Austria may have a number of official languages, including German and Hungarian, however the European nation’s Foreign Minister decided to employ a different one this week. Addressing the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Karin Kneissl began her 20-minute speech in Arabic, a language she learnt in both Vienna and Beirut.
“As the minister of foreign affairs of Austria, I am able to address you in Arabic,” she said, Al Arabiya reports. “Why do I do that? Arabic is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. I studied Arabic in the UN in Vienna. It is a beautiful language; it is part of the ancient Arab civilization. I also studied in Lebanon during the years of war. I learned how people keep on living despite all difficulties. This is the secret of life. There are people, men and women, from Baghdad to Damascus, who continue to survive. All respect to them.”
Multi-lingual Kneissl, who also spoke in French, Spanish, and English during her address, was applauded by delegates as she launched into her three-minute Arabic introduction, and praised widely across social media. The politician, who has also studied in Jordan, is touted as an expert in international law and the history of the Middle East. During her UN speech, Kneissl touched on issues such as climate change, civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and the plight of refugees around the world.
“Unfortunately, we, diplomats, are often unable to ensure that the voices of those who live in darkness and misery heard. Our diplomatic all to often give priority to fine statements over genuine action. I would even venture to say that we accept a ‘dialogue of deaf,’ when we limit ourselves to a ritual of simply reading out prepared statements. This way of thinking shows that we have lost contact with reality, we no longer understand the meaning of the genuine exchange of views,” she said. “In this world, we have a voice,” she said. “And we have to use this voice to express the voice of those outside these halls, and especially in the Middle East.”