During his tenure as US ambassador to Budapest, US-Hungarian relations have improved significantly, but the country has a much poorer image than it deserves due to poor public relations, David B. Cornstein told news and opinion portal Mandiner in a farewell interview.
“When I came here, it would have been hard to imagine a worse relationship. Now that I’m leaving, the relationships are much better,” Cornstein said. “I’m glad I was able to contribute to that. You know, if you have good relationships, you can achieve things. If there is no dialogue, it is difficult to get to anything. The relationship is good now, and we have achieved a lot. I’m very happy about it.”
Cornstein also said that Hungary’s image needs improvement and even after leaving the country he will still help in that respect.
“My most serious criticism of the Hungarian government is that its PR is the worst possible. The government is really doing poorly in this,” Cornstein said. “The image of Hungary in the European Union and the United States is completely different from reality. I hope when I get home from the post of ambassador, I can help a little. However, the government must also work on the matter.”
A successful former businessman, Cornstein’s appointment was approved by the US Senate on May 24, 2018, and the ambassador presented his credentials to the president of the Republic of Hungary on June 25, 2018.
Cornstein said that in contrast to his predecessor — Colleen Bell, who served as US ambassador to Budapest from 2015 to 2017 and appointed by then President Barack Obama — he tried to avoid publicly criticizing the Hungarian government.
“I do not think that the Hungarian government is perfect, nor do I think that the American government is perfect. But if I had anything to say to the Hungarian government that I would have done something different, I only spoke about it publicly once,” Cornstein said. “If I saw something that should be done differently, I talked about it behind closed doors.”
Asked about Hungarian Prime Minister’s Viktor Orbán’s early endorsement of Donald Trump before the 2016 elections and whether his second endorsement for the 20202 election is politically risky, Cornstein said both leaders have frank personalities which he finds refreshing.
“I know the president of the United States better than the Hungarian prime minister, but I know both of them, and I know that they are both straightforward people who say what they think,” he said. “I can honestly say this is very refreshing. Most politicians say what is politically correct. And these two people say what’s in their head and what’s in their heart is on their mouth.”
Referring to the trauma Hungary suffered 100 years ago, when it lost two-thirds of its territory to neighboring countries due to the Treaty of Trianon ending World War I, Cornstein said that while the past must not overshadow the present, he understood the Hungarian policy of protecting its minorities living in neighboring countries.
“When you mention Trianon while talking to foreigners, the answer is usually ‘it is the past, get over it’. Well, I can imagine what Americans would say if a third of their homeland was given to Canada and another third to Mexico. I don’t think they would be happy.”
Title image: U.S. ambassador to Budapest David B. Cornstein. (Mandiner/Árpád Földházi)