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“If I Can Make It There, I’m Gonna Make It Anywhere” – Interview With Ferenc Kumin Consul General Of Hungary In New York City

Hungary Today 2015.01.17.

Mr. Consul General, Hungarians in the New York area seemed to have supported and welcomed your appointment to your new post. How have these past few months unfolded for you?

The few weeks prior to our departure, the preparations, the exams and all the packing have amounted to intense work. Since I arrived along with my family, beyond my regular duties, I had to pay attention to winding up our regular life in Budapest and carrying on in New York. Considering all these challenges, I should say that our move has worked out well.

Have you been to New York for longer periods of time before? How do you like this city?

I have not spent longer periods in New York City before, I only paid brief professional visits here. It is not easy to talk about New York in just a few sentences, but I should note that it has not been a culture shock for us to move here. The average citizen in Budapest should not worry about any major lifestyle changes in New York, or in any other larger American city. However, New York cannot be compared to Budapest. We can instantly be reminded of the old new york cliché saying that the „city never sleeps”. It pulsates, vibrates and poses challenges to the average citizen. I think I now understand Frank Sinatra’s infamous lines from the song New York, New York: „if I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere.”

From the aspect of the Hungarian-American community, to what extent to you consider New York City as a hub for Hungarian Americans?

Very much so. New York has always been an important destination point for Hungarian emigrants. However, it is not only New York, but the entire tri-state area of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey where we assist the Hungarian community. We also cover more distant states and locations, such as Maine, Minnesota and Missouri, just to mention three of these. Our system of honorary consuls help us greatly in serving those requiring any assistance.


As we all know, relations between the United States and Hungary have been occasionally strained during recent years. What are the reasons for this? How can relations be improved? 

This question is very complex and poses a challenge for all of us in the diplomatic community. Our responsibility is that these momentary setbacks should not burden our otherwise fruitful commercial and cultural ties. Americans are pragmatic people. They can distinguish between politically motivated myths and facts. It is a positive element in our relationship that Budapest is a popular destination for Americans. Those who have actually visited us in Hungary will not believe most of the silly accusations that certain interest groups and circles formulate to manipulate public opinion.

Many in the Hungarian American community feel that the majority of Hungarian Americans still support the Orbán government and they do not see any alternative political force to replace them. Moreover, they believe in the sanctity of democratic elections. In light of this, what credibility (if any) western adversaries would be able to garnish for themselves and how could they be tamed?

 I have followed a simple, but beneficial strategy, namely that we need to confront our adversaries in their own backyard where they consider themselves omnipotent. Most of our accusers and adversaries are rooted   in academic circles, by which status they attempt to lend additional credibility to their often lopsided critiques. We need a lot of patience and endurance to point out their faulty reasoning and the conclusions that they attempt to reach. Therefore, we should never attack them in person, but rather question their consclusions and reasoning. I seek credibility in the long term, which cannot afford to get into a tit for tat and it is not my style to pursue that. I am seeking forums and opportunities to discuss and explain our position. For this reason, I frequently resort to social  media and personal face-to-face meetings to fend off these attacks. The American audience typically appreciates this approach.

You have recently visited the editorial office of the New York Times, where you argued that it would be worthwhile to examine Hungarian events from both sides of the coin and not just from the aspect of the government’s adversaries. How did they receive you?

 They were surprisigly open and we had a fairly long discussion. In fact, we met twice since then. I listed all the issues that they have tackled during the second half of the year and I explained our position with respect to these. I did not confront their opinion directly on the issues, but pointed out certain errors pertaining to their methodology and the bibliography they have used. They were cooperative and occasionally admitted their mistakes. Those who know the reputability of the New York Times know that this is a great accomplishment.

How do you rate the Hungarian government’s lobby efforts in America? Other nations seemed to have done a better job explaining their government’s policies. Critiques have been voiced that the Hungarian government’s diplomatic efforts during the previous cycle were ineffective and weak. With the appointment of Réka Szemerkényi as ambassador, perhaps now there is an opportunity to neutralize some of these unjustified attacks, such as the one recently carried out by John McCain. What is your view on this? 

We need to realize the limits of any diplomatic mission. Yet, I believe that we can step out of our passive mode as long as we are disciplined and prudent in our reasoning. I have learned a lot from the previous ambassador during my interaction with him in the past. On the other hand, Réka Szemerkényi was my colleague at the Prime Minister’s office, we know each other well and I believe that her appointment is an astute decision, since she is a true U.S. policy expert who can navigate well in American government circles with respect to our bilateral relations. I expect to work well with her in tandem on the east coast and elsewhere.

How do you see the strenghts and weaknesses of the Hungarian American community?

First, I don’t think we can perceive of them as a homogeneous group. They migrated to America during different historical times and for different reasons. They all have legitimate gripes and stories to tell that arches through generations. There is a common denominator, however, namely that their adjustment to their new home base have amounted to a long-enduring process that perhaps made them more resilient and resourceful. This energy feeds the boy scouts, their local organizational efforts, as well as Hungarian schools and churches. We hope that their efforts will pay off and the subsequent generations of Hungarian-Americans will also be able to profit from their community spirit.

What are some of your goals and what are the expectations of the Hungarian foreign policy leadership?

My assignments and my personal ambitions are in unison with each other. The foreign policy direction of Hungary is to stress economic, scientific and cultural diplomacy. This is valid not only in the United States, but globally as well. My goal is to portray a more positive side of Hungary during my New York years.

Thank you for responding to our questions and we wish you a successful tenure, which can also bear positive results for the Hungarian community as a whole both in the United States and in Hungary!

Adam Topolansky

photo: kormany.hu


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