Amb. András Simonyi (Former Hungarian Ambassador to the USA)

18.02.2011 - Interviewed conducted by Emma Lough & Moushumi Bhadra

Q1: NATO is often considered a military alliance. Does it have a strong enough focus on soft power?

No, but it should.

Q2: In what ways could it do this?

Interestingly enough, NATO could be the leader in terms of soft power - why not? I tried to explain, in my lecture, the way I see power as something with both a hard and soft component. The more room we give to soft power, the better off we would be, both in terms of acceptance by society, and financial well-being. What I’m trying to advocate is the combination of the two, which is why I don’t use the terms ‘soft power’ or ‘hard power’, I call it ‘spectral power’, which includes both of these components.

Q3: Is it your personal view that Western music encouraged the collapse of the Soviet bloc? Can music therefore define and dictate political decisions, or is it more of a complementary element?

Well, Jimmy Page [of Led Zeppelin] told me that others share my views, so that was a pretty strong confirmation that I’m right. I think rock n’ roll music changes the mindsets and influenced the thinking of young people. It acted as an agent of freedom, as a messenger from the free West to the East. It was unstoppable, it cut through the walls and the barbed wires, by way of the forbidden radio we would listen to at night, or the records we smuggled into the country, and later, simply by the fact that it was there, when Hungary was less restricted. It was still a very influential medium. In Eastern Europe, we saw that form of music as a way of sending a message to the authorities. That’s why I believe that rock n’ roll was instrumental in preparing change in Central and Eastern Europe, and bringing down the wall.

Q4: The Disney Channel recently became the most popular TV channel for children in Hungary. Is Hungarian-US cultural diplomacy a one-way affair?

A: Well if it’s a one-way affair, then it’s our problem. So Hungarians should do more about it. You don’t want to fight American culture, or any culture, but you want to make sure that you create an environment in which your own culture is competitive, interesting, exciting and cutting-edge, and people will consume it. Lousy children’s programs will not be able to stand up to the Disney Channel, period. The bottom line - don’t be afraid of American cultural imperialism.

Q5: Finally, you’ve appeared on the Colbert Report, in the US. Do you see this as an effective form - or even the future - of cultural diplomacy?

I don’t know what the future of cultural diplomacy will be, but one thing I know is that it has been an incredible tool for me. Combining the understanding of American popular culture - whether it’s music, or shows like the Colbert Report, which is seen by millions of young people every day - with my own diplomatic craftsmanship is something that has really made a difference. I don’t know if this is the future, but I wanted to make sure that people understand that when I talk about rock n’ roll and diplomacy, I use it as a metaphor. Each diplomat has to invent his or her own ‘rock n’ roll’ - rock music worked for me, so something else might work for others. The truth is that diplomacy is changing, and you have to be able to combine cultural diplomacy with traditional methods. Otherwise, not only would you be a boring diplomat, but your message would not be heard.

Thank you Ambassador Simonyi and enjoy the rest of the conference.