Toomas Hendrik Ilves congratulates Austria’s new president-elect
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves congratulated Alexander Van der Bellen on his election as President of Austria. The president and president-elect have in common that they were both born into families that had to escape from Estonia because of war and violence.
Ilves said that while he and the president of Austria were connected by Europe with all its present worries and hopes, they were also connected by Estonia in a very personal manner. As Ilves pointed out, having two countries at once whose presidents' parents were citizens of the Republic of Estonia is extraordinary, especially as both families fled war and violence and found a new home abroad.
Ilves said he would be very glad to welcome his Austrian colleague to Estonia soon.
Alexander Van der Bellen was born in Vienna on Jan. 18, 1944 to a Russian-born father of Dutch descent and an Estonian mother, Alma. They fled Russia after the revolution, emigrating to Estonia in 1919.
Following the Soviet invasion of Estonia in 1940, Van der Bellen’s parents fled to East Prussia, then Germany, and Vienna, where their son was born. From there, they again fled from the advancing Red Army and eventually settled in Tyrol, where Alexander Van der Bellen spent an idyllic childhood, as he has said himself.
He studied economics at the University of Innsbruck and finished his PhD in 1970. He became dean of economics at the University of Vienna two decades later.
Adversaries have accused Van der Bellen of being a turncoat, as he used to be a member of the Social Democrats before joining the Greens in the early 1990s and eventually becoming the party’s leader. He managed to turn what was seen by many as a group of radicals into a political party.
As President of Austria, Van der Bellen dreams of a fence-free "United States of Europe" that defends the rights of minority groups.
In his private life, he admits having two weaknesses: Donald Duck comics, and cigarettes.