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From partnership to wide-ranging relations

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As an addition to the recent coverage of Indian-Hungarian relations in Diplomacy & Trade, we have asked historian Dr. András Balogh, a former Hungarian ambassador to India, to summarize the historical relations between the two countries. He says he was proud to be Hungary’s chief representative in India at a time when the (territorially) small Hungary was regarded as equal partner by the large Republic of India.

“Obviously, we can talk about state relations between
Hungary and India only after India gained independence in 1947. India as a new
state needed to gather international support for itself so that it would be
recognized by as many countries as possible. This attempt was well received in
Hungary that itself was trying to build itself up after World War II (in which
it was on the losing side) in a very difficult diplomacy environment. In addition,
Hungary, with the establishment of the communist system, found itself isolated
internationally. In this situation, it was natural for both countries to look
for each other’s partnership, an effort that resulted in very substantial and wide-ranging
relations,” Dr. András Balogh explains to Diplomacy & Trade.

Strong attraction to Asia

He adds another factor, that is, that in Hungary,
there had already been a very strong attraction to Asia: with Orientalism being
a strong tendency – something Hungarian diplomacy also based its relations with
India on. “For Hungarian society in the 1950s when Hungarians had very few
opportunities to keep contact with most foreign countries, India was one of the
possible windows to the outside world. The ‘crowning’ of this interesting
system of bilateral relations was what happened in 1956. During the course of
the Hungarian revolution, there was an episode when the (eventually suppressed)
Hungarian independence movement considered India as an ally. India expressed
its sympathy for the Hungarian uprising and the head of the Indian embassy in
Budapest, Mohamed Ataur Rahman kept close contact with important figures of the
revolution, including Árpád Göncz who later (1990-2000) became the President of
the Republic of Hungary. This relationship later became a building block in
Indo-Hungarian relations,” he points out.

After 1956

From the 1960s, when Hungarian diplomacy was again
building up its international ties severed after 1956, India was again ‘at
hand’. In fact, Hungary established one of the strongest bilateral relations
(covering the fields of were diplomacy, politics, economy, culture and science)
with India in those times.

András Balogh says it was a special culmination of his
Indology studies that he could serve as the Hungarian ambassador in New Delhi
(1988-1992). “It gave me an opportunity to build on the already excellent
bilateral relations. I could spend some time in India in the early 1970s, first
as a researcher and then as a guest professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru
University.”

As Ambassador, he had the opportunity to get to know
India from new viewpoints and establish wide-ranging cultural and business
relations with people in the Asian country.

Bilateral cooperation

The mutually advantageous political, economic, trade,
cultural and scientific cooperation developed between two countries included
fields like electronics industry, agricultural machinery, power engineering, the
construction of forge steel mills with the participation of large Hungarian
companies and foreign trade firms. Obviously, there was a strong human factor
in strengthening bilateral relations with the involvement of the cultural
sphere that included wide social strata and also included the highest level of
state visits and exchange programs in the fields of culture and science. The
smooth arrangement of bilateral meetings was facilitated by the trust that
Ambassador Balogh had managed to build out with the Indian leadership.

“For instance, the Hungarian Cultural Institute in
Delhi had such an importance that its ballet, folk dance, movie and science
programs were listed together with those of local theaters and cinemas,” he says,
adding that he was proud to be Hungary’s chief representative in India at a
time when the (territorially) small Hungary was regarded as equal partner by
the large Republic of India. One of the phenomena of this partnership was the
extensive line of exchange programs involving academicians as well as natural scientists.

"When I served as ambassador in India, I could not visit
a government ministry in New Delhi without meeting people there with useful and
pleasant experiences about Hungary,” Dr. András Balogh concludes.

Sándor Laczkó

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