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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 Austria

15th June 2018 Vienna, Austria

Meeting Hugo Portisch – again

The guest of honour takes up his place at the podium.  The room is hushed.  He begins to speak.

I was recently invited to attend the award of the honorary citizenship of the city of Vienna to Dr Hugo Portisch, at the splendid Vienna town hall.  I had met Dr Portisch briefly when I was posted to Vienna as a second secretary from 1984-87 (I still have his card) and was delighted to meet him again.  He seemed unchanged.

Hugo Portisch is one of the towering figures of Austrian journalism in the 20th Century.  Born in what is now Bratislava in 1927 at a time when people in the city spoke Slovak, German and Hungarian, he left the city with the arrival of Soviet forces in April 1945.  He had a glittering career, including as the editor of the Kurier newspaper, a foreign correspondent in London, and a TV journalist.

As his Wikipedia entry says, Hugh Portisch had a particular knack of explaining complex issues in a comprehensible way.  I remember his TV series “Österreich II”, about the history of Austria’s Second Republic after World War II, which I devoured eagerly during my previous posting.

When Mr Portisch spoke at the award ceremony, characteristically without notes, the audience hung on his every word.  It was a masterpiece of communication: clear, good-humoured and insightful.  He described how he had taken up his studies at the newly-reopened University of Vienna in 1945; and his work as a student clearing rubble in the city, including in some iconic buildings.  He also reflected on highlights of his life since then with wisdom and wit, including his time as correspondent for ORF in London; and the famous story of how he helped break the momentous news of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty with a special edition of the Kurier  in 1955 headlined “Austria becomes free!”.

It was a privilege to meet Dr Portisch again.  I wish him all the best in enjoying his honorary citizenship – what we would perhaps call in English the “freedom” – of one of the greatest cities in the world.  And I look forward to watching “Österreich II” again.

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.