Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Amb. András Simonyi (Former Hungarian Ambassador to the USA)

11.05.2011 - Interviewed conducted by the ICD News Team

Q1. Regarding the new Hungarian law on media, the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was dismayed at the intervention of the European Union in the political affairs of Hungary. Do you share this point of view that the EU should respect some aspects of sovereignty?

I think they are certain things, but if our common values seem to be hurt, I think the EU has a right and responsibility to voice its disagreement.

Q2. Where would you say this responsibility begins and ends?

We are a community of countries who share the same set of values. If those values seem to suffer, then I think the community has to stand up and say it loud and clear. I don’t want to go into the details of this but I think unfortunately the EU has no mechanism to deal with problems like this. I think that it’s surprising that it did intervene, but it’s also surprising that it doesn’t have the means to influence this in a proper way. I think that’s a lesson learned for the EU. Maybe the Hungarian media should trigger a discussion inside the EU to find ways to deal with issues like that. I think it does not infringe upon the sovereignty of any country. I also think it is important that we stick to our values.  Freedom of speech and the independence of the Union as one of the core values of our society that has to stay that way.

Q3. The Hungarian presidency of the EU will end in June. With all the turmoil surrounding the new constitution of Hungary, do you see these past few months as having benefited the country and if so, for what reasons?

You studied the Hungarian situation well. The Hungarian presidency is pretty successful in terms of professionalism and in terms of how my fellow colleagues, the Hungarian diplomats, managed this. In terms of organization and in terms of providing a platform for debate on several issues, it is almost a flawless presidency. I’m just sorry the media law and the complications surrounding the constitution have overshadowed the Hungarian presidency.

Q4. Personally, would you be in support of the new constitution?

I personally am not in support of the new constitution, not the way it was managed. I am in support of having to have to change the constitution but I would have preferred a much wider debate. The constitution is a long term thing.  Preferably it should stay for two hundred years, like the American constitution. That demands a full consensus across the board, a popular consensus. The constitution is good and strong when it is supported by the majority of the population because it has to be a constitution which serves the interests of most Hungarians. So therefore, I would have preferred to do it differently.  I want Hungary to be one of the countries who show examples to the others how democracy should be run and managed. That is the angle from which I judge the new constitution and it was a pity it was done during the Hungarian presidency.

Q5. Considering the borders of Hungary, would you consider the integration of countries such as Croatia and the Balkans into the EU as a positive thing for all involved?

I believe that enlargement is the best thing that happened to the EU and I think we should continue to enlarge the EU. It is a positive thing. We have to make sure that the countries that come in are well prepared, fully prepared. Sometimes in the past we allowed certain things not to happen before membership and I don’t think that should happen in the future.

Q6. What are your views on Turkey joining the EU?

I am in favor of Turkey joining but they have to get their external problems, questions related to their democratic institutions and the disparity between rich and poor, out of the way. But I do think Turkey is an asset for Europe and I would like to see Turkey within the EU.

Q7. We talked before about membership in institutions such as NATO and the EU as a symbol of power itself.  How is there power in such members?

I was explaining in my lecture that I see power, hard power/soft power as not totally separated. I see it as a spectrum. One end has hard power, the other has soft and in between you have hard-soft power and soft-hard power. In this spectrum I think the attraction of membership is very important with either hard-soft power or soft-hard power tools. It will make countries do the right things in preparation for membership.

Q8. There seem to be countries that are more reluctant to use hard power, while there are other countries, such as the US, which use both of them. How does this fit into your “Spectral Power”?

These are two different issues we are talking about. The possibility of membership is placed in this spectral power. I don’t believe that countries should be choosing between hard power and soft power like some countries do. There are countries who can wield their soft power more than they can wield their hard power, because of history and because of capabilities. But I think every country in our community should contribute to both. What I was talking about in my speech is that I don’t accept that there is an American side of the spectrum and that the Europeans do the soft power part of the spectrum. I think we should be doing both. I would argue that our countries, our nations, our populations have lost their appetite for the use of hard power. But the problems that have to be faced through hard power tools have not gone away and I think we have to be aware of the fact that it is not going to happen anytime soon so we will have to build our hard power assets. On the either hand, all of our nations need to be able to figure how to yield soft power tools in a much better way.

Q9. Hard power costs money. What does that mean in terms of, for example, the fact that Albania cannot practice its hard power as much as the US can, but they can yield their soft power? Can we compare those two countries again in terms of soft power through the spectrum of economy?

I think wielding any power has a cost to it. It turns out wielding hard power probably costs more. I would say that countries that have both should make sure they create the popular foundations of support to be able to wield both. What I said is that countries that have more soft power tools than hard power tools, should probably wield their soft power more. I want to make sure we are not drawing a line between countries who wield their soft power and those who only wield hard power. Let’s face it; the US has the capability of wielding both. And I think we Europeans also need to have the capability to wield both.  I am a strong advocate of looking at this in its complexity and as a whole. It is important to bring in the economic element. Economy plays a role so I am looking at the concept of spectral power - we have already decided that the next big thing we have to do is do the mathematics. Sometimes, interestingly enough, what you are saving by not using hard power might not really be a saving. And wielding your soft power may not be a saving after all if it doesn’t do the job. So it still remains to be figured out how to do the mathematics. I think we can find a mathematical model which will give us the return of inequity.  Unless you do this in a spectral logic, you cannot make that calculation.

Q10. With regards to soft power, it does not necessarily need to be connected to economy itself as you personally exhibited while serving as Ambassador to the US. You appeared on the popular show the Colbert Report - is this a new way for diplomacy, by engaging more with the grassroots of a foreign country?

There was an interesting discussion today in our panel discussion about whether we can take the relationship between the US and Europe for granted. I don’t think so. In this relationship there is no place for hard power but there is a lot of room for soft power. So if you like, the way to rebuild the relationship, the way to strengthen the foundations of the trans-Atlantic community is really through soft power tools. That is what I did. I come from a small country and there are 196 countries represented in Washington. I had to find a way to make my country visible in Washington. That is why I combined traditional diplomatic tools with, outside the box diplomatic tools if you like. Appearing on the show was pretty unconventional but I think these are some of the things I am advocating in terms of using power. Don’t just rely on the traditional use of power. Look at it in a fresh way. And I think it will then make it possible for us to use our assets more effectively. For me it was also an economic calculation. How much money would I have to spend on professional media experts to get the same result as going on the Colbert Report?-tens of millions. Diplomats should look for platforms. The Colbert show was fun, amazing, but was also a platform to present my country.

Q11. You are a musician in the band, called ‘The Coalition of the Willing’. As a politician and a musician, how did you come to choose such a name?

The other members of the bands were either officials of the US administration or former officials. In the rest of the band we had two Republicans and two Democrats. And interestingly enough, the person who came up with the name was someone who was a Democrat, and wasn’t very supportive of the coalition of the willing in Iraq. It didn’t matter. Our message was that music can cut across political convictions and political ideas. We meant it to be a message that you do not need to take everything so seriously. As an Ambassador I took the real coalition of the willing very seriously. Hungary was part of the coalition, was in Iraq, but on the other hand why should we not try to be funny?

Thank you for your time.