Earlier this month, Hungary At the moment had the chance to interview April H. Foley, the USA Ambassador to Hungary from 2006 to 2009. Prior to her service as ambassador, Foley held, amongst different distinguished positions, the position of Vice-Chairman of the Export-Import Financial institution of america. She at present serves because the Chair of the Board of the Hungary Initiatives Basis and is a member of the Associates of Hungary Group.
This interview has been edited for concision and readability
How did you turn out to be the Ambassador to Hungary?
I went to Harvard Enterprise Faculty with George W. Bush. As you recognize, I’m a political appointee, so I used to be pleasant with George Bush throughout our time at Harvard and we remained associates all through the years. He needed to have a lot of gifted ladies in his administration. First, I used to be vice-chairman of the Export-Import Financial institution of the US, which took benefit of my enterprise background. Then he stated he needed me to be an envoy and gave me nations to select from and I made a decision on Hungary.
Did you study Hungarian both earlier than or throughout your time within the nation? The present British Ambassador, Iain Lindsay, is fairly well-liked due to the movies of him citing Hungarian poetry.
Nicely, as I’m a political appointee and the coaching interval for us is a lot shorter, not sufficient. I did study fairly a lot of the language, however principally solely greetings. I attempted to use as a lot Hungarian as I might.
Do you continue to go to Hungary typically? What do you miss probably the most and least concerning the nation?
I spent three years in Hungary, so in fact one of many issues I miss most is the buddies I made. I acquired to know some individuals very properly and I’m very keen on them. I discovered Hungarians to be well-educated, articulate, shiny, enjoyable, humorous, witty and simply a delight to be with. So in fact, it’s the friendships that I miss probably the most. However I additionally miss simply being within the streets of Budapest. It’s simply so lovely, particularly its structure and the little particulars you possibly can observe as you drive by means of the town. There’s all the time one thing to see. For instance, even the fences in Budapest are so beautiful and delightful. I’m going again to Hungary pretty steadily. I’ve to say that since I left the town in 2009, Hungary has turn into a very affluent nation. The federal government has put financial insurance policies into place which were very profitable and it has invested a few of these proceeds in the direction of revitalizing Budapest. So, I feel Budapest is now extra lovely than ever; it’s simply a dazzling metropolis. I’ve taken some journeys to different capitals alongside the Danube, and Budapest is by far probably the most lovely. I assume what I don’t miss is the scaffolding. For years there was scaffolding on Matthias Church and the Parliament and now that it’s gone, you possibly can recognize the true great thing about the buildings.
You’re nonetheless engaged with Hungarian-related organizations. Might you describe how these alternatives happened and what you’d do to strengthen Hungarian-US ties?
Sure. I’m concerned with the Hungary Initiatives Basis. It’s a corporation that’s doing fantastic work and I chair it. We primarily help the schooling of Hungarians in america. The very fact of the matter is that there are a lot of very, very gifted Hungarian college students and students and they’re stepping into the perfect faculties now, together with Harvard, Yale and Stanford. Nevertheless, the monetary package deal ceaselessly isn’t as full correctly. So we complement their monetary package deal to make it attainable for them to come to the USA and research right here. Principally, we’re supporting graduate schooling. We additionally help fellowships and internships. I assume it’s our feeling that in Washington DC, Hungary is underrepresented. It doesn’t have as broad a community inside the influential Washington group as one may assume, and it could breed misconceptions about Hungary. Different nations have spent extra money on creating networks of friendships. We deliver individuals over for what we expect is a significant period of time—so not for 2 weeks or a month, however for six months or a yr—and we get them into packages which are schooling or work centered. This typically includes assume tanks which assist the members find out how thought management works in Washington DC. They’re constructing friendships and creating their very own relationships and networks they will construct on later, even when again in Hungary. We expect it will improve understanding and strengthen the people-to-people relationship between the 2 nations.
Are you working with different Hungarian organizations within the US? Foundations, Associations or Hungarian Homes?
We additionally do some Diaspora work. Nevertheless, I might say a lot of the Diaspora work is now completed by the Bethlen Gábor Basis, which is a fantastic basis and they’re doing excellent work. The federal government of Hungary has actually nice views on the several types of work that wants to be accomplished right here and they’re making an attempt to create areas of experience and make it possible for the organizations aren’t overlapping one another. So there’s readability about every one’s doing.
Again to your work as ambassador, how would you describe your expertise? What sort of difficulties did you might have?
One of the troublesome issues I confronted was making an attempt to get the Visa Waiver Program. On the time, Hungary actually needed to have this system. Their place was that they’re members of the European Union and different members should not have to have a visa once they go to the USA, so why ought to they? I’ve to admit that I used to be type of skeptical once I first discovered this was one thing that the Hungarians actually needed. I used to be additionally skeptical of my potential to make it occur as a result of it required an Act of Congress and I used to be in Budapest. I labored very arduous with the embassy and the Ministry of Overseas Affairs in Hungary. Additionally George W. Bush visited Hungary in 2006, and he turned satisfied that this was a mandatory and necessary factor to do. When he obtained behind getting Hungary into the Visa Waiver Program, it turned a lot simpler to get an Act of Congress. It requires a lot of convincing getting something to the Congress; it is all the time a troublesome physique to work with. Each Hungary and I have been very completely happy with the result. There have been many conditions prior to now that created dangerous emotions, however getting the nation into this system is nice for Hungarians and People as properly.
Do you contemplate this your largest success as ambassador?
Sure, undoubtedly. I’m additionally very pleased with one other venture, the Pápa air base. There was a new C17 program for these heavy-lift plane and the commander of Ramstein air base very a lot needed it in Germany and the Romanians needed it in Romania. Hungary had the Pápa air base, a lovely, well-maintained one, however it hadn’t been used. The federal government needed it put to use and I fought very arduous to get this system to Hungary and was profitable. That required a lot of labor with the Ministry of Protection, NATO Allies and Washington.
Have been there any controversies surrounding you throughout your time as ambassador? I’ve seen some criticism and unfavorable media claiming that you simply consulted extra with the opposition—which was Fidesz on the time—than the federal government officers.
Sure, in fact there have been controversies. I needed to have stability and conversations with the political events. And at the moment, there have been many political events in Hungary. I hung out with and tried to pay attention to all of them, hear their level of views and study what their interpretations have been of the occasions of the day in Hungary. A part of the job of the embassy is to hold Washington knowledgeable about related info. You possibly can’t do this pretty until you’re very related with a broad spectrum. The very fact of the matter is that I labored intently with the federal government of Hungary and spent probably the most time with the Minister of Protection and the Overseas Ministry.
You stated in an interview that the job of an envoy is necessary and wishes to be crammed. Nevertheless, the place hasn’t been crammed for greater than a yr. How do you are feeling about it? Do you assume it’s higher to have a political diplomat in Hungary?
I used to be towards it. It is actually necessary to have an envoy in place. I do know that Ambassador Cornstein, who had gone by means of the entire course of, additionally knew, however he simply couldn’t get his Senate affirmation for numerous political causes. Within the meantime, issues have been considerably adrift. I used to be a political ambassador and I had a good relationship with President Bush; I knew him and will name him on the telephone. Ambassador Cornstein has a good relationship with President Trump. He is aware of him rather well, and that’s necessary for a nation. Issues are altering fairly a bit, which, for my part, makes it extra essential to have a political ambassador.
I do know there is a utterly totally different administration now than there was throughout your time as an envoy, however how do you view the connection between the US and Hungary now as in contrast to then? The Guardian wrote that “Trump has broken with his two predecessors—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—by engaging Orbán, rather than trying to isolate him.”
I feel we’re in a new period on the planet and it’s an period of nice energy competitors and what we, the US, are seeing is that different nice powers are competing for Hungary. All of them need extra affect in and relations with Hungary. Beforehand, the USA wasn’t essentially strengthening the friendship between the 2 nations and its strategy was too important and judgmental. I feel now, on this new period, we now have determined that the job of the embassy is to make a good friend of Hungary and to hold it shut to us. So meaning we had to change our strategy and be much less important. I feel Ambassador Cornstein is doing a nice job reflecting that change and bringing Hungary nearer to the US. He additionally holds a nice deal of respect for Hungary’s sovereignty. Which means there are specific selections that belong to Hungary and the US shouldn’t intrude with them. It’s a robust stability to strike, however I feel it’ll create a higher friendship in the long run and that’s fascinating.
As you stated, the US Embassy views a lot of issues as Hungarian home points and doesn’t need to intrude, however certainly, the embassy—and also you as former ambassador—have an opinion about Central European College leaving Hungary. Rector Michael Ignatieff wrote that “CEU has been forced out,” whereas the federal government commented on it as “political bluff” and stated they don’t need to deal with it. What is your response to this?
Once I was ambassador, the US Embassy labored with CEU on a number of occasions. A lot of their infrastructure and academic packages will stay in Budapest, so there’ll nonetheless be alternatives to cooperate with CEU. Nevertheless, I don’t assume this is about educational freedom and I feel there was a truthful quantity of misinterpretation within the press. I feel Ambassador Cornstein made an essential analogy when he referenced his profession as a small jewellery boutique operator inside a giant division retailer. He knew when he entered into this association that managing his relationship with the division retailer can be the important thing to his success. He couldn’t achieve success with his jewellery retailer until he maintained good working relations with the division retailer. I feel this knowledge was someway misplaced when CEU put collectively its negotiating technique. I feel that’s unlucky.
What is your opinion concerning the illustration of Hungary within the US press? They’re moderately important of the Hungarian authorities and Prime Minister Orbán.
And that’s unlucky. I lately learn an article the place they wrote that Orbán is a predictor and his positions are extra reflective of the longer term than different leaders’. He type of anticipates and I used to be completely happy to see somebody recognizing that attribute. He has the potential to perceive which method the political winds are blowing. I’m hoping that sooner or later, the Hungary Initiatives Basis will probably be in a position to work out methods to foster extra journalistic involvement between the 2 nations. With higher connections and higher understanding in journalistic circles, we will extra adequately navigate the nuances of what is happening in Hungary and the USA.
With the newly shaped media basis in Hungary and the closure of a number of the largest opposition newspapers and information portals, some argue that this is the top of freedom of the press in Hungary.
Properly, I do know there’s been a lot of dialogue surrounding the subject these days. Nevertheless, I learn the Hungarian press day-after-day and there is all the time preventing. This aspect is bashing that aspect and that aspect is bashing the opposite. So, no matter what is happening behind the scenes in possession and issues like that, there is nonetheless a actual variety of voices within the Hungarian press for my part. As a matter of reality, I used to be to see that after the Hungarian election, OECD, who monitored the Hungarian elections, stated—and I agree—that the extreme arguments and debates within the press have been so extreme and distracting that in some instances it was troublesome to see what the actual points have been. And I assumed: “Wait a minute; this is not the picture of a country lacking freedom of the press or the media.”
Reporting and translation by Fanni Kaszás
Pictures: Vivien Cher Benkő, from a earlier interview with April H. Foley.
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