Remarks of Ambassador David PressmanIndependence Day Reception June 30, 2023
Deputy Prime Minister Semjén, distinguished Ministers, Ambassadors, and guests, it is an honor to welcome you as we celebrate the 247th anniversary of American independence.
I’d like to thank the Hungarian Police Band for their performance, and to Minister Pinter for making them available. I’d also like to thank Flóra Golarits and Marine Corps Sgt. Brandon Charters for their extraordinary performances of the Hungarian and American national anthems. Thank you for joining us.
About 120 kilometers from here, hundreds of young American men and women, members of the United States armed services, are deployed inside Hungary to help keep Hungary and its neighbors safe during this uncertain time. These American soldiers embody the commitment the United States made to Hungary and to all of our allies – a commitment that we have always honored — and I’d like to recognize the members of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne’s Charlie Troop deployed near Veszprém that joined us here today to fly the colors. This is not a ceremonial unit; they are wearing their combat uniforms because they are actively deployed here in support of NATO’s eastern flank. Thank you again for joining us.
As my colleagues here, veterans of the diplomatic corps, know all too well, national day events can tend toward the ceremonial, prioritizing formality above content. So while I can’t promise a brief speech – though I will try – I can promise this year’s celebration will be slightly different. There will be no nostalgic crooner serenade this year; for instance, we’re going for more of a young, rock vibe band. But while the band we will soon welcome to the stage may be loud, I will try – much to the relief of some of my guests – to ensure that my message is not. At least not all of it.
But since this is our Independence Day, I do want to take a few moments to speak about something important both to Americans and to Hungarians and that is independence.
Though “independence” is a word often tossed around by politicians, it is a concept that intrinsic to the soul of America. Our radical founding document – the Declaration of Independence — made a clear statement to the world that the United States of America would chart its own independent course, and it inspired others to do the same.
“Independence” is coded in Americans’ DNA, it is etched into our bones.
And I would say, the same is true for Hungarians.
During my time in Hungary, I have come to appreciate the greatness, the indomitable spirit, and yes, the tragedy, in Hungarian history. A history that has led Hungarians – like Americans – to prize, and to fight, to declare their independence.
In 1848. In 1956. In 1989.
But a declaration of independence is not a declaration of isolation. In 1776, our new country did not cut itself off from its allies and partners. Jefferson and Adams – who between them held ambassadorships to Great Britain, the Netherlands, and to France, twice! – drafted a Declaration of Independence not a declaration of isolation. As our country grew and found its place in the world – sometimes reluctantly, not always smoothly – Americans sought partners and ultimately alliances with those whose values we shared so that we could be stronger together.
Alliances do not detract from our independence; they guarantee it.
America’s strength comes not just from our own military might, but from these democratic alliances.
Hungarians understand this, and in 1999 Hungary was welcomed into the most powerful alliance the world has ever known. This next year, we will celebrate Hungary’s 25th anniversary as a NATO Ally.
In fact, it was in the small town named Independence, Missouri – the hometown of President Harry Truman, who helped found NATO – that Hungary officially became a member of the Alliance in a ceremony presided over by my old boss Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. On the occasion of Hungary’s accession into the Alliance, Hungary’s Foreign Minister János Martonyi spoke not of military might but of democratic values. In his words it was Hungary’s destiny to “rejoin those with whom we share the same values, interests, and goals.”
And lest you think this was just empty rhetorical platitudes, history – your rich and tragic history – was front and center that day in Independence, Missouri. He continued, “In the past, Hungarians often complained of abandonment, of standing up alone. At long last, that is over. Hungary has come home; we are back in the family.”
And he was right. Hungary is a member of the NATO family.
Now as we all know, families can be complicated. They don’t always see eye to eye. They sometimes disagree, argue, or squabble. But what unites families is more powerful than what divides us. And family always comes first.
We are in a uniquely pivotal moment in European history, with Russia continuing its brutal war of aggression on Ukraine.
This is not the time for political wars with friends when a real war threatens the world order NATO has worked so hard to defend.
We want this war to end. We want peace. But that only happens when the Russians stop their unilateral aggression and go home.
Despite all of the noise about parties of war, and pro-war countries, and (even) pro-war Ambassadors, bluster is not a policy. But appeasement is.
Perhaps more than ever before, the United States is focused on our relationship with Hungary. We are paying close attention to the choices Hungary’s making.
This is the time for all of us to unite around shared democratic values, a shared understanding of the threat Russia poses to them, and around the strength of our alliance; working to protect it, to strengthen it, to expand it. Our unity does not undermine our independence, it protects it. We need only to look at history to understand that.
But tonight, as I promised at the outset, as we commemorate 247 years of American history, we are focused on the future, on our future and on Hungary’s future, together. Hungary transitioned to democracy almost thirty years ago. And some of our guests today have never lived under another system. You represent the spirit of Hungary’s democracy, and its glorious future.
I want to try something. I began with Jefferson and Adams so naturally I will conclude with, well, U2’s Bono…who said “Pop music often tells you everything is OK, while rock music tells you that it’s not OK, but you can change it.” I think these times call for a little rock n’roll as all is not okay in the region, in the world, and in our family. But like family, we do not give up, we do not wait out, we do not wish away. We dig in, we engage, we work hard, we recommit, and we become stronger, always together.
Here’s to independence; here’s to family; here’s to the lasting family that is Hungary and the United States of America.
Thank you for coming, enjoy the rock’n’roll show, and Happy Independence Day!