Hungary’s Ambassador to the United States: Who Is Réka Szemerkényi?
Réka Szemerkényi was appointed Hungary’s ambassador to the United States in the summer of 2014, with President Barack Obama finally accepting her credentials on February 23, 2015. It’s the first diplomatic post for Szemerkényi, a long-time foreign policy advisor.
Szemerkényi earned an M.A. at ELTE University of Budapest in 1990 and then studied for a year at the Institut Européen des Hautes Études Internationales in Nice, France. She worked for a time as a senior advisor in Hungary’s ministry of defense and was a consultant to the World Bank on public administration reform in Hungary. She then came to the United States to study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, graduating with an M.A. in strategic studies in 1995.
Szemerkényi then moved on to London as a research associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies. She returned to Hungary in 1996 as a senior researcher at the Hungarian Institute for International Affairs. Szemerkényi wrote a 1997 paper on whether the former Eastern bloc states were ready to join NATO, saying that some of those countries, including Hungary and Poland, had slowed their progress towards putting their militaries under civilian control.
In 1997 she went to work for the Fidesz political party as senior foreign policy secretary for the Fidesz parliamentary caucus. The following year, Fidesz won national parliamentary elections despite gaining only 26% of the popular vote.
Conservative Viktor Orbán took over as Hungary’s prime minister and Szemerkényi an undersecretary in his office. In 2000 she was promoted to state secretary for foreign and security policy, a position she held until Orbán was turned out of office in April 2002.
With her Fidesz party in opposition, Szemerkényi became director of foreign policy programs at the 21st Century Research Institute in Budapest. During this time, she completed a Ph.D. in energy security from Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest in 2007. She also began writing op-ed articles on foreign policy for Heti Válasz magazine and in beginning in 2003 was president of the Hungarian New Atlantic Initiative.
In 2006, Szemerkényi was named chief advisor for international public relations to the CEO of MOL group, the Hungarian oil and gas company. That same year, she also became a senior associate in the Institute of Kremlinology at Gáspár Károli Reformed University.
Orbán and Fidesz returned to office in 2010 and by 2011 Szemerkényi was the prime minister’s chief advisor on security policy. Szemerkényi’s views are said to be completely in line with those of Orbán, who has been called a “little Putin” for his admiration and in some cases imitation of the policies of the Russian leader. Orbán has said that he wants to build an “illiberal new state” in Hungary and that Russia is an example of a “successful” illiberal state. In recent years, Hungary has begun to stifle its press and expression of its citizens.
Szemerkényi is married with four children. She speaks English, French and Italian.
To Learn More:
Diplomacy Doesn’t Work Like Translation Software (by András Stumpf, Heti Válasz)
The Newly Appointed Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S. Hangs in Limbo (by Eva S. Balogh, Hungarian Spectrum)
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