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The Portuguese ambassador to hungary

Enhancing long-time relations

“We have strong and long term cultural relations but they can always be improved,” the Portuguese Ambassador to Hungary, Maria José Morais Pires tells a recent edition of Diplomacy&Trade in the section on Portuguese-Hungarian relations.

“Naturally, my
mission here is to represent Portugal in Hungary and develop the best possible
relations between the two countries. We have strong and long term cultural
relations but they can always be improved. The promotion of the teaching of
Portuguese language and culture is also part of my mission here,” Ambassador
Morais Pires tells Diplomacy&Trade. She adds that “since we now both belong
to the EU, our economic relations have strengthened but they need to be
deepened and widened. Tourism is an area that has been growing very much in both
directions.”

She handed over
her letter of accreditation to the Hungarian President in April 2015. Since
then, one of the achievements that she can report concerns the growing number
of universities and secondary schools that teach Portuguese. “There are seven
universities and seven secondary schools, with 26 teachers and 370 students in
Budapest, Debrecen, Pécs and Szeged,” she says. This means that this year Hungary
was able to obtain the status of observer to the Community of Portuguese
Speaking Countries (CPLP), which includes Brazil and Angola, among the other
eight member countries with 220 million speakers, altogether.

“I am also glad to
report that the Portuguese airline company, TAP will restart its direct flights
Budapest-Lisbon-Budapest, from July 1, 2017,” she adds.

Two Nations, One Force

As for
Hungarian-Portuguese political relations in general, Ambassador Morais Pires
points out that Hungary and Portugal are countries with the same size, the same
population [see our country comparison
chart], and with an old and rich history behind them. “So, we have
interests in common and obviously even more now that we both belong to the
European Union and NATO, among another international organizations.”

Bilateral meetings
between foreign ministers took place in 2015 and also this past December in
Brussels. “In the EU framework, we should strive to take common positions on
several relevant issues, such as the Cohesion Policy, the Financial Framework
and the consequences of the Brexit, for example,” the Ambassador stresses.

In the
multilateral context, as members of NATO, troops from Portugal and Hungary
participate together in the same KFOR Tactical Reserve Maneuver Battalion (KTM)
in Kosovo. “Their motto is ‘Two Nations, One Force’. This also shows that the
relationship between the militaries of the two countries is excellent,” says
Ambassador Morais Pires who is also accredited to Kosovo.

Business ties

“Economic
relations between Portugal and Hungary have been steadily growing but,
naturally, they can be improved. Our main exports consist of machines, plastic
and rubber pieces of equipment, mostly for the Hungarian automobile industry,
as well as textiles and cork products. One of the most important investors in
Hungary is Portugal Telecom that has a 46% stake in HungaroDigitel, which is an
important player on the Hungarian telecommunications market. Also, the
Portuguese cork industry has a place in the Hungarian market, with a plant in
Veresegyház (east of Budapest) that I visited a few months ago. It is a decades-old investment of Amorim Cork,
which has plans to expand further in the Central Europe region. I believe the
presence of the Portuguese cork industry must be developed here not only
through the provision of stoppers for the wine bottles, but also through many
other natural products such as isolation panels for buildings. These are in use
already in several buildings in Budapest, like in the Palace of Arts (MÜPA). I
must also point out that in June every year, the Budapest Central Market
provides an excellent setting for the presentation of Portuguese products
during the ‘Portugal Days’, including the tasting of Portuguese wine,” she
highlights.

The Ambassador
regularly meets with many of the Portuguese business people who have settled in
Hungary and they say they have managed to adapt to the conditions here well. “The
Portuguese have had a worldwide experience throughout our history and so, they
also find interesting opportunities here. One of them established an irrigation
business for agriculture in Kecskemét and it is very successful. We hope to
help Hungarian agricultural businesses with machines and Portuguese technology
in this field.”

As for the
business environment in Hungary, the Ambassador says Portuguese investors are
worried sometimes but those who have a well-established position and market in
Hungary are happy and many of them are thinking about expanding their presence.

From language to architecture

Regarding
cultural relations, Ambassador Morais Pires first mentions the ‘Instituto Camões
– Budapest Portuguese Language Center’ (located at the Department of Portuguese
Language and Literature of ELTE University), which coordinates the teaching of
the Portuguese language with almost 400 students in Hungary currently. “We also
have university studies in Portuguese history and culture here. For example,
the professors of ELTE are renowned specialists in Fernando Pessoa, a major
Portuguese poet. They frequently participate in several activities in Portugal
as recognized experts. The 19th century Hungarian poet, Sándor Petõfi
was a great admirer of Camões and wrote several articles about him.”

She adds that she
is also working to bring a great Hungarian architect of the 18th century who
participated in the reconstruction of Lisbon, after the tragic earthquake in
1755to the attention of more Hungarians. His name is Károly Martel (known by
the Portuguese as Carlos Mardel). “It was him who introduced Hungarian
construction style in the roofs, fountains and aqueduct of Lisbon. He is a
well-known artist in Portugal but is still largely ignored over here.”

The 19th century also had a Portuguese-Hungarian connection worth mentioning. In 1836,
Ferdinand – the son of Antónia Koháry (of the historical Hungarian noble
family, the Kohárys) and of Prince Ferdinand from the House of Saxe-Coburg and
Gotha – married Queen Mary II of Portugal and one year later was named the King
of Portugal, like all consorts. Thus, their descendants, including the last
four kings of Portugal (Pedro V, Luis I, Carlos I and Manuel II) had Hungarian
blood in their veins.

Mutual friendliness

The
legend that the first Portuguese king’s father was of Hungarian origin is
mentioned in the major Portuguese work of literature ‘Os Lusiadas’ written in
the 16th century. Some say that could be one of the reasons why Portuguese
people believe Hungarians are friendly people.

As the Ambassador
puts it, “the adventurous past had fascinated Portuguese and Hungarians for a
long time. For instance, Portuguese knights may have actually fought against
the Ottoman Turks in Hungary. This particular legend, included in ‘Os Lusiadas’, although not historically certain, undoubtedly contributed to a
strong interest between the Portuguese and Hungarians other for several
centuries. We find this reflected in the literature and poetry of both
countries. When we think that Hungarians are friendly, it is because they
really are. You can still hear from Portuguese, who were alive in 1956, stories
about Hungarian children who arrived in Portugal during and after the Hungarian
Revolution. Earlier, during World War II, a number of Hungarians came to
Portugal, and some of them stayed and are very well integrated.”

A family to be
mentioned in this context is that of the current director of the Lisbon-based
Portuguese-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Miguel de Pape. The Ambassador
points out that his grandfather had been a famous rheumatologist in the
well-known Gellért thermal bath in Budapest before he had to flee Hungary
during World War II. He was on his way to the United States when he, by chance,
met a Portuguese doctor in Lisbon with whom he founded an institute of
rheumatology in the Portuguese capital. “We have several stories like this from
those times. Like that of the family of Zsazsa Gabor. One can say that
basically every Portuguese person currently in their ‘60s and ‘70s knows a
Hungarian from those times – that is true even for the current President of the
Republic of Portugal! Hungarian immigrants and their descendants have become
valued members of Portuguese society. Some of them have recently financed the
trip to Budapest of some Portuguese students on the 60th anniversary
of the 1956 anti-Stalinist uprising.”

Beigli

It is the first time that Maria José Morais Pires has been in
Hungary. As ambassador, she has been here close to two years now. She believes
both Portuguese and Hungarians have very strong feelings of identity. What she
finds different is that in her view, Hungarians are much more disciplined than
the Portuguese.

Places she has visited
in Hungary, and has nice memories of, include Pannonhalma (in NW Hungary with
its thousand-year-old archabbey), Szekszárd where she was invited by several
wine producers, the medieval royal town of Visegrád (in the Danube Bend, north
of Budapest) and the southern Hungarian city of Pécs where several professors
from Portugal teach the language and culture of their country.

Ambassador Morais
Pires also has her favorite Hungarian dish, namely, the beigli, a poppy seed
roll consisting of a roll of sweet yeast bread with a dense, rich, bittersweet
filling of poppy seed – a traditional Hungarian dish for Christmas. Therefore,
she had many opportunities to taste it in the past few weeks.

Sándor Laczkó

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