The Austrian-Kosovar Friendship Society held its general assembly on Monday evening (April 26th). The friendship society founded five years ago by today’s Member of the European Parliament Lukas Mandl belongs to the Austrian umbrella association of Partners of all Nations (PaN).
At the cradle of the Kosovo friends in Austria was also Ulrike Lunacek, who was one of the Vice-Presidents from the start. She was elected the first Honorary President of the Friendship Society. Mandl, who for his part was re-elected as President, emphasized: “Ulrike Lunacek stands in the great Austrian, non-partisan tradition of close cooperation with the Western Balkans, especially with the Republic of Kosovo. It is an honor for the Friendship Society to have her as Honorary President. Lunacek herself said: “It is a great pleasure for me, and I am very grateful to have been accepted as Honorary President. The Republic of Kosovo is very dear to my heart and I will continue to contribute to the friendship society with my contacts in order to provide support”.
In addition to President Mandl, who also heads the non-partisan Kosovo friendship group in the European Parliament and is a shadow rapporteur for the Republic of Kosovo, a Chairman was also elected for the first time, who will lead the friendship society – side by side with Arber Marku from Vienna, who has been Secretary General from the start and was also re-elected. The new Chairman is Manfred Brandner, entrepreneur from Graz and Honorary Consul of the Republic of Kosovo for Styria. Brandner said: “I am impressed by the will and the consistency with which the people of Kosovo pursue the further development of the country – but also the commitment and integration of Kosovars in Austria are exemplary for me. As an honorary consul, I have been the link between Styria and Kosovo in terms of economy, education, culture and sport for a number of years and I am delighted to be able to support our President Lukas Mandl in his activities as part of the Austria-Kosovar Friendship Society from now on”.
For the very first time, the Friendship Society has awarded honorary membership to Sami Ukelli, former Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to Austria and “indispensable obstetrician” of the Friendship Society, as Mandl put it. Ukelli, meanwhile Ambassador of Kosovo to Switzerland, thanked him with the words: “I thank you very much for this special award. On the one hand, I see this as recognition of the joint efforts made so far to revitalize and deepen relations between the two countries in order to build further bridges of friendship. But I also know that the great honor that has been given to me, no matter what role I will have in the future and where I am geographically, will be a motivation for me personally for further efforts and joint cooperation”.
The newly elected President of the Republic of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, Prime Minister Albin Kurti, the President of the Umbrella Association of Partners of all Nations (PaN), Hermann Mückler, and the current Ambassador of Kosovo to Austria Lulzim Pllana addressed the online General Assembly with greeting remarks.
Osmani emphasized in her video message the great support that is coming from Austria, also with regards to the pandemic, and underlined that it is essential to have such strong partners, who stand together especially in difficult times. Kurti spoke about the great potential that lies in the young population of the Republic of Kosovo and took up Mandl’s often-expressed vision of Kosovo as the “Silicon Valley of Europe”. Mückler was impressed by the commitment of the friendship group and its numerous activities, even during the pandemic, and stated: “It is important as a friendship society to build bridges, especially in challenging times. In this way, standstill can also be actively counteracted”. Pllana mentioned: “The friendship society is an integral part of bilateral cooperation. In general, the Austria-Kosovo relationship is an absolute success story, where we have many good approaches for the future”.
“From the beginning, in addition to non-partisanship, interdisciplinarity was also very important to us,” emphasized Mandl, referring to the structure of the Advisory Board, which is organised in “chapters” that are devoted to certain subject areas. These range from education and science to agriculture and economy to diplomacy and politics or health and social affairs. Media and security are also not lacking as subject areas. For the first time there is also a diaspora “Chapter” in which Kosovars living in Austria participate. A sustainability “chapter” is now being started.
“The relations between Austria and Kosovo are excellent. This is based on many personal friendships, many family connections and a lot of cooperation, for example in business, science and civil society as well as in culture and sport. As a friendship society, we would like to continue to provide a framework for this, so that friendship can continue to be lived and relationships can be deepened. The Kosovars are citizens of the youngest state in Europe. Based on friendship and on an equal footing, we go into a common European future and uphold the values of freedom and democracy. This and much more unites our societies and our states. I am particularly pleased that Prime Minister Albin Kurti mentioned during his greeting remarks the vision of a Silicon Valley that Kosovo could become in the future. In addition to solving problems, we also have to devote ourselves to realizing visions for the future, thinking big. The many young people in Kosovo who are hungry for education and hardworking and who are or want to become active in the IT sector are a source of strength for the country’s economic future and future prosperity,” concluded Lukas Mandl.