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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

2nd December 2010

Transcarpathia: castles, skis and the mayor’s car

The walls of the castle rise sheer from the base of a deep, dry moat.  Three different batteries of cannon face the west.  To the east rise the Carpathians, dusted with snow.  Welcome to Mukachevo, scenic setting of the world’s largest ski factory and as dense a melting pot of European cultures as one could wish for.

I’ve written before about how the castles of western Ukraine reflect the country’s tumultuous history; and how this region has been fought over for centuries by Tatars, Turks, Poles, Russians, Austrians, Hungarians, Swedes, Lithuanians and others.  The magnificent Palanok Castle which looms above Mukachevo, the heart of Ukraine’s westernmost region of Transcarpathia, provides further evidence of the region’s strategic importance.  Transcarpathia is unusual in comprising territory which until WW2 belonged to Czechoslovakia and Hungary.  The region, which borders on Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, lies the other side of the Carpathian mountains from the rest of Ukraine.  Many minorities call Transcarpathia their home: the Mayor of Mukachevo, Zoltan Lendyel, shows me the town’s Hungarian- and Russian-language schools, in the second of which an enthusiastic class of 9 year-olds display an impressive and spontaneous grasp of English.  He also takes me to see the Fischer ski factory, the largest in the world, where 1,300 Ukrainian staff each year turn out 1.3m skis, 1m ice-hockey sticks and a secret number of carbon composite car doors, spoilers and other aerodynamic and shiny bits for some of the world’s most exclusive car brands.  Back in the regional capital, Uzhgorod (on the river Uzh) the regional Governor and Mayor tell me more about the rich ethnic tapestry of Transcarpathia and its economic prospects. I also admire the 1930s Czech-built Oblast State Administration building – slightly Jugendstil-flavoured and reminiscent of the magnificent Oesterreichische Postsparkasse building in Vienna.

The Fischer ski factory is one of the most impressive manufacturing units I’ve seen in Ukraine.  I also note, perhaps not coincidentally, that this is one of the few Ukrainian cities I’ve visited where the mayor (and deputy mayor) hitch a ride in our car, and are then picked up after the visit in a modest Daewoo Lanos saloon.  That strikes me as nearly as encouraging a sign for potential inward investors as the ski factory; and contrasts favourably with the many cities I’ve visited where the senior officials are driven around in magnificent limousines.  The latter are a discouraging sign for investors, who worry where the money for such vehicles came from, and thus risk fuelling allegations of corruption.  The extreme ostentatiousness of many official vehicles is a live political issue in Ukraine (see eg the comment on another recent blog).  Indeed, stricter rules on who drives what might be a good way for other elected leaders in Ukraine to ease investor nerves about corruption and demonstrate to voters that they genuinely care how tax-payers’ money is spent.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.