As 2021 begins, Atlanta welcomes a modified consular corps bolstered by new diplomats who arrived here during the strangest of times and stocked with those likely kept in the city a bit longer by the pandemic.
In normal times, diplomats taking up new postings here are welcomed with events — dinners, receptions and the like — to help them get acclimated and meet the people and organizations crucial to the work of representing their countries in the Southeast region.
Amid the pandemic, many have reported being busier than expected making the virtual rounds, expressing regret that the customary greetings haven’t been possible but also gratitude for the flexibility afforded by digital engagement.
Weird but Warm Welcome
In interviews, consuls general like Ireland’s Ciara O’Floinn, who arrived with her husband and two children in August, have told Global Atlanta that while this is not a normal welcome, it has been no less warm than she would have expected. Shane Stephens, the outgoing Irish consul general, departed as the longest-serving member of the consular corps, having laid sufficient groundwork for her arrival in the community.
Ms. O’Floinn along with new Belgian Consul General Michel Gerebtzoff joined a Global Atlanta Consular Conversation virtually, drawing on their shared expertise in European affairs to enlighten our audience about the prospects for post-pandemic recovery in their countries and across the EU.
Their arrival during the summer was followed in November by Greek Consul Theodoros Dimopoulos, who has a strong background in security and built up tourism expertise during his previous posting at the country’s consulate in Moscow. He hopes to rebuild tourism ties here in the South. Greece celebrates its bicentennial of independence in 2021, and many countries are hoping for a summer recovery as vaccines continue to be distributed globally.
Embracing New Modes of Connection
With only three new arrivals but a few key departures, the seven consuls general who arrived in 2019 became bona fide veterans forced to embrace new ways of engagement still early in their time in Atlanta.
Yet some were entering their fourth or fifth years of service here, like new dean Flora Leah Venegas of Costa Rica, who arrived in 2015. The next longest-serving member, Argentina’s Jorge Lopez Menardi, started his tenure in 2016, as did Mexico’s Javier Diaz de Leon.
France’s Vincent Hommeril, a 2019 arrival, presided over the first ever digital version of the annual France-Atlanta series, while Dutch Consul General Ard Van der Vorst created a digital platform for transatlantic networking in the fintech space. Faced with the cancellation of both the Olympics and a key Southeast U.S.-Japan conference in Tokyo, Kazuyuki Takeuchi of Japan began an email newsletter tracking coronavirus figures and updated insights on trade, investment, travel policies and more.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development started its own set of Zoom calls with members of the consular corps as Nico Wijnberg took the helm as head of protocol.
Nadia Theodore, consul general of Canada, left the city to join the private sector. Head of political affairs Kirk Duguid is serving as acting head of mission until her replacement arrives this year. Three other countries are in the same boat, with the consulates of Haiti, Colombia and Honduras led by heads of mission as they await permanent placements. El Salvador’s appointment is pending.
Two New Honorary Consuls, Multiple Online Discussions
New honorary consuls included Austria’s Paul Seefried, who took over for his father Ferdinand after the latter’s 31 years of service, and Monika Vintrlikova, who replaced the late George Novak as honorary consul general of the Czech Republic after his death in June.
Ms. Vintrlikova was installed officially by Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek during a socially distanced ceremony and jazz reception held at Constellations, the site of the Global Atlanta offices in downtown Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn district.
For its part, Global Atlanta continued our Consular Conversations series for the fifth year, pivoting to a virtual format like organizations with the help of our sponsor, Miller & Martin PLLC.
Instead of hosting one diplomat over lunch, as per usual, we packed our hourlong discussions with multiple consuls grouped usually by geography, covering the initial reaction to the pandemic, followed by sessions on the Americas, Asia, Europe, then a special dual France-Germany event.
Our most recent session sought to capitalize on the virtual environment, welcoming Abrar Hashmi, the Pakistani consul general in Houston, on the call. Next up is the Italian consul general in Miami, who covers Georgia.
And early on in the pandemic, we aimed to help the community by putting together a comprehensive page with updated information on how to reach consulates that were scrambling to adapt to the rise of COVID-19, which forced a lockdown in Georgia in March and April: How to Access Consular Services Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak
The Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law continued to sponsor our coverage of the diplomatic corps.
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The Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia is the presenting sponsor of Global Atlanta's Diplomacy Channel. Subscribe here for monthly Diplomacy newsletters.