Thomas Klestil (1932-2004) was an Austrian
diplomat, ambassador to the United Nations in New York
and president of Austria. He was born in Vienna and obtained a Ph.D. from the College of World Trade in
1957. In 1959 he was assigned to the OEEC (later OECD). From 1962 to 1966 he
served as Attaché at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
After returning to Vienna in 1966, he joined
the staff of Austrian Federal Chancellor Dr. Josef Klaus. In 1969 he was
responsible for establishing the Austrian Consulate General in Los Angeles. From 1974 on Dr. Klestil played a key
role in bringing important UN organizations to Vienna. After serving as
Ambassador to the United Nations in New York in
1978, he was Ambassador to the United States
for five years from 1982 on. Of the thirty-five years in his diplomatic career,
eighteen were spent in the United States.
This long period of diplomatic service abroad greatly influenced his later
presidential career as Austrian Federal President.
During his term in office (1992-2004) Klestil
pursued his goal of being 'someone who unites and not divides.' He made 130
state visits to foreign countries - more than any other Austrian Federal
President. Some of these visits were considered ground-breaking. He was, for
example, the first Austrian Federal President to visit Israel
and openly express sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust. In the words of
Israeli President, Moshe Katzav, "the legacy of
brotherhood and reconciliation that President Klestil
left behind might be carried on in Austria
and the rest of the world." U.S. President George W. Bush said: "As a
man dedicated to freedom and human dignity, and as president, he was a
committed and eloquent advocate of these values."
Dr. Klestil embraced
openness with all groups within Austria’s
population. He was candid about his past life - a man from modest beginnings,
son of a streetcar operator who became Federal President. On his seventieth
birthday, he spoke proudly of the possibilities that Austria
offered to all of its citizens.
The photo shows Secretary-General Kofi Annan (right) meeting with Dr. Thomas Klestil
in Palermo on 11
December 2000. In the centre is Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director
of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna (UN Photo #EDD309
by Eskinder Debebe).
His death on 6 July 2004
(photo: reef from Russian president Putin) was
unexpected. He died in office, two days before the end of his second, six-year
term. Voices worldwide have expressed their grief over the loss of a statesman
with extraordinary capabilities as a mediator. Dr. Klestil
was held in high esteem for his role as an advocate and supporter of European
unity and for his special commitment to the integration of Eastern European
states into the European Union.
Austria 31 October 1997
last revised: 27 March 2010