The Ibiza Affair
I came to the USA with my parents, from Austria, when I was 11 years old, a real culture shock for me. With almost no knowledge of English, I was transplanted from the heart of the Alps into the middle of Chicago. I sat in the classroom of my fifth grade in silence for three months, but immersion does work, and I started talking, and never stopped, and eventually even lost the German accent. At age 17, I became a US citizen and was required to renounce my Austrian citizenship. That, as it turns out, was not exactly how it should have transpired. Both the US and Austria do not consider a 17-year-old to be capable of renouncing or accepting any citizenship of any country. You must be of legal age, which was 18 at the time, and still is.
Nevertheless, that is what happened. In 2011 I decided, on a whim, that I should become a dual citizen. I thought there would be some potential advantages for being a citizen of the European Union, as Austria was a member. If I had Austrian citizenship, I would get an EU passport. With that comes going through the line much quicker when you go through the passport check in Europe. Also, the EU requires you to be a citizen of some EU member state to own property in any EU member country. Not that I could afford it, but who knows when I win the lottery?
I embarked on the quest to become a dual citizen. The US does not care if you hold several citizenships, but Austria is pickier. They do not want people that are not qualified to assume the mantle of citizenship of Austria unless the prospective citizen meets Austria’s criteria. I gathered all my parent’s documents, my birth certificate, and citizenship papers of Austria, as well as Germany, as my parents had that documentation for the war years, and that included me because I was born in 1943. Austria was already annexed to Germany by Hitler on March 12, 1938, in what was called the “Anschluss.” Technically I was a German, having been born in Germany, but today’s Austria sees itself as another victim of Hitler, and Austria takes the position that the “Anschluss” was not acceptable by then-existing Austrian law nor in Austria’s interests and therefore I was, de facto, born in Austria even though it was called Germany at the time. Besides, my parents became Austrian citizens after the war, and I too was swept into Austrian citizenship by that event.
To be considered for Austrian citizenship, I had to be interviewed by the Consul General of Austria. On the appointed day I went to Los Angeles and dressed as Austrian as I could, Edelweiss tie and the classic grey felt jacket with the green lapels, but not “Lederhosen” as I thought that would be over the top and unseemly. My German was not perfect and had the vocabulary of an eleven-year-old, but still passable. I spoke German during my interview, which impressed the Consul General, Consuline Fischer. She inquired as to my reasons for wanting dual citizenship. I went into the legal arguments as to why I thought that I had never actually could have given up my citizenship as I was underage at the time and not legally entitled to do so. The word in German for underage is “minder jährig” (minor years). But my eleven-year-old vocabulary did not have that on the list. I used a word that I thought meant underage, “minder wertig” which means of “lesser worth” literally translated, but the street meaning was “imbecile.” “But I was an imbecile!” I said in German. She corrected me, knowing what I was really intending to say, “You mean “minder jährig.” “Yah, yah,” I murmured, “I mean “minder jährig (under age).” I was embarrassed. The lady Consul smiled and let it pass. I got my dual citizenship. And I got to walk through the EU line at passport control. It didn’t help a whole lot as I had to wait for my wife on the other side as she only had her US passport. I am still waiting to buy that ski chalet on the slopes of my hometown when the Megalotto hits, which has not happened yet.
In 2021 my Austrian passport outdates and will need to be renewed. I have no good reasons to do that, but nostalgia urges me, for reasons best stated by Alex Haley, author of Roots, “In all of us, there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage – who we are, and where we came from.” I have always had a longing to maintain a connection to my “Heimatsland,” the landscape made famous by Jullie Andrews in the movie, The Sound of Music. I will renew my EU passport, but I will need to document some need to do so. I have not done anything for decades to justify my reasons for maintaining that passport.
However, through international skullduggery, the opportunity presented itself in June 2017 – the “Ibiza Affair.” This was a politically set up scandal where the Austrian deputy chancellor was caught in a “honeypot trap” with a Russian woman oligarch, at a five-star resort on the Spanish island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea, to become involved with Austrian journalism for a bribe. This was dramatically aired with videotape and soundtrack which were irrefutable several months later and led to the collapse of the Austrian government! New elections were mandated. I gleaned an opportunity for me to do my civic duty and vote, which I did, and established my continued interest in the land of my birth. To do so was a bit of artful manipulation with the Austrian consulate. But Austria was very anxious to include “all Austrians” within and outside of the country, to neutralize this dirty stain on Austrian integrity.
Most of you would not know or care about the “Ibiza Affair” were it not for my essay; it is, after all, a minor footnote of history, but for me, it was the gift that allowed me to vote in a historic Austrian election and will permit me to renew my Austrian passport!