The Most Surprising Moment at UNGA? An Austrian Minister speaking in Arabic
United Nations: The 73rd United Nations General Assembly provided unexpected moments like the delegates laughing at the US President Donald Trump while he was emphasizing the results accomplished by his administration.
But there was another surprising moment no one talked about. Karin Kneissl, Austria’s Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, addressing the General Assembly in Arabic.
"Why do I do that? Arabic is one of the six official languages of the United Nations," she said Saturday at the United Nations during her opening statement.
The Kneissl's choice surprised the world in light of her country's political climate. Austria's new coalition government is led by chancellor Sebastian Kurz and supported by the conservative People Party, and the far-right Freedom Party, which ran on an anti-refugee and anti-immigration political programme.
"I studied Arabic in the UN in Vienna. It is a beautiful language, it is part of the ancient Arab civilization," she remarked.
Kneissl is not a member of the conservative People's Party, nor of the Freedom Party. She is an independent, non-partisan politician.
But she was nominated to become Foreign Minister by the far-right Freedom Party after the deal reached with chancellor Kurz. And during her first months as Foreign Minister, she has been sharply criticized for her views on Zionism, Israel, and the Middle East (https://www.thejc.com/news/news-features/austria-s-karin-kneissl-the-foreign-minister-that-israel-refuses-to-meet-1.456978).
However, Saturday at the United Nations, she showed compassion for refugees. "In this world, we have a voice," Kneissl said in her remarks. "We have to use this voice to express the voice of those outside these halls, and especially in the Middle East."
Kneissls spoke in Arabic for the first three minutes of her opening statement. Then, she shifted to French, Spanish, English.
A significant part of Kneissl's speech was focused on the plight of refugees from war-torn countries and asked the audience to use their political platforms for good. “With this speech, I have tried to depart a little bit from the usual United Nations discourse," she said.