The Balkan – does it start in Vienna?

Article published on May 23, 2011
Article published on May 23, 2011
In the 19th century the Austrian chancellor Metternich is supposed to have said that “the Balkans start at the Rennweg “ (an area in the 3rd district in Vienna). Since then this saying has often been quoted to highlight the geographical and cultural ties that Vienna and Austria have with the Balkan region.
It has proven difficult, however, to verify whether, where, when and why Metternich made this comment. In fact, when looking at the development of Vienna as a city it is even possible to turn the sentence around and instead of saying that “the Balkans start in Vienna” pronounce that “Vienna starts in the Balkans”!

Googling “Vienna” and “Balkan” it is easy to find a huge number of restaurants offering Balkan cuisine, but also Balkan music festivals and even Balkan clubbing events. After all, Vienna as a city is growing largely because of immigration and a lot of these immigrants come from Balkan countries. At Austrian universities 28% of students come from the former Yugoslavia or from Turkey – however, many of those have grown up in Vienna itself. A study from 2006 finds 8.259 students from the Balkans in Vienna, most of those from Bosnia, Bulgaria and Rumania.

At the same time a variety of academic institutions offers degrees and courses with a focus on the Balkan region: the University of Vienna, for instance, offers a Master of Arts in Balkan Studies in cooperation with the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM). The IDM itself is just one of many Austrian organisations, which are active in the region – ranging from ministries, think tanks, academic organisations such as the venerable Academy of Austrian sciences to cultural organisations like Kulturkontakt Austria which is funded by the state to increase cultural cooperation with central and south Eastern Europe.

These activities also include capacity building projects, such as the Balkan Case Challenge (BCC, 2000-2010) which strengthened the competitiveness of the universities in Southeast Europe (SEE) in a knowledge-based economy, established links between higher education and industry, and consequently improved employability in SEE. The BCC had a strong focus on South Eastern Europe and aimed to make available opportunities and new perspectives for excellent students from South Eastern Europe by providing links between higher education and industry, and hence concrete job opportunities.

Ties with the region remain firmly rooted in economic investment. It is a remarkable fact that, despite its small size, Austria is the biggest foreign investor in Bulgaria, Rumania, Croatia, Serbia Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina (data from 2006). Austrian investment is particularly prominent in the financial sector (e.g. the expansion of Raiffeisen in the region) but also covers infrastructure (buildings, transport, environmental technologies).

References

Magistrat der Stadt Wien (2005) Wien als Studienort und internationale Bildungsmetropole. Statistik News. Placht, Milena (2006) Balkan Kompetenz in Österreich. Aktivitäten österreichischer Institutionen in Südosteuropa. IDM. IDM Balkanstudium http://www.idm.at/postgraduates/balkanstudien/LERNEN-SIE-BALKAN--a753.html Kulturkontakt Austria http://www.kulturkontakt.or.at/ Balkan Case Challenge http://www.bcchallenge.org/general/index.php