Public Diplomacy in Budapest

Posted by Colleen Graffy
March 25, 2008
Deputy Assistant Secretary Colleen Graffy at Veszprém University

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...

MondayA group of students at the University of Pannonia. [State Dept.]After 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.

The American Corner Director, Judit Bertalan, and her assistant gave me a briefing on the "AC"and organized various local media interviews.

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!

Members of Youth for Understanding. [State Dept.]The day ended with an evening session with members of "Youth for Understanding" to explore how we can increase exchanges for young people.

Tuesday Budapest Business School session with students. [State Dept.]A celebration of "U.S. Days" coincided with my visit to the Budapest Business School and a super session with students.

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, Students from Daniel Berzsenyi High School in Budapest and Tibor Jankay Bilingual Primary School in Bekescsaba. [State Dept.]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. Students from Daniel Berzsenyi High School in Budapest and Tibor Jankay Bilingual Primary School in Bekescsaba. [State Dept.]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.

Lively communications students, including sports diplomacy. [State Dept.]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.

<img data-cke-saved-src="" src="" alt="Evening with the ever-astute members of Cafe Babel" [state="" dept.]"="" width="150" hspace="2" vspace="2" border="0" align="right">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.

Tour of the magnificent Hungarian Parliament with Mayor and Member of Parliament, Dr. Gabor Tamas Nagy. [State Dept.]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.

Tour of the magnificent Hungarian Parliament with Mayor and Member of Parliament, Dr. Gabor Tamas Nagy. [State Dept.]The visit ended with a working lunch with Members of Parliament who sit on the Hungarian-American Friendship Caucus.

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.

More on public diplomacy in Europe and Eurasia...

Until the next trip!



United States
March 27, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

It's nice we have someone to explain to foreigners why U.S. officials want certain measures and policies, but does anyone at the State Department ever listen to foreigners who reject our measures and policies, or is all communication only in one direction, from us to the masses?

How would Americans react to our government allowing foreign military bases in America in order to protect the U.S. government from overthrow by its citizens?

How would we react to British missile sites placed in Mexico and Canada, purportedly to protect Britain from Argentina?

How would we react upon debarking from a flight from Washington to Paris, to be told by French Customs officers that all Americans must undergo a strip search and fingerprinting in order to enter the country?

What would we think if Hungarian Customs officers seized all of our money because their dog barked at our purse?

One aspect of foreign policy that seems to be wrong is the inability of U.S. officials to visualize the situation if things were reversed and it was we who reject such policies and measures.

While U.S. military bases in foreign countries may be welcomed by oppressive governments to keep them in power, the citizens of those countries feel invaded and occupied, just as we would if the roles were reversed, yet there seems to be no U.S. effort to remove those bases.

Surrounding Russia with NATO members and missile bases does not reduce their level of paranoia that America plans to steal their oil.

The problem with empires, particularly ours, has always been that they act like empires, dictating instead of negotiating; demanding instead of requesting. Do we ever question how would we react if the situation was reversed?

Governments will always find pretextual reasons to oppress and control. Exercising power is the logical extension of possessing power. It is the restraint of power that America is all about - the limitation of federal power is what makes American different -- until recently.

So, when a foreign citizen says, "This is what is wrong with American foreign policy so why won't you change it," what is your answer?


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