Dutch Ambassador Robert Milders arrived in Hungary in May 2009. He found here a thriving Dutch business community and an intensive cultural cooperation between the two countries.
Having worked a full term at the Dutch EU mission in Brussels, Hungary was one of the preferences of the new Dutch ambassador to Hungary, Robert Milders for his next posting. He told Diplomacy and Trade magazine that in Dutch foreign service circles, “Hungary is considered to be a very nice country”. One of the reasons could be, the ambassador says, that Hungarians who arrived in the Netherlands after the 1956 uprising, and their descendants have become respected members of Dutch society.
Although, Hungary is not very far from Holland, “it is a new area for me as my career was mainly in Western Europe and Asia.” He found here a thriving Dutch business community and an intensive cultural cooperation between the two countries. One of his main ambassadorial aims, the enhancing of bilateral relations “is, in a way, easier since Hungary joined the EU in 2004. Hungarian and Dutch ministers and other officials have the opportunity to meet basically every month at EU and NATO get-togethers in Brussels, Strasbourg or elsewhere. This makes my job as ambassador a lot easier. Therefore, I can concentrate on issues that are more important for us like the economy and there is room for more in-depth discussion,” Milders says, adding that he is in line with the thinking of his predecessor in bringing together Dutch and Hungarian business partners.
He uses a “down-to-earth approach as to how deals can be found that will benefit Hungarian and Dutch companies.” “It is a somewhat distorted picture that the Netherlands is the second largest investor in Hungary because many international companies, IKEA for instance, are registered in Amsterdam. Still, Holland is one of the biggest investors with companies like Shell, Unilever, Philips and others present. My job as an ambassador is to make the cooperation smooth. The added value of the embassy is that we are the representative of our government, that means, naturally, we have also access to the Hungarian government and I’m in a better position than private companies to deal with ministries to sort out problems.”
Defense cooperation between the two countries is also important. Hungary took over the Netherlands' Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan's Baghlan province. Hungary also decided to join the leading Dutch troops, based in the dangerous southern province of Uruzgan, and are going to train Afghan troops in the battlefield. Following the success of the Low Festival, the Netherlands wishes to continue to be present on the cultural scene in Hungary. “In 2010, we’ll participate quite heavily in the ‘Pecs 2010’ program series as the southern Hungarian city of Pecs will be Europe’s cultural capital. We thought it would be a great opportunity to show to the citizens there who we are and what we can share. In May, we organize together with 14 European countries the Europemania-festival, a four days (pop) music and theater festival in the heart of Pecs.” He adds that Holland’s important exports include DJs and “we have very good pop-rock groups. They will also be present at the 2010 Sziget festival that will have a very Dutch flavor this time.”
And it is not just the performers, Milders finds the Sziget festival “a very pleasant place”, attracting thousands of visitors from the Netherlands. A couple of months ago, the pop group Depeche Mode was here and their artistic director, Anton Corbijn, had a photo exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. He was very flattered with his popularity among the visitors. Music, photography, experimental art – these are all important ‘export items’ from the Netherlands Minority issues are also a focus by the Royal Netherlands Embassy. They financed a small program that aimed at involving young people of Roma ethnicity in mainstream journalism. “It was program designed by a Hungarian institute and we thought it was worth supporting,” the ambassador says, adding that “although, it was more controversial, we also sponsored the gay pride march. We did that because we think that freedom of expression is one of those fundamentals and these people have the right to speak out and say whatever they want to say even if others might feel offended”.
Regarding relations with non-governmental organizations, he is of the view that “NGOs know how to find each other. The city of Hodmezovasarhely in southeastern Hungary has a twin-city relationship with the municipality of Haarlemmermeer in the Netherlands. I was invited to festivities that were so greatly organized this October by themselves, the locals taking the initiative without governmental support.” This town, whose name he finds unpronounceable – yet –, has been just one destination for Robert Milders. “Shortly, I hope to pay a visit to Debrecen, eastern Hungary where there is a statue of 17th century Dutch admiral, Michiel de Ruyter to honor him for his role in freeing 26 Protestant Hungarian monks from slavery.” Earlier he made a trip to Pecs where “we donated hundreds of thousands of tulip bulbs that will hopefully bloom in 2010 for the European Cultural Capital festivities,” he says, not forgetting some of Hungary’s wine regions. “I have the ambition to visit all 22 during my four-year term – I’ve been to five or six already.”
Having arrived in May 2009, the new head of the Royal Netherlands Embassy has been busy exploring the country. ”It is a very pleasant place, I just wish the language was not this difficult – I feel a little bit frustrated when moving around. He finds Hungarians extremely friendly, courteous and having very nice culinary traditions. “We, Dutch are known for being very straightforward – or blunt, even. Hungarians seem to be more well-mannered. That sometimes does not apply for people in traffic – that is when it feels like home…,” the Dutch ambassador concludes.