Andras Simonyi on Hungary’s foreign service and “the curse of Hungary”

April 16, 2015

“The reason there are illusions about how important Hungary is today and how far it can go . . . is a result of professional diplomats having been purged, and professional diplomats not being listened to.” – Andras Simonyi, former Hungarian ambassador to NATO and the United States

Former Hungarian diplomat Andras Simonyi says 25 years ago Hungary had a “professional, well-trained and non-ideological” foreign ministry “without which the changes in Eastern Europe would not have happened.”

“The problem is that each government purged the previous government’s diplomats, and it was always going from worst to worst.  Unfortunately, this cycle is endemic to the Hungarian foreign service.”

Simonyi says that under the second Orbán government (2010-2014) the foreign ministry was reduced to being “executors of a policy that is made in the Prime Minister’s Office.”

“Diplomacy, the foreign ministry, is the immune system of a country,” says the former ambassador to NATO and the United States. “The reason there are illusions about how important Hungary is today and how far it can go is a result of professional diplomats having been purged, and professional diplomats not being listened to” says Simonyi.   As a result of this “Hungary’s leadership lost a sense of reality”, according to the former diplomat.

 Géza Jeszenszky

He says that, while this was not always the cause, he has developed a great deal of respect for Géza Jeszenszki, who served as Hungary’s ambassador to the United States during the Antal government and as foreign minister during the first Orbán government.

“Whatever comment (Jeszenszky) makes is about a thousand times more important than any of my comments because he is a conservative, he is a former foreign minister, he is a person who has been part of Orbán’s government as ambassador to Norway,” says Simonyi, adding that he thinks it is important for the former foreign minister “to speak out.”

“His comments are important not because he goes against Orbán, but because it is only conservatives that can possibly convince Orbán that he is on the wrong track.”  While he disagrees with Jeszenszky on some things, with regard to the importance of the Trans-Atlantic relationship for Hungary, Simonyi says “there is no daylight between us”.

The curse of Hungary

Simonyi bemoans the fact that the foreign service has become so politicized, pointing out that when he served as ambassador to the United States among his subordinates at the embassy were a number of “devoted Fidesz supporters.”  He believes “having friendships and collegial relationships across the political dividing line is important”, as is reaching out to one another and supporting those who “embrace the same values.”

“I don’t care which party he belongs to.  There has to be a better way of reaching out.  This is the curse of Hungary. Only people like Jeszenszky can help break this.”

Norway fiasco

On the diplomatic row between Hungary and Norway over Norwegian development and civil funds, Simonyi says the Norwegians are “fighting for their values”.  “There is no strategic reason for Norway to beat up on Hungary,” says the former diplomat. “They are doing it because their foreign policy is values-based.”

Hungary is on the wrong track

Simonyi says Hungary is on the wrong track.

“If Hungary is continuing on this track, it will be left behind. It will be a provider of finished goods to the rest of the world.  It will not be the country that invents new things, that develops new products, new services, new art, new concepts, new social models.  That would be a disaster.”

Simonyi says Prime Minister Viktor Orbán could turn things around were he to come to his senses.  “I just hope he does.”