In the WittyLeaks series of Diplomacy&Trade, diplomats share personal accounts of their experiences on “excursions” into Hungarian culture, art, gastronomy and scenery. This time, the Peruvian ambassador delves into comparisons between Peru and Hungary.
When a diplomat arrives in the country where he or she will start a tenure, it is natural to review the image that his or her country evokes. This external perception, forged by history, culture and geography, will undoubtedly influence the plan they have to strengthen the relations with the host country.
In my case, the first question was: are there any complementary characteristics among our countries that could grant us a mutual attraction, at first sight? I could not ask my predecessors, because the last Peruvian Chief of Mission left Budapest in 2006, and we were the first group since then, reopening the embassy in the middle of 2018. Yes, we do have archives, but I have always found direct, personal anecdotes from others more insightful.
Finding common ground
I was also conscious that whenever there is a significant physical distance among the protagonists, in this case Peru and Hungary, an ambassador´s plan would have to give precedence to finding common ground on trade, economic or cultural issues, while also including global or regional commonalities that are usually identified at multilateral forums and organizations.
My formal and pleasant meeting with President János Áder was very encouraging as it revealed his deep knowledge of the problematic nature of climate change and extreme weather events. Peru is one of the most vulnerable countries of the world to its effects and President Áder expressed his solidarity on what we had experienced months before, a country overpowered by the effects of an intense El Niño phenomenon. His activism and concern were very much appreciated.
And then, I considered our traditional strengths. What about the beauties and riches that have attracted foreigners? Peru is a mining country, the second in the world for its exports of silver, copper and zinc, and among the top six global exporters of gold and lead. The myth of ‘El Dorado’ was based on factual abundance in the area and for a good reason. Also worth highlighting alongside these natural resources are our fisheries, by some metrics number one in the world, largely due to the anchovy and the prime fish meal we produce.
The next question was, are these ‘traditional’ exports going to be of interest to Hungary? Mineral resources are of significance primarily to heavily industrialized economies, so it looked that this was not the case. But the latter could be of interest to a country with an important animal growing sector.
What about the meat of Mangalica pigs that receive one of the best animal feeds of the world from Peru? My business people would have to come and visit their counterparts. Persuading them with hard facts and coordinating the right appointments would have to be my task.
But, what about non-traditional exports? Peru has regained its place as an agricultural powerhouse, a position we had during the Inca Empire. The Andean Mountains, the so-called vertebral spine of the original Peru and the dramatic scenario where the Incan civilization unfolded, was also the location of one of the most advanced agricultural societies of its time.
Physical connectivity, impressive construction and a remarkable system of irrigation and crop domestication were the response to the challenges posed by the rough terrain.
As a result of the Spanish conquest, native Peruvian crops, among others the potato and the quinoa, began to feed the so-called Old World. And we are back at it again, with a boom of the coastal agriculture that includes some of the plants and fruits brought by the Spaniards, like grapes and blueberries. Nowadays, they are added to the mix produced in a region with minimal rainfall, but with enormous productivity thanks to the permanent sunlight and an improved and advanced irrigation system.
A new “El Dorado” of healthy and nutritious food is already launched. With avocados, asparagus, blueberries and grapes at the front lines of the European food markets, complemented with great fish and its relative the ‘ceviche’, a classic dish in our distinguished gastronomy and a contemporary example of our Mestizo culture.
Presenting cultural ties
I found another complementarity. Budapest is a trendy city for tourism, with cosmopolitan and refined restaurants ready to cater its visitors. So we drew and painted messages and photos about the riches of Peru and attached them for one month to the No. 2 tram, the vintage and beautiful carrier that transports both citizens and bands of tourists alike across Budapest´s main monumental areas, mainly along the river Danube.
But it is not only about what we can offer, it is also what we can expect from talented Hungarians. I look forward to my Embassy’s imminent subscription of the Stipendium Hungaricum program. The exchange of scholarships that this agreement will allow our students to get closer to a culture that shines in arts and science. I dream of Peruvian musicians acquiring their skills at the Franz Liszt Academy.
Our great tenor, Juan Diego Flores is an example of a gifted artist fine-tuned by his European experience and who is supporting Peruvian young musicians of less means to improve their opportunities in the lyrical scene. How proud I was to be watching him here last year when he delighted and charmed the demanding Budapest audience, which sang along with me to some Peruvian songs towards the end of the performance.
Finally, I should have dove into the old archives sooner. Because it took me some time to discover the contribution that one Hungarian engineer made to our coastal agricultural boom. András Lakatos from the Szent István University of Gödöllő, or ‘Mr. Wine’ to his friends and admirers. The Hungarians seem to be all over the world doing their thing, in other words, spreading their talent.
He carried out a semester of research in 2004 at the University of Piura – the public academic center of a semi-arid region of Peru, well known for its important production of Pima cotton – sponsored by the institutional cooperation agreement signed with its Gödöllő counterpart. At its completion, he delivered his technical proposal to the local Chamber of Commerce that had also partially financed the study. Its recommendations have transformed Piura into the second most productive region of Peru for the Red Globe grape in just a decade. Now, Peru is the second exporting country in the world of grapes, mainly of the Red Globe variety.
I must also recognize the creativity of my predecessor, Ambassador Guillermo Russo, for finding his way to promote said academic cooperation agreement that had so much impact on Piura´s development. Consequently, I must stress the permanent debt that Peru owes to ‘Mr. Wine’, who is not with us anymore, and to his Alma Mater. Now, my task is to prepare this recognition in public and to launch my imagination a bit more, conscious that there are so many ways not shown in books that allow us to strengthen the ties among two countries like Hungary and Peru.
What about the field of sports and diplomacy? I do recall that two great Hungarian football coaches trained our national team: György Horth during the 1950s, and Lajos Baróti decades later. Mr. Baróti brought up a new generation of footballers that shined at the Mexico World Cup of 1970. Long live football, a sport that has allowed important contributions from its Hungarian athletes globally, but also to my country specifically.