Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ambassador Habsburgshvili

The Habsburgs' new empire

The princess and the bear
Feb 18th 2010
From The Economist print edition

Europe’s aristocracy, alive and kicking

GEORGIA struggles to make its case in Germany, which sees trade ties with Russia as vital and the ex-Soviet Caucasian republic as troublesome. So who better to burnish Georgia’s image there than a German-educated Habsburg? Georgia’s new ambassador to Berlin, once she presents her credentials to the president next month, will be Gabriela Maria Charlotte Felicitas Elisabeth Antonia von Habsburg-Lothringen, princess Imperial and Archduchess of Austria, Princess Royal of Hungary and Bohemia. A name like that, says Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili, should open doors.

The towering figure on the Berlin diplomatic scene is the Russian ambassador to Germany, Vladimir Kotenev, an indefatigable socialite who runs what is probably the biggest embassy in Europe. Ms von Habsburg (the name she prefers) will not, despite her titles, have the cash to match his efforts. But she may still help Germans think again about Georgia’s European roots and future. Born in Luxembourg, brought up in Germany and Austria, the polyglot Ms von Habsburg is an avant-garde sculptor, specialising in large steel outdoor works. She has lived in Georgia since 2001, has become a Georgian citizen and gained a command of the language (it is “improving every day”, says Mr Saakashvili).

By the standards of her family, a spot of diplomacy in Berlin is not particularly exotic. The heirs to the Habsburg emperors helped speed the downfall of the Soviet empire, particularly by arranging the cross-border exodus from Hungary to Austria in the summer of 1989 that punched the first big hole in the iron curtain. Among Ms von Habsburg’s six siblings, her younger sister Walpurga is a leading conservative politician in Sweden; her brother Georg is an ambassador-at-large for Hungary. Another used to be in the European Parliament.

Her father, Otto von Habsburg, now aged 97, is one of very few who can remember the Austro-Hungarian empire (his father, Karl, was its last emperor and it collapsed when Otto was six). He does not mourn the demise of that world: liberated from court etiquette, he says, he can call someone an “idiot” if he wants, instead of “your excellency”. His daughter may find German diplomatic protocol rather more constraining.

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