From the reinforcement of British-Hungarian ties to the best Hungarian poets and wine regions, Iain Lindsay’s years as an ambassador in Hungary were a journey full of political challenges and exciting cultural experiences.
In an interview made with Magyar Nemzet, resigning British Ambassador to Hungary Iain Lindsay talks about Brexit, his work at the Embassy, his favourite things about Hungarian culture, and how his Scottish roots influenced the way he sees Hungary.
When Lindsay applied to be Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Hungary in 2014, there was no way of telling that his work would be so strongly determined by Brexit. He says that apart from the withdrawal negotiations, his most important job in recent years was to re-establish bilateral ties between the UK and Hungary. With Hungary’s accession to the EU in 2004, certain elements of this relationship had vanished, but the fact that these will no longer be handled by Brussels gives both countries a chance to reinforce these ties.
With regards to Brexit, he personally thinks that what is happening in Westminster is a “perfect example of a well-functioning democracy”, even though the delay in decision-making might reduce the time to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU. He adds that while the British decision to leave the EU received vast criticism from many different sources,
“there is no country in the European Union that was as supportive and respectful with us as Hungary.”
In the last decade, nearly 140,000 Hungarians arrived in the UK, as opposed to 20,000 in 1956 – seeing the number of Hungarians living in the UK today, it cannot be ignored that Brexit was a painful blow to Hungary, but “the UK will guarantee the rights of Hungarians living there”, he says reassuringly.
Lindsay says that despite the many formalities, “the United Kingdom is a very practical country”. The Embassy in Hungary, for example, provided sponsorship in a large number of events, such as the Budapest Beer Festival; it was involved in charity runs, and raised funds, with the involvement of Scottish football fans, for the renovation of a kindergarten in Budapest’s Józsefváros.
As for his personal experiences, Lindsay was a leading participant of the March of the Living, which was also a tribute to Jane Haining, a Scottish hero who helped many Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust. He was the flag-bearer for the British team at the Maccabi Games organised in Budapest, and not long ago, he was even given a small role in the Puskás musical.
During his service of four years, he highly enjoyed working and living in Hungary. He learned to speak Hungarian, and he shows great enthusiasm about Hungarian culture in general. Some Hungarians whose life he is most intrigued by are Tibor Scitovszky (a politician who ordered the construction of the building housing the British Embassy today), and poets Miklós Radnóti and Gyula Juhász. He thinks that “Sándor Petőfi is to Hungary what Robert Burns is to Scotland”.
For the links between Hungary and his home country, Scotland (and the UK), he tells the story of Saint Margaret of Scotland and speaks about Budapest’s Chain Bridge (Lánchíd), which is actually a replica of the English Marlow Bridge and was designed by William Clark.
“Scottish people resemble Hungarians in that both nations are proud of their national identity, and none of them likes to depend on others.”
Iain Lindsay’s favourite Hungarian places are Szeged and the Balaton Uplands. In Budapest, he loves the night view over the city from Gellért Hill and enjoys taking tram 2 along the Danube promenade. His favourite Hungarian foods include goulash and the Esterházy cake, and he loves the wines from the Szekszárd region. “I think that wine is Hungary’s best-kept secret”, he concludes the interview.