Portuguese tiles at the Deák tér metro station in downtown Budapest | Dávid Harangozó

Mutual attraction

In the Diplomacy&Trade series WittyLeaks, whihc presents the private expoeriences of ambassadors accredited to Budapest, the Portuguese ambassador's recent article forcused on diverse connections between Portugal and Hungary.

I arrived in Budapest a year and a half
ago and I am feeling more and more at home. I recognize that this is not
difficult in such a beautiful and interesting capital city, but besides the
charms of Budapest and of the rest of the country – which I am still
discovering –, I must also say that my work as the diplomatic representative of
Portugal has been made easier by the friendliness and availability of all the
people that I have met either at official or private levels.

Both Hungary and Portugal can be proud of
a very long history, a strong national identity and a rich culture. I have been
particularly pleased and impressed by the large number of Hungarian students of
Portuguese language and culture in several universities and secondary schools
in this country and by the high level of their achievements. This shows that
there is a mutual attraction despite the geographical distance.

When studying Portuguese, an immense world
perspective is opened to those engaged in such studies as these bring them
closer to all the member-countries of the Community
of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP), with 220 million people spread out
in four continents. I was therefore particularly pleased to learn that Hungary
had obtained the statute of observer at the CPLP summit in Rio de Janeiro last

Building on this cultural proximity, I
have been working, among other things, in bringing to the forefront some of our
bilateral ties that are relatively unknown to the Hungarians. For example, one
of the main architects who participated in the reconstruction of Lisbon after
the terrible earthquake of 1755 and whose work and influence can still be found
in many Portuguese 18th century buildings was the Hungarian-born
Carlos Mardel (Marttel Károly). He certainly deserves to be better known today
in his native country.

One must recall the help provided by
Portuguese diplomats in Budapest, in 1944, to hundred of Jews to escape to
Portugal, among which the parents and sisters of Zsazsa Gabor. Closer to our
time, the tragic events of 1956 were recently remembered in Portugal and also
the many families who received in their homes Hungarian refugee children
arriving through Caritas to Lisbon.

I should also mention the fact that the
most remarkable Portuguese painter in the second half of the 20th century, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, was happily married for 50 years to
another painter, Budapest-born Árpád Szenes. The museum in Lisbon that houses
today many of their paintings carries their names.

Since both Hungary and Portugal are
producers of very good wines, due probably to our shared Roman heritage, it is
common knowledge that those wines must be preserved by high quality bottle
stoppers. What is perhaps less well known is that the majority of Hungarian
wine bottles use Portuguese cork for their stoppers. Furthermore, besides this
traditional and very significant Portuguese export to Hungary, Portuguese cork
products of modern design in many shapes have found their way into Hungarian
shops. Also in the area of civil construction, cork is a very useful and
ecological insulating material. I understand that it was extensively employed
in the beautiful Müpa (Palace of Arts) building in Budapest.

Portuguese exports and investments in
Hungary have gone beyond traditional products, however. For example, some very
visible if not noticed items are the garbage collectors and trash cans in use
in Budapest which are similar to the models that one finds in Lisbon thanks to
a successful bilateral arrangement.

In the world of sport, namely that of
canoeing, many of the boats used in international competitions, like the
Olympics, nowadays, by Hungarian athletes, have a Portuguese origin.

And speaking of something quite different,
the colorful tiles that one can see on the walls of the downtown metro station
Deák Ferenc square are some of the famous Portuguese ‘azulejos’. They were a gift from the Lisbon Metro Company to its
Budapest counterpart .

Tourism is, of course, one of the thriving
industries in both countries and it has been growing bilaterally in a very
promising way. An amusing consequence that I have been told of is the large
number of Portuguese tourists in Budapest, that see our flag on my official
car, when I am attending some ceremony and enthusiastically ask my Hungarian
driver, who is he carrying and to what function !

As my husband and I are music lovers, we
have been having a marvelous time going to excellent concerts and operas. We
have even been able to go to the theater despite the language barrier thanks to
subtitles in English above the stage.

In the musical context, I recently found a
very informative article in a Portuguese magazine called Ilustração Portuguesa of 1911, written by a famous Portuguese
pianist of that period, José Vianna da Mota, who was one of the last pupils of
Franz Liszt. It recalls with great admiration his contact with the great
Master. I had it translated into Hungarian, so that I can offer it to the Liszt
Museum in Budapest.

I hope that I have identified some of the
less known areas that bring Portuguese and Hungarians closer to each other.
They form part of my daily work as I strive to increase the bilateral contacts.
It is a duty that I carry on, I must admit, with great pleasure in the friendly
environment of Hungary.

Maria José Morais Pires

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