PAST EVENT: Speech by Ambassador György Szapáry at the 90th Anniversary Conference in Budapest

Publicated on: June 20, 2012

This year we celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Hungary and the United States. In May a full day conference was organized in Budapest about the past, present and future of the relations. Read the Ambassador’s speech here.

"It is my honor to address this conference which serves a very important purpose: to take stock of, reflect upon, and learn from the history of Hungarian-American diplomatic relations that officially span over 90 years but, actually, go back several centuries.

Distinguished historians, scholars and diplomats of both of our countries have highlighted before me at this conference the beginnings and the ups and downs of our diplomatic relationship since the first Hungarian Legation was opened 90 years ago in Washington, DC. Coming at the close of this conference, allow me, then, to reflect from a somewhat longer perspective on the US-Hungarian relations. Count László Széchenyi had both a special honor and a special challenge when he was sent to the US capital to represent Hungary following the First World War and the ensuing break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. International politics have become a little faster paced since the nineteen- twenties, but the challenges that our first diplomat faced are not much different from ours today.

Throughout the past 90 years, there have been ups and downs in the US-Hungarian diplomatic relationship, which had to endure the Second World War and four decades of communism and Soviet rule in Hungary. Since I have been posted to Washington a little more than a year ago, our diplomatic relationship has faced some challenges, and quite a number of very respectful, heart-to-heart discussions took place with our American friends about the best ways to proceed to deal with these challenges. What struck me most throughout all of our discussions was that neither of us lost sight of the essence of our relationship, which are our shared democratic values and commitment to freedom.

I am convinced that when we will look back at this period of rapid changes in Hungary five, ten, twenty years from now, we will realize that it was through these changes and the intense conversations with our American partners about these changes that we became a stronger democracy, a stronger nation, and better friends. This is the essence of deliberative democracy.

We Hungarians have to understand that the United States wants to see, just like we do, nations with strong and stable democracies, which we see as a guarantee of peace in the world. The United States has made enormous sacrifices to help bring about freedom and democracy in Europe when world wars were ravaging our continent. In our discussions with our American partners we have to convincingly demonstrate that the changes taking place in Hungary today serve the purpose of strengthening democracy and furthering stability in Hungary, thereby also contributing to the stability and well-being of our region.

There have been some truly memorable experiences over the past year in Hungarian-American relations. Our Transatlantic Week was a real teamwork between American and Hungarian diplomats, civil servants and civil society. We erected a statute of President Ronald Reagan and launched the Tom Lantos Institute. Two US Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, visited Hungary for the occasion. Never before have so many members of Congress traveled to Budapest than during the past year. I think it is also safe to say that never before have Hungarians invested so much time and energy into sending a strong message to the world that we respect what America stands for, we admire her leadership in the world and we stand for the same values on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our joint commitment to democratic principles translates into common action. Hungary has been a member of NATO for 12 years. We are part of the most powerful value-based security alliance in the world. This would have been hard to even imagine on the Hungarian side of the Iron Curtain when Soviet tanks provided a very different notion of “values” and “security” for our country.

It is precisely because of this historical experience that Hungary has actively contributed to the missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, with the aim of strengthening democracy through stability. We firmly believe that it is important for the future of the free world to promote our common vision.

People say that it is in difficult times that the nature of a true friendship shows. Last year, in Libya, Hungary’s Embassy was still operating when almost everybody else has decided to leave. I welcomed in my residence in Washington, upon their return from Tripoli, the two American journalists whom our diplomats in Libya helped free from the prisons of Kadhafi. I will never forget the gratitude of the two young journalists and their parents, as the two recounted their heart-wrenching escape from Libya. They praised the courage and professionalism of the Hungarian diplomats, who simply did the right thing when help was needed.

Transatlantic relations will hollow out unless those who believe in their inherent value keep reiterating its merits, global relevance and national significance. Past ambassadors of our countries have been outstanding promoters of this idea and it is my hope that those who will come after us will build on this legacy and keep the transatlantic flame alive.

Benjamin Franklin once said: “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” In this spirit, let us continue to reach out to one another, learn from one another and approach one another with patience, respect, humility and a spirit of friendship."

May 10, 2012