Austria’s greatest European has passed away

Monday, 14 March, 2022

ERSTE Foundation mourns the death of Erhard Busek (25 March 1941 – 13 March 2022)

© ERSTE Foundation / Markus Schwarze

Erhard Busek, philanthropist, peacemaker, reconciler, visionary and good friend, passed away on 13 March. We have lost one of our great mentors, a helpful and truth-seeking companion and a wonderful person. He shaped ERSTE Foundation like no other and was always there for us. We learned from him, we argued with him and we celebrated with him. He was the elder statesman on our advisory board. He encouraged us to think big and dare the impossible. He always liked that. ERSTE Foundation and its work in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe was so close to his heart. He opened doors for us and kept us from making the biggest mistakes. We laughed with Erhard, ranted about politics with him and he always motivated us when we didn’t know how to proceed. 

He was one of the greatest Austrians and one of the greatest Europeans. It is essentially thanks to him that this statement is not a contradiction but an attitude that, until the very end, he tried to explain and make popular in his native country. Under his aegis as vice chancellor, Austria joined the European Union in 1994. The fact that he has left us at a time when Europe is going through its worst crisis since the end of World War II reinforces the deep sense of abandonment that we are feeling now. In the 1970s, he was one of the first to stand up for the dissidents in Eastern Europe, visiting them and actively supporting them, at times with daring ventures. He had a uniquely close connection with the countries and the people of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, and his role in federal politics coincided with the outbreak of the Balkan Wars. 

Erhard Busek accompanied ERSTE Foundation from its inception, fully supporting our initiatives for a united Europe. He was chairman of the foundation’s advisory board from 2005 to 2016. Under his aegis, a major joint project of European foundations, the European Fund for the Balkans, was launched at a time when hopes were still high that all the countries of Europe would soon become members of the European Union. Whatever we did or planned, we could always rely on his numerous contacts, on his reputation as an exceptional and trustworthy politician, and on the vast knowledge that he used until his death to make Europe a better place for everyone. Today, many people living between Krakow and Sarajevo would say that they were Erhard’s “children” because he motivated so many people and created paths for them. And all of us – we “children” – have lost someone who was an integral part of our lives. We will miss his voice very much.

In the last days of a life lived in the service of reconciliation and freedom, he must have been heartbroken to witness war break out in Europe again. We can no longer rely on the knowledge and energy that he devoted to building a good future until the end. But we can follow his example. 

Andreas Treichl, President

Boris Marte, CEO

and the ERSTE Foundation Team