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Former Finnish ambassador to Hungary

Farewell Hungary, you remain in my heart

Pasi Tuominen
January 12, 2016

Finnish Ambassador Pasi Tuominen, who left his post in Budapest this past December, wrote a farewell article for the WittyLeaks section of Diplomacy & Trade, touching upon cultural relations between Finland and Hungary as well as his adventures with the Hungarian language.

When we arrived in Hungary in August 2012 we were greeted at Bródy Sándor utca by two Hungarian students.  “How nice it is to hear Finnish spoken in Hungary”, they said. In Finnish! I never cease to marvel at Hungarian’s interest in Finland and the fact that wherever I go in Hungary, there is always someone who speaks Finnish.

Cultural cooperation between Finland and Hungary

It is no wonder that there is an interest in the Finnish language, culture and way of living in Hungary. The fruitful cultural ties between Finland and Hungary started in the latter part of the 19th century. Linguistic, artistic and church cooperation developed without legal framework until 1937 when the first bilateral, cultural agreement between our countries was signed and ratified. Hungarian and Finnish history, with their ups and downs, was well represented by the signatories of the agreement. The Finnish signatory was Uuno Hannula, Minister of Education. In 1918, he, himself being on the winning, the white side, defended a female socialist MP Hilda Herrala who – based on fabricated accusations – was wrongly sentenced to death in the aftermath of the bloody Finnish civil war. Ms. Herrala was finally pardoned by the president. Hannula is also remembered for strictly defending Finnish parliamentarism and rule of law during the rise of communism and right extremism in the 1930s in Finland. On the Hungarian side, the signatory was his counterpart, Minister of Education Bálint Hóman. Now, as Hungary chairs the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, he is again a surprisingly current figure in Hungary, in particular for the planned statue in honor of him in Székesfehérvár – a widely condemned issue.

Finnish language teaching in Hungary

But back to the language. This February, I had the privilege to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finnish language being taught at the University of Debrecen. In fact, we could have celebrated the 101st anniversary as well because the teaching in Debrecen started in 1914. Debrecen, however, is not the only place where Finnish language is taught, nor was it the first. Eötvös Lóránd University (ELTE) has a much longer traditions of teaching Finnish language than most of the Finnish universities. ELTE’s traditions date back to 1872 and Finnish is also taught at the University of Szeged.

Magyarul beszélõ nagykövetek klubja (Hungarian Speaking Ambassadors Club)

But the Finno-Ugric connection is not only about teaching Finnish to Hungarians. It is about learning Hungarian, as well. When my nomination to Hungary was clear, my State Secretary Pertti Torstila stressed the importance of learning the language. I had served with him in Sweden and there, it was obvious that one needs to speak Swedish. But Hungarian also? Of course, it didn’t make my uncomfortable situation any easier when he asked me whether the “Magyarul beszélõ nagykövetek klubja” (Hungarian Speaking Ambassadors Club) still existed – a club, which was formed by him during the time he was Ambassador of Finland to Hungary in 1992-96. Thanks especially to my Polish colleague, Ambassador Roman Kowalski, the Magyarul beszélõ nagykövetek klubja was revitalized and in this circle, we have had the privilege to meet inter alia former President László Sólyom, former EU Commissioner László Kovács and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó.

Finno-Ugric connection

All Finno-Ugric nations are small, I even dare to say this on behalf of Hungary. Many of the Finno-Ugric languages are in danger of dying out. Some have practically died already. Language is not only a set of rules created by the human brain, it also carries our identity and culture. Independent Finno-Ugric nations are even less in number. That’s why we would very much welcome a resident Ambassador of Hungary back to Estonia and an Estonian one likewise to Hungary.

Érdemes megtanulni a helyiek nyelvét! (It is worth learning the local language)

So I didn’t have much of a choice, did I? I had to give it a try. Thanks to Debreceni Nyári Egyetem (Summer University of Debrecen) in Budapest, I got a jump start to the language. As a result of the three week intensive language course, I became familiar with such expressions as “minden rendben” (everything OK), “semmi különös” (nothing special) and “mikor van a kávészünet?” (when shall we have a coffee break) – important expressions for a newcomer to survive.

Nyelvfürdõ (Experiences with Hungarian language)

Speaking Hungarian in public has always been rewarding. Sometimes, the audience applauds after welcoming words in Hungarian. Sometimes, speaking Hungarian went well, sometimes probably not. Keeping up appearances has sometimes been challenging.  In the beginning of my term, an old friend of mine from Finland attended an art exhibition opening. His teenage sons started giggling because my pronunciation of the word pleasure (örömömre) sounded to their ear quite entertaining.

Hungarian words tend to be long, just like Finnish words. My secret weapon has been distinguishing the syllables with a vertical line in my written speeches. And in general, I must admit that I could not give a speech in Hungarian “segítség nélkül“ (without a written aid).

The Hungarian audience has always expressed their gratitude for my effort and many times I have received help from the audience if pronouncing a long word has been somewhat complicated. Maybe, the best example in using an extremely long expression, was my speech on the Finnish Armed Forces Day this June. The English terms seemed to be short and precise and the Hungarian version was just as precise but a bit longer and challenging to pronounce. Saying “Defense cooperation with Sweden will be intensified” was almost easily translated to Hungarian “Elmélyítjük a védelmi együttmûködést Svédországgal.”

Then it became more challenging: “general conscription” “általános hadkötelezettség“ was harder to say. “Decide on the replacement of the capability” even harder “dönt a teljesítõképességének pótlásáról” but the best of all was still left: “based on international commitments” – “a nemzetközi kötelezettségvállalásokon kell alapulnia.”

Now, when we are returning to Helsinki, the daily use of Hungarian might become less. However, according to researchers, learning new languages at a mature age helps to maintain your memory and avoid Alzheimer‘s disease. I hope it is true. I will try to keep up my Hungarian as long as I remember.

Köszönöm a kedves olvasók figyelmét és türelmét! Mindenkinek minden jót kívánok!

Pasi Tuominen

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