Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

When is an ambassador not an ambassador?

Published on 01 November 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

Geza Jeszenszky, Hungary’s ambassador to Norway, has ticked off about 100 University teachers, students and researchers with text he used in a university text book which they think ‘stigmatises’ the Roma minority.

The textbook that is causing the ‘uproar’ was used at Budapest’s Corvinus University (BCE), but becasue of Jeszenszky’s posting in Oslo, the seminar has not been advertised for two years and the textbook is not available in bookstores.

Whether what was written is racist is the subject of a whole other blog. What has intrigued me is the Hungarian Foreign Ministry’s statement that Jeszenszky had written his remarks as a university teacher rather than as Hungary’s ambassador. Perhaps they forgot that Jeszenszky has been involved in politics for years and served as  Hungary’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1990-1994. This reads to me as an excuse. I was under the impression that ambassadors were 24/7 representatives of their state. And although the Ministry may indicate that this text was not written in an official capacity, the core values of a democratic society don’t keep office hours.

Now, I’m well used to the murky pasts of politicians being spotlighted when they seek to advance in office – but then again, most of them have been involved in politics all their lives and so many would see nothing wrong with Joe Public standing in moral judgement over the personal lives of its elected representatives. But ambassadors… people who may have had other lives, other professions, before joining the Corps – where do they stand? Is their slate wiped clean once they accept the office of ambassador and are we, the public, to understand that while they may have said one thing when lecturing at a university, they would never say it while serving as an ambassador? Does the office change the core values of a (wo)man?

Another interesting note is that made by Anton Weiss-Wendt, Head of the Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities who quoted Jeszenszky’s email to the centre, based in Norway, and said that these ‘comments are deemed uninformed, if not offensive, in this country’. Is it just me, or is there a very loud implication there that such comments are acceptable in Hungary? And if so, why didn’t the Ministry comment on that?

A final note of wonder is that had I not been idling away some time on Facebook, I’d never have seen this post on www.politics.hu and were it not for social media, I wouldn’t be doing my bit to draw attention to it now. Just a few short weeks to 21 December, to what the Mayan’s predict will be the end of the world as we know it, and I already feel it’s changed beyond recognition.

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4 replies
  1. M
    M says:

    Actually, the Ministry’s
    Actually, the Ministry’s statement simply refers to the fact that Mr Jeszenszky wrote that text in a period when he was not yet Ambassador, and wasn’t working for the Ministry either. At that time he was simply a professor at university. The second part of the same statement (see quoted article) goes on saying that he is considered by the Ministry (and by many other peolple) because of the work of an entire life, which is about nothing else than advocating the rights of all kind of minorities – and this doesn’t change because of a single sentence formulated in an unfortunate manner.

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      I still fail to see how where
      I still fail to see how where he works should be an excuse of any sort…is his position relevant to what he thinks? And doesn’t this now undermine his work as a diplomat, regardless of where he was and what he was doing when he wrote it? [Note: I’m not commenting on the substance of what he said – or his life work – but rather how his position – then and now – has come into play.]

  2. Readings
    Readings says:



    a tongue in cheek answer….

    the Mayans did not “predict” anything – they just stopped counting. Probably got tired of the game, or faced a shortage of stone (it happens). It is typical of our Western fascination for prediction that we inject millennarian meaning into what ,may have been contingence. Also our attitude has to do with our (deep-dip?) belief the in the gnostic nonsense that someone, somewhere KNOWS (we dolts don’t).

    You raise two issues

    The first one is about one’s responsibility for one’s own past. Experience is inherently transformative, hence the title of a book by Max Frisch – “Ich bin nicht Stiller” “I’m not Stiller” – which deals with the quandary of a returnee who has evolved while the community still sees him as of old. I’m not who was a minute, let alone a decade ago. Again it is our delusion that there are intentionalities that are coherent over time and/or that we can or ought control. It’s all a game of self-affirmation – we’ll sell our grandmother for it. And to buttress the myth we use affirmation bias grandly. A few remained coherent, won, and got accolades. Many remained coherent, failed, and have been forgotten. Forget it. We are lazy and expect people to act as automatons without reference to context. Checking principles against context gives us a headake. Take an aspirin :=))))

    The more interesting question is whether one can hold contradictory personas at the same time. We all do. We mostly get away with it, if we are clever (politicians are very adept at this:their charisma covers up for their lies, which the other side will expose). Contradiction lies in the complexity of reality, also in our being highly situational. Those who get caught are dumb. Before it is a crime – said Talleyrand – it is a mistake. I’d haul the guy home for having violated the first rule of diplomacy: you shall not embarass your superiors.

    But that’s my jaundiced and contrarian view…


    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Thanks Aldo… for the
      Thanks Aldo… for the reading suggestion and for the jaundiced and contrarian view. Mind you, am sure when he wrote the text, he wasn’t reporting to the FM … and that’s why I am more addled than usual.


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