The Spouse of Austrian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mrs. Natalia Bayerl, tells Azeri Observer how working in the Austrian Embassy in Belarus changed her life, and talks about her vision of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of diplomatic work, and requirements a diplomatic spouse should meet. She also explains what she likes the most about Austria and Austrian people, what activities in Baku inspired her, and how intercultural experiences benefit her family.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Could you tell us a little about yourself, your origin, childhood, family, education, and professional background?
Answer: Being born in Ukraine, I, together with my family, moved to the Belarusian city of Brest at the age of six. That is where I grew up, where my personality was developed. It is interesting that I have always lived in border areas characterized by a mixture of cultures and ethnic groups – first in Ukraine, then in Belarus, now at the crossroads of the East and the West in Baku. Even my husband’s house in Austria is near the Slovenian and Hungarian borders. As for education, after finishing school I entered a high school with extended studies of German language and then graduated from the Minsk State Linguistic University as a linguist and German language teacher. After graduation I applied for a job in the Austrian Embassy in Belarus, where I met my future husband. I really liked working in the Embassy where I was responsible for cultural exchanges between Austria and Belarus, but I never thought that it would be a life-changing period. For about two years, Alexander (Ed. note: Ambassador Alexander Bayerl) and I were just friends and then we unexpectedly clicked. Leaving Belarus had never been in my life plan, but after he was appointed to Baku, we decided to marry. You know, I always try to plan all details, but the most important thing in my life happened by chance.
Q.: You and your husband come from different countries with different cultures and mentalities. Did you have any difficulties caused by intercultural misunderstanding?
A.: We are probably lucky because we didn’t. My husband worked first in Ukraine, and then in Belarus for a decent number of years, and he had learned our culture and mentality very well. Furthermore, I would say that our mindset is quite similar, since Austria, unlike Germany, had a big Slavic influence. I, in turn, had always been very interested in Austrian and German cultures and had studied them together with the German language for five years, accompanying groups of children to Germany and Austria as an interpreter every summer during my studies. Therefore, I also knew about Austrian mentality. The fact that I come from a border area populated by different ethnic groups was also helpful.
Q.: In your opinion, what is the main mission of an ambassador’s spouse?
A.: To represent our husbands’ countries – in my case, Austria. Unlike our husbands, we do not graduate from diplomatic academies and do not have a specialized education for this purpose. We marry a person because we love them and want to spend our lives together, assuming certain responsibilities. An Ambassador’s spouse should be hospitable, know about the culture and history of the country she represents, be erudite, be able to get along with different people and try to smooth things over in tense situations. These responsibilities are quite new for me, but I like them. I like receiving guests at our residence and organizing cultural events. Baku is a very cultural city – there are many talented artists, singers, and composers here. Before the pandemic we hosted many cultural evenings.
Q.: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the life of a diplomat?
A.: It is not an easy profession. A diplomat needs to love communicating with people, be tolerant and interested in cultural exchanges. Though, there are many advantages. During our two years in Baku we made many friends in all parts of the world, since some diplomats leave, other arrive – it is undoubtedly wonderful. We have an opportunity to meet and communicate with many intellectuals and cultural figures, for example. Among the cons, long distance is the most frustrating for me. I don’t see my old friends, my parents, and grandmothers’. I have a big family with four siblings, and it’s very hard that we haven’t seen each other for a year because of the pandemic. The first year here was much easier because I was pregnant and spent almost all the time in the open air, enjoying the atmosphere of the city. I really like the smell of the sea, the architecture, and the people in Baku… However, now I long for my family, especially due to the fact that I could not visit them last year. It is very important for me not to lose these ties. Thank God, I am very lucky with my husband, and we can talk for hours, which means I am never bored. He supports and energizes me a lot.
Q.: How does the diplomatic life influence your children? What effect do you think it will have on their personalities?
A.: While they are very young, the most important thing for them is probably to have loving parents and grow up in an environment where they can reveal themselves. However, I already see some pros, even at this age. They grow up in a bilingual environment – I speak to them in Russian and my husband speaks to them in German – and the older one has already begun to speak two languages. I would have liked to have learned several languages during childhood. I believe that it will be more challenging when they are forced to change schools in the future, especially in the teenage years, when friends are even more important than parents. However, it becomes much easier in the age of the Internet, since the boundaries are much more transparent. One of the biggest cons is the absence of the grandparents in their life. For me, a strong bond with the older generation means a lot. I think we all have something to learn from them as the grandparents enjoy spending time with their grandchildren just as much.
Q.: Let’s talk a little about Austria. Continue the phrase, “I love Austria because …”
A.: Because it has a very rich culture, music, art, architecture, literature, wonderful nature. It is a very touristic country, every kilometer of which is beautiful, well-groomed, tidy and clean. I really like the openness and entrepreneurial spirit of the Austrian people: their perennial desire to be active and not to be idle until very old age…Unlike aged people in the post-Soviet area, Austrians travel, organize various events at home, read books, go to the theaters and enjoy every day of their life even at 80-90 years old, which I find very appealing.
Q.: What are your impressions about Baku and Azerbaijan?
A.: Baku is the place where my family life started and two of our sons were born. Even our religious wedding happened in the Orthodox Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral in Baku. First of all, I would like to mention that people here are very open and friendly and love children very much. When Azerbaijanis see children, they immediately start smiling, which is so nice. For me, as a new mother, this attitude of strangers is very pleasing, and it partially compensates the absence of my own parents here…I find Baku very charming. I enjoy walking around the city center, however, my favorite place here is the Seaside Boulevard, which is always beautiful regardless the weather. When I lack energy or feel sad, I always go there.
Q.: How do you spend your time free from childcare and diplomatic events?
A.: At the moment, I am doing a Master’s degree in European history at the distance learning university of Hagen in Germany. I like it very much since I have always been interested in European history and culture. In the last semester I even wrote a scientific piece of work about the activity of the Nobel family in Baku in the 19th century, since they played a significant role in the history of Europe. I visited Nobel’s Villa Petrolea and oil production sites in Baku, took a lot of pictures, and received a very good grade. Thanks to my studies, my husband and I have one more topic to discuss, since one of his degrees is also in history. Therefore, I can always turn to him with a question, and he explains a lot to me. I believe that someday this knowledge will help me start an interesting project. Furthermore, I like practicing sport. I have always practiced jogging, and in Baku I also started doing yoga – both these occupations fill me with energy, even when I am tired. Here I have also remembered my passion for music, which I had many years ago when I attended accordion classes at a music school. At that time, I even wanted to become a musician, but then I changed my mind, and turned to foreign languages, which I don’t regret at all. The cultural spirit of Baku inspired me to start playing the accordion again as well as voice classes. Then, I found many fabric shops here with a huge selection of colors, textures, ornaments, and even started sewing dresses for myself. In the evenings, when the children are sleeping, I turn on my favorite music, look at the sea and leisurely sew. Another hobby I have acquired – after meeting many artists in Baku – is painting. Finally, as I have explained, I like languages. Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian are my native languages, and I learned German and English as foreign ones. In addition, I started learning Italian, which I also like very much.
Q.: Finally, our signature question to conclude the interview. It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does that manifest itself in your life?
A.: I know many couples who started their careers together. However, in our case, it’s probably different. My husband was appointed to this position before marrying me; therefore I didn’t contribute to his career success. However, now I support him in all his endeavors and initiatives, as does he in return. As a modern woman, I would like to pursue a career, but family is the primary thing for me.