I remember empty shops and empty streets – except for tear gas.
Let us face the future together.
Interview with His Excellency Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Hungary, Mr Gajus Scheltema
Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska: Your international career is impressive. Just to mention a few functions: You became a Dutch Ambassador in Hungary in August 2013, before that you were an ambassador in Islamabad, in Amman in Jordan, Consul General in New York, Political Advisor, Commander RC South, Kandahar Afghanistan and Charge d’ Affaires/Ambassador in Bratislava, Slovakia. And Poland. What are your impressions about CEE countries and the transformation they went through from your professional international perspective?
I moved to Poland as a young secretary of Embassy in 1982, one month after the Martial Law coup of general Jaruzelski, that brought Solidarity down. Those were very trying times for the Poles and I remember empty shops and empty streets – except for tear gas…It is very hard to imagine now how the situation was at that time, and not just in Poland but everywhere behind the Iron Curtain. Memory has a tendency to become complacent with the past and we often forget the worst experiences – probably a good thing.
It was also frustrating for western diplomats as we could do little to help. But then the changes came, rather unexpectedly, and it is now really impossible to compare the situation of today with that of 30+ years ago. There are few if any regions in the world where developments changed the economy, the political scene and culture so drastically as over here in such a short period. This too, we tend to forget. But I admire what Hungary has achieved, what we achieved together.
Hungary and the Netherlands have had diplomatic relations since 1921, when embassies were opened in both countries. But the relations between both countries started much earlier since the Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter’s liberation of 26 Hungarian Protestant preachers from slavery in 1676. How would you assess Dutch-Hungarian political relationships now?
Well, we are both EU members and NATO Allies, so we have come a long way closer again over the past 25 years! We meet each other practically daily in Brussels and elsewhere, we have been working together in Afghanistan until recently, as said, our bonds are close in economic and cultural fields and we share a lot of common history. Now, we have to face common challenges again, those of migration, of human trafficking, and tendencies to unravel the European common values and thoughts. These are difficult times and prone to populist and dangerously simplified views. Sometimes I think we sound like spoilt children: we never had it so good and yet we don’t realize it. I am a strong believer in the European concept and the peace and prosperity that this brought. It irritates me enormously when politicians are continuously criticizing Brussels while they hold up their hands for more funds. So we need to join hands even firmer and combat the negative developments challenging us.
Cultural relations with Hungary are a priority in Dutch international cultural policy. Your Embassy staged the ‘Nincs Lehetetlen – Holland Kultfeszt’: the biggest foreign cultural event of the year in Hungary in 2009, which attracted considerable media attention. In 2010 your embassy focused on the southern city of Pécs, which was a European capital of culture in that year. You support various cultural, musical and fashion initiatives. What initiatives are you most proud of and why cultural relations with Hungary are a priority?
You are right, we regularily give focus to our cultural side of the relations! Last year, we organised a whole series of cultural events under the banner of DACS-Hollandia, Királyság! This included a strong Dutch focus at the Budapest Design week, shows such as the one of Photographer Erwin Olaf in Modem in Debrecen, classical, jazz and popmusic and above all the spectacular exhibition on Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age of painting in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. But we also like to focus on cultural aspects that are at a crosssection with other disciplines, such as cycling, and architecture/urban planning. We are proud that we have so much to offer and that Hungary is actually very receptive of our views. Several architects left their landmarks in the city, and every summer a young Dutch invasion comes to enjoy the Sziget festival. And cultural exchange works both ways: think e.g. about famous composer and conductor Iván Fischer in the Netherlands, a recently set-up Magyár Nota Foundation to promote Hungarian gypsy/folkloristic music, or the influence of Vilmos Huszár on Dutch pre-war painting!
The Netherlands is one of the biggest investors in Hungary. How many Dutch companies are there in Hungary and in what sectors?
Yes, we are actually number 3 or 4 in Hungary, depending a bit on how you count. Most big investors moved in in the early ‘90s already and only a few left again. They range from the big multinationals such as Shell and Unilever, Philips, Aegon, Heineken and the ING bank, to small companies active in components, bicycle production, agricultural machineries as well as some farmers (although only a few of the latter, compared to for instance in Poland). We see the Dutch here investing in chemicals (DSM), in insurance (NN), in car leasing (Leaseplan) and in employment (Randstad).
What message would you like to share with my audience at the end of this interview?
A message of European unity, of solidarity with each other and with people that are in distress, as Hungarians once were themselves. Let us face the future together, not by closing ourselves off from reality and the rest of the world, but by taking the lead in new developments and opening ourselves to beneficial new influxes. We are the vanguard of the world and should be proud of this!
Text and photos: Communications-Unlimited.nl
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- Visiting H.E. Gajus Scheltema, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Hungary
- I BIKE BUDAPEST and the Dutch Ambassador Gajus Scheltema