Colleen Graffy serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs."Hmm... Now what exactly is public diplomacy"? That is the question I am often asked.
I describe public diplomacy as the art of communicating a country's policies, values and culture to other peoples. It is an attempt to explain why we have decided on certain measures, and beyond that, to explain who we are.
My recent trip to Hungary might offer some insights into what public diplomacy is all about.
Before the trip I met with the Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S., Ambassador Dr. Ferenc Somogyi. We discussed how we might increase student exchanges--we both want more Americans coming to Hungary and more Hungarians coming to the U.S.! And we are both keen on increasing our cultural ties. Our Embassy in Budapest does a good job of bringing U.S. culture to Hungary from jazz to the Pittsburgh Symphony. Likewise the Hungarian Embassy has superb events including the recent celebration of the 70th birthday of Oscar-award winning Hungarian Director, Itzvan Szabo.
I arrived on Sunday in time to meet with the U.S. Foreign Service officers who, along with the locally engaged staff, make up the backbone of the Public Affairs team in every embassy. The Public Affairs Officer or "PAO" (everything is an acronym in the government!) in Hungary is Mike Hurley. Mike, along with the Cultural Affairs Officer (CAO) Mark Tauber and the Information Officer (IO) Jan Krc and I went over the schedule. Our combined view was that our public diplomacy efforts during my trip should be to reach out to young people and, where possible, to do so via "new" media.
The day ended with a drive up to the Ambassador’s Residence for a briefing with Ambassador April Foley. The Ambassador has been pretty tireless (according to exhausted staff!) in crisscrossing the country—no city too large or too small—to engage with the Hungarian people. View many examples...
MondayAfter meeting with the whole Public Affairs Staff to discuss the latest from Washington and to bring them up to speed on some of our new public diplomacy developments, Mike, the Embassy Driver Attila Németh (who also takes amazing pictures so we have dubbed him "The Photographer—who also drives"), Laszlo Vizsey, the Cultural Assistant, and I set off for Veszprem. Veszprem is one of the oldest towns in Hungary and was one of the first Hungarian cities to establish a university so it was only fitting that the purpose of my visit was to speak with a great group of students at the University of Pannonia.
From there we headed to an "American Corner." American Corners are partnerships between the Public Affairs sections of U.S. Embassies and host institutions. They provide access to current and reliable information about the U.S. via book collections, the Internet, and through local programming to the general public. Our Embassy has set up four American Corners located throughout Hungary in: Pecs, Debrecen, Eger and Veszprem.
From there we met with local dignitaries, and I sampled that all important Hungarian dessert wine, Tokay, before racing back to Budapest in time to join Ambassador Foley for a meeting with 25 young political leaders from all four major parties. I love this tradition of giving flowers!
From there it was a race back into central Budapest to the Tancsics Prison Compound in time to hear the incredibly engaging Professor Tama Katona (and father of one of our Press Assistants, Anna Katona seen here with Information Specialist Katalin Molnar) give a talk on the Revolution of 1848 and the historic prison site to students from Daniel Berzsenyi High School in Budapest and Tibor Jankay Bilingual Primary School in Bekescsaba. The visit, which was covered by the media (in case you read Hungarian) was significant because the compound, currently owned by the U.S., is part of a property exchange between the Hungarian government and the U.S. The students enjoyed meeting "Geo Bear" who is part of a social science project that elementary students in Arizona sent me to help them explore the world! Also present from Karinthy Frigyes Gimnazium was a Ben Franklin Fellow. I try to see Franklin Fellows in every country I visit--the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship is a new student exchange program for 15 to 19 year olds. More about the program...
Lunchtime offered a chance to meet with participants in the flagship educational exchange program, the Fulbright Program which has much support from both the U.S. Embassy and the Hungarian government.
The afternoon offered my first opportunity to visit a private college, The Budapest College of Communication and Business. It was fun to discuss public diplomacy with lively communications students, including "sports diplomacy" which you can see I take quite seriously.
And finally, an evening with the ever-astute members of Café Babel. The young, internet savvy pan-European Babelians are keen on policy and have branches in most European cities---why don’t we have them in the U.S.?
Thanks to technology I was "virtually" transported to Debrecen, the second largest city in Hungary for a SKYPE videoconference with students of Arpad Toth High School. The questions were fascinating---ranging from a student that really wanted to study in the U.S. but was afraid because of all she read about guns and violence to whether American food was more than just junk food.
And finally, a tour of the magnificent Hungarian Parliament with Mayor and Member of Parliament, Dr. Gabor Tamas Nagy. Of particular interest was the Holy Crown of St. Stephen which had been spirited out of Hungary to protect it from the Germans and Soviets during World War II and returned by the U.S. in 1978. More...
My particular favorite was a (now forbidden from use) cigar holder! Each slot is numbered so Members of Parliament could remember which was their own. One could always tell whether a riveting speaker was holding forth inside the chamber by glancing down to ascertain the length of the ash. Winston Churchill would have loved that.
More details on the trip...including a video by the Embassy’s talented Norbert Vitez!
Students interested in internships in public diplomacy both in Washington, DC and at Embassies overseas will find more information at the State Department's Careers website.
Until the next trip!