Thank you. Good evening, everyone. I would like to thank the organizers at the Antall Jozsef Knowledge Center for the invitation to speak with you tonight. It is my great pleasure to be here, addressing many of Hungary’s brightest young leaders. While this is my first opportunity to speak with many of you, it is not my first interaction with the Antall Jozsef Knowledge Center. In fact, one of the first invitations I accepted as Ambassador was to the Danube Regatta, so I am very familiar with the fantastic work they do.
Indeed, I am also familiar with the legacy of Antall Jozsef. Not only was he the longest-ruling leader in post-Communist Central Europe, he also governed during one of the most difficult political transitions in the modern era. When Hungary emerged from Communist rule, it faced a dizzying number of economic challenges. Certainly, tough times call for tough choices, and Prime Minister Antall had to make many. In the face of many critics, he steered Hungary toward a free market economy and contributed to the development of a legal system attractive to international investors. And he did so to great effect, helping Hungary become a regional leader in foreign direct investment in the 1990s. Today, leaders from across the political spectrum praise Antall Jozsef as a great Hungarian statesman.
Both the rule of law and free market economics remain as important today as they were to Antall Jozsef 25 years ago. No country can succeed without building a robust and dynamic economy. Opportunities must exist for local and international companies alike. It stands to reason that business leaders look to expand in places that are predictable, practical, and fair. This can certainly be said for American businesses. As a business executive with over 25 years of experience in the entertainment industry, I can assure you that companies would far prefer to invest in a location where the rules of the game do not change from one week to the next. Indeed, it has been said before that true economic development starts simply by building relationships based on trust. And that means, in part, being able to trust that your business will operate with a set of transparent and fair rules.
Not surprisingly, long-term growth and prosperity tend to follow economic openness and a respect for the rule of law. Investors around the world increasingly look beyond the bottom line when making business decisions. They not only seek profits, but also strategic partners who respect accepted rules and values. Business leaders have shareholders to answer to and goals to meet. It is naturally not in their interest to build a relationship with a new partner, or expand into a county which could present vulnerabilities that can harm their reputation. Instead, executives gravitate toward partners that play by the rules, uphold their obligations, and treat others fairly. I believe that these are just a few of the values that Antall Jozsef believed in as well. When Hungary turned to the West 25 years ago, it was not only because Western Europe and the United States presented economic opportunity, but also because of the system of values the West supported. It was part of the reason that Hungary received a large portion of the foreign direct investment aimed at the post-Soviet space in the 1990’s.
One way that nations proclaim their system of values is through participation in international organizations. By joining, nations pledge adherence to that organization’s policies, procedures, and judgments. Membership is both a badge and a promise – a promise to participate in and support the efforts of something greater that each individual country’s national interests. Certainly, if every nation only looks out for its own interests, it erodes the foundation of trust so important to its own success. It isolates itself from its peers. And in turn, it compromises its ability to influence others.
I mention the importance of influence because Europe now faces a crisis unlike any it has seen. This is not a crisis affecting only Greece, or Italy, or Hungary, but the entire continent. The challenges surrounding migration are enormous, and there are no easy solutions. But at the end of the day, finding a way forward will require all nations and leaders to work together, support international standards, uphold the rule of law – and most importantly, respect the dignity and human rights of those people who are fleeing violence in search of a better life. Every country, including the United States, has a humanitarian obligation – an obligation to help the thousands of refugees find the stability that they seek. We must not forget that these are not just numbers – they are people.
The United States is doing its part, providing over $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the war in Syria, and $26.6 million as our regional contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its refugee programs in Europe. The United States also consults regularly with the European Commission and member states on migration issues, conducting information exchanges and cooperating on search and rescue issues, and assistance and capacity programs in the Horn of Africa and North Africa. Here in Hungary, we are asking our contacts in the Hungarian government: “How can we help?”
But all of us must recognize that is not enough. The real goal is to find a permanent solution to this crisis by bringing peace to nations like Syria. At the end of the day, every refugee wants to go home.
Hungary has an important role to play in the solution, and has undoubtedly faced significant challenges since the beginning of this crisis. Social services are strained and resources diminished. Thousands of volunteers – perhaps many who are even here in the audience – have rushed to help others throughout the country. It is this kind of support that shows the generous nature of Hungarians to the rest of the world and serves as an example for all of us. After all, the world’s attention is focused on Hungary and the region as these events unfold.
In my job as Ambassador, I work every day with both Hungarian and American public servants, each committed to the success of our nations. I am constantly impressed and inspired by the level of dedication they bring to their professions. It is this level of dedication that helps our two countries work together on issues of common interest. Indeed, Hungary remains a valued partner and ally on a wide range of issues. The United States values Hungarian support for open trade markets and solidarity with NATO. But, perhaps most importantly, the United States and Europe share common values that must continue to serve as an example for the rest of the world. And there is no better time to show our mutual respect for humanity than now.
Once again, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today in such a wonderful venue. I look forward to your questions and meeting you in the reception. Thank you!