Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00
Capital City Budapest
Currency Hungarian forint HUF
National Day March 15
HUNGARY’S NEW AMBASSADOR His Excellency Dr Ferenc Kumin PhD arrived in the UK in May at a deserted Luton Airport. “It was strange to see, but thankfully my team from the Embassy met me. I was fortunate because London was the only capital in Europe where you could fly directly without restrictions. Sadly, Covid-19 meant that all the usual protocols for an arriving Ambassador were cancelled, but we’ve done what we can online and on the telephone.” He’s grateful, however, to be here with his family – his children are able to complete the school term working remotely.
Since his arrival, Dr Kumin has been indulging his passion for running on London’s empty streets. He hopes to enter the London marathon later in the year. “Perhaps there are other members of the diplomatic corps interested in running too?” he comments.
Growing up in Hungary, Dr Kumin was part of “a lucky generation who didn’t have to make the difficult decisions [his] parents did of whether or not to cooperate with the ‘one-party’ system.” Indeed, his observation as a young adult of the regime change was hugely formative. “Ultimately, that’s why I’m here,” he comments.
By education, he became a political scientist, studying at various universities. “Although I was in my own city of Budapest,” he recalls, “I was studying in English in this international environment.” He clearly excelled in academia, as the Ambassador’s first professional role was in the President’s Office “in a politically turbulent period of Hungary’s recent history.” He soon moved on to the Prime Minister’s Office as Deputy Spokesperson for the government. Dealing with international media relations, he learnt from his experiences working with British journalists and “the differences between the various news outlets. He explains “In Hungary, we have a different idea of ourselves to that which is reflected in the mainstream media here. One of our greatest challenges as diplomats is to try and bring the reflection closer to the reality. We must try to use all the channels we have to demonstrate objective reporting. It’s not easy.”
A four-year period as Consul General in New York “turned [him] into a practising diplomat,” followed by two years back in Budapest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in charge of bilateral relations in Europe and North America. “A notoriously high demand office, this challenging field required a diverse approach. We have ethnic Hungarian groups in neighbouring countries that require some sensitivity, and those priorities are quite different to let’s say, dealing with the US.” During this time, he was fortunate to be part of the Prime Minister’s delegation visiting the White House. “That was a special moment.”
Late last year, he supported his Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó, on a visit to the UK. “We had a busy day visiting three members of the Cabinet, including the Foreign and Brexit Secretaries. It was an intensive introduction to the UK government for me.”
With Brexit on the horizon, the Ambassador has observed the dawn of “a new reality. We try to understand what kind of role a mid-sized central European state like ourselves would play in the UK, with its new geopolitical position. Hungary has “tried to ride the wave of the positive bilateral period that we’ve been having for the past couple of years. We believe that it is a big loss for the EU not to have the UK in its family. But we realise that this was the will of British voters, and our desire has been for fair treatment for the exiting UK. The British have been highly appreciative of our approach.”
In his current role, Dr Kumin says “the plan is to keep up the intensity of investment and trade relations. We’d certainly like to see further British investment in Hungary. New opportunities are definitely opening up.” Not to forget the significant Hungarian community living, working and studying in the UK. “A challenge for us is the logistics of how these Hungarians will live their lives when there is no longer a free flow of people as there has been while the UK was a member of the EU.”
Cultural diplomacy is also a top priority. “I would like to dedicate a whole year for Hungarian cultural attractions here in London,” the Ambassador declares. “Of course, this is not easy. We need to establish what cultural diplomacy is going to look like going forward after the current health crisis.”
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