Consul General of Hungary in Poland, Prof. Adrienne Körmendy, began her mission at the Consulate General of Hungary in Cracow in March 2014. She is a graduate of Eötvös Lóránd University in Budapest. She earned a PhD in historical sciences in Hungary and a postdoctoral degree (habilitation) at the Institute of History of the University of Warsaw. For many years she was involved in building Polish-Hungarian friendship. In our interview, she talks about Polish-Hungarian solidarity, cooperation between both countries, and challenges for the future.
Berenika Grabowska: How did you find out that you were going on a mission to Cracow? Was it a surprise for you?
Adrienne Körmendy: I was just on my way to Poland in the summer of 2013 when Zsolt Németh, former Secretary of State at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called me to inform that the Consulate General of Hungary in Cracow would be reopened and Minister János Martonyi was going to appoint me as the Consul General. He asked if I would accept the assignment and with great emotion, I gave the Minister a positive answer. Years spent in Cracow were the best period of my professional life, even though they were associated with hard work, which nevertheless brought me tremendous satisfaction, a lot of joy, and above all – real friends.
I entered diplomacy in 1990 – just after returning from West Germany and Vienna where I won the Humboldt scholarship – thanks to Professor Gyorgy Szabad, the president of the first democratic parliament of Hungary, and Ákos Engelmayer, the first ambassador of democratic and sovereign Hungary to Poland. In 2004, I decided to end my service in the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was related to the results of the 2002 election, but I was still “socially” active in building good Polish-Hungarian relations, trying to serve the cause if needed. Professionally, however, I focused on the academic career – in Hungary, in addition to my PhD, I gained a degree of a “candidate in historical sciences” while in Poland I hold a postdoctoral degree (habilitation) at the Institute of History of the University of Warsaw. Thanks to the fact that in 2004 our countries became members of the EU, I was able to teach in Poland – at the University of Warsaw and at the Aleksander Gieysztor Academy of Humanities – while still living permanently in Budapest.
Why the interest in Poland? What inspired you?
My family had a lively tradition of respect and appreciation for the Poles, seeing them as noble, idealistic, and exemplary people. During the war, my family helped the Poles living in Hungary. However, my professional interest in Poland appeared later, as a result of the topic of my master’s thesis. I started to study history and follow medieval studies. I was inspired by István Bibó’s book The Poverty of Eastern European Small States. I wanted to discover the solid foundations of the structure within which historical processes took place to understand the history of our region. In my master’s thesis I dealt with the history of settlement in the northern territories of the Regnum Hungariae (Kingdom of Hungary) in the 13th – 14th centuries, a part of a huge settlement process taking place on the area stretching from the Netherlands to Lithuania and Transylvania. This required me to know Polish. As a result, I started to work hard to quickly learn how to read in Polish. A few years later I received a one-year UNESCO scholarship at the Institute of History of the University of Warsaw. This is how my adventure with Poland began.
You have done a lot to build Polish-Hungarian friendship. What was the most important for you during your mission in Cracow?
The main difference between the embassy and the consulate is that the former is supposed to represent the interests of the sending country in the host country while the latter devotes its activities to the matters of citizens (natural or legal persons). The consulate general – as part of its duty to represent the interests of its own citizens – should try to create the best possible mutual contacts in such domains as social sphere, culture, trade, economy, tourism, etc. Geopolitical and historical conditions show that good relations between the countries belonging to this region, including Poland and Hungary, depend on our ability to build and develop close intellectual-spiritual and economic-infrastructural ties. Establishing such relations, resistant to political and economic shocks, always requires the will and support of broad social strata. I believed that my most vital task was to awaken in people the internally existing need to strengthen the ties with Hungary – which is not always conscious – and then to develop them. The consular district of the Consulate General of Hungary in Cracow, in addition to Małopolskie, covers the provinces of Lower Silesia, Opolskie, Silesia, Świętokrzyskie, and Podkarpackie, so those regions of the Republic of Poland that have had the most intense trade, economic, social, and political links with Hungary over the centuries. Here you can often find evidence of these interactions, even in the most unexpected places. Art can reach deep layers of memory and sentiment. Music, fine arts, and dance constitute a universal language, equally understandable for the Poles and the Hungarians. For this reason, in the beginning, I focused attention on cultural relations, thanks to which social contacts developed quickly, serving already a good foundation for the intense development of contacts in spheres like tourism, trade, and economy.
How do the Hungarians perceive the Poles nowadays? Does Poland spark interest among your compatriots?
The Hungarians have always considered the Poles a noble nation, as noble people, exemplary gentlemen and patriots, and true, proven friends. “A Pole and a Hungarian – in each other’s company – are better people, a better Pole and a better Hungarian,” President János Áder said in his speech in Katowice in 2015. After the establishment of Solidarity in 1980, the propaganda machine of János Kádár tried to slander the Poles in the eyes of the Hungarians, but it failed to do so, although some effects could be noticed. Today, the Hungarians admire the Poles for their energy, entrepreneurship, and ingenuity, appreciating how quickly they were able to emerge from the crisis of the 1980s and build a rapidly developing country. At the same time, the Hungarians hope that together with the Poles they will defend a Europe of values.
The Polish-Hungarian friendship was cultivated by both countries in every century. The Poles mostly remember Hungary’s help during the Polish-Bolshevik war. Thanks to the supply of ammunition it was possible to defend Warsaw. Which Polish aid do the Hungarians remember best?
The struggle of Polish troops for the freedom of Hungary in 1848-49 and the activity of General Józef Bem (for the Hungarians – “Father Bem”) are a permanent element of Hungarian historical and social memory. All demonstrations in solidarity with the Poles or protests against foreign interference in the sovereignty of Poland or Hungary took place and are still taking place at the Bem monument. The Hungarians remember the solidarity and help of the Poles during the 1956 uprising very well. The image of the Pole as a true friend has recently been strengthened when several hundred Poles came to Budapest on March 15, 2012, to participate in a peaceful rally where several hundred thousand people gathered to express solidarity with the Hungarians.
The period of communism was a significant moment of mutual solidarity and help between the two nations. The Poles had a great influence on the development of the Hungarian opposition, its program and the way of thinking. The heroic rally of the Poles in the anti-communist rebellion in Poznań in June 1956 and that of the Hungarians’ during the uprising in Hungary in October and November 1956 once again intertwined the history of both nations. Would you agree that we do not talk enough about Polish-Hungarian solidarity and we should refer to it more often?
I have already quoted the words of President János Áder showing how much positive energy lies in this unique quality of Polish-Hungarian contacts. You have beautifully mentioned Hungary’s help during the Polish-Bolshevik war while I would like to recall September 1939, when Hitler demanded that Hungary allowed German troops attacking Poland to pass through its territory. Then Pál Teleki, Prime Minister of Hungary, with the consent of Regent Horthy, categorically refused to do so. “It is a matter of national honor for Hungary not to take part in any military action against Poland,” he wrote. Teleki and Horthy did not know how Hitler would react to such an attitude and whether this refusal would be followed by occupation of Hungary. On the other hand, they knew that Hungarian society was in favor of their decision and preferred the occupation to the loss of honor due to the betrayal of a friend. Nowadays, if we ask the Hungarians what is a concrete, substantial advantage gained by “rocking the spheres of ideals” and bringing up the nation in the spirit of friendship to another nation, as was the case of Hungary and Poland, they would give the example of 1939 as proof of this attitude. I believe, therefore, that we should talk more about Polish-Hungarian solidarity. We should come back to it more often, not only because of the need to strengthen our self-complacency, but in order to educate the next generations in the same spirit. Likewise, to preserve this unusual, extensive ideological and political capital for them too. As President Áder said in Katowice “only a nation that can look beyond its own interests has a future.”
You know the Polish-Hungarian relations very well, not only from the academic, historical and social point of view, but above all from personal experience. In your opinion – are there any challenges in Polish-Hungarian cooperation?
The first challenge is that we – the Hungarians and the Poles – must remember the historical necessity of permanent and strategic cooperation, which does not mean that we always have to do the same and have the same opinions on all issues, but that we build a deep, mutual trust and always coordinate our activities in such a way that they contribute to strengthening the position of the partner and help to achieve a common goal. We must be aware that the weakness of Hungary or Poland always means a great danger for the other country even if we were promised to benefit from it because it would significantly worsen the geopolitical conditions of the entire region. The second challenge is to intensify economic cooperation even more, both at the level of small and medium-sized enterprises and in terms of high-tech development. Furthermore, the cooperation should help Polish and Hungarian companies to become major enterprises on the global market. Last but not least, I indicate, in my opinion, the basic challenge that is the sine qua non of efficient cooperation: developing energy and communication infrastructure in terms of air, road, rail and water transport. The work has already started, the will to pursue the goal consistently and to cooperate wisely to succeed is needed. As Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said “Central Europe exists in our hearts and minds, in art and literature, it is high time that we also realize it in material reality.”
What is the potential of the Three Seas Initiative and what can we do to develop this project?
When we talk about the necessity of strategic cooperation between Poland and Hungary, from a historical perspective it has to be understood as the need of cooperation among the regions between the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic Sea, thus regions located both north and south of the Carpathian Mountains. For several hundred years, especially during the period when our countries were experiencing a boom, these regions were located on the territories of two countries, Poland and Hungary, which were cooperating closely. Today, in the south there are already seven countries. Since one of the most significant conditions for the rapid development of Central and Eastern Europe is the organic cooperation of the whole region, the collaboration between Poland and Hungary is fundamental, but not sufficient enough. The Hungarian government is aware of this, therefore the goal of Hungary’s active policy in Central Europe is to rebuild the harmonious cooperation and synergy of the countries of the Carpathian Basin, mainly in economic terms. Consequently, the Hungarian efforts go perfectly with the Three Seas Initiative, especially since the Hungarian government considers the development of transport and energy infrastructure its primary goal while the Three Seas Initiative has declared this its central task. Accordingly, it is essential to do everything to speed up the implementation of these plans and to create long-term, favorable political conditions for the Three Seas Initiative in all countries of the region. Within the framework of this project it is vital to build real trust among the countries located south of the Carpathian Mountains. Poland has a great responsibility to convince itself and its partners about the need for the Three Seas Initiative as well as to emphasize that the goal of an active Central European policy of the Hungarian government is not to rebuild the so-called Greater Hungary – as some Polish analysts also suppose – but to reconstruct the Central and Eastern Europe, in which no nation dominates, but they respect each other. The Three Seas Initiative, which focuses on building infrastructure that connects the countries of the region, creates favorable conditions for the nations to get rid of their fears, thus releasing the powerful energy that has been long stuck among the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. As a result, one of the themes of Polish-Hungarian strategic cooperation should be to coordinate efforts for the effectiveness of the Three Seas Initiative.
As a Consul General you were also committed to the development and promotion of the cultures of both countries. What connects the Poles and the Hungarians? Can we find any common features in ourselves?
It is not easy to give a clear answer to this question. As far as the sources of these mysterious ties connecting the Poles and the Hungarians are concerned, we certainly have to search for them in shared cultural codes, mostly influenced by Christianity and adopted by the Poles and the Hungarians almost simultaneously. Implementation of the Latin rite, which brought the achievements of ancient Rome, along with its ideals and the Latin language – the official language of the Hungarian state until 1844 – affected us most. Ideals and models emerged on the basis of this Latin Christian culture. Firstly, they became standard for the Hungarians belonging to the nobility and later for all those who wanted to be part of the nation. These requirements and ideals are nearly identical for the Poles and the Hungarians: patriotism, primacy of freedom, common good and honor. Moreover, among the mutual features there is a strong sense of duty to defend the whole Europe (the Christian world) against the threat of extermination. This quality has developed gradually over the centuries as a result of the fact that Poland and Hungary – located on the periphery of Latin Europe – were the first ones to face repeated attempts of armed conquest of Europe by the aggressive Eastern powers. It is worth noting that these common traits are most evident in difficult and tragic moments, both in private life and in the history of the nation. When it was supposed that the rapid progress of post-culture had wiped out “old, unfashionable sentiments,” any tragedy of one of our nations always evoked extraordinary solidarity, generosity and readiness to help “brothers” from the other one.