English speaking people from the American continents. It is the responsibility of politicians to act farsighted and open minded in order to prepare a populace for upcoming societal and economical changes. At least since the late 80ies and the collapse of the USSR, the inactivity in Austrian educational policy must be seen as a tremendous failure of the respective decision makers. Today, 20 years later, this country already has to pay a high toll. The lack of a paradigm shift in Austrian foreign language education caused the young generation to still stick to an old mindset which is not fit for the economical challenges in an enlarged European Union. Although the Austrian business world praises its success in Central Eastern Europe, where banks, law firms and companies have acquired high market shares relative to the size of the Austrian economy, the country loses in a HR perspective. In 2006, only one out of 15 selected candidates for a high potential training program at OMV, an Austrian based leading oil and gas corporation in Central Europe, was an Austrian native. His cutting edge was a proficiency in Romanian, the language of one of OMV’s main markets. All other selected candidates were citizens of Eastern European countries, who not only excelled in their management capabilities [which many Austrian candidates did too], but were also fluent in one or more Eastern European languages, English and German.
These are the more obvious effects; and we could continue to talk in more depth of the indisputable values of a thorough European integration of the Austrian people to enlarge their mindset and get rid of the Germanic straightjacket that people like Mr. Graf try to make even tighter. But why should we? The majority seems to be fine with this mixture of throughout provincialism, nostalgic monarchism and German-catholic lingoracism; And people who tried to point at these collective flaws like the great Austrian author Thomas Bernhard, were at lifetimes denunciated as nation traitors. Wait. Which nation are we talking about anyway?