“Until that, I did not know that all – and I really mean all – interesting and valuable things are coming from Budapest” – said Joe Biden.
As we have already reported, the US’s next president Joe Biden spent his honeymoon in Hungary in 1977. Besides Lake Balaton, he also visited Esztergom, and turns out he also had some secret meetings during his stay – says Blikk.
On 15 July 1977, the US Embassy in Budapest received a confidential telegram saying that senator Joseph Biden who has never been in the area, is coming for a visit with his chief adviser, John Ritch. The purpose of the visit was to collect information on issues the congress will have to decide on in the upcoming years.
Before the visit, Biden married his second wife, Jill. The wedding was organised by the later congress member, Hungarian Tom Lantos. Before the summer, Lantos Told Biden, “Now we are going on a honeymoon!” to which Biden replied, “What the hell are you talking about?” – remembered the next president.
“So we packed our stuff and went to Hungary. We visited Balaton too. Until that, I had no idea that the only place in the world where it is worth to eat fish is Balaton. Neither did I know that all – and I really mean all – interesting and valuable things are coming from Budapest.”
He indeed went to Tihany, and on a trip to Esztergom but his visit was really about exploring the situation in Hungary. He did not randomly choose Hungary for honeymoon but to search for the antidote for communism.
Biden was very much interested in how, as John Ritch told Blikk, “In that period, Hungary could gradually create a more and more free atmosphere without triggering a backlash from the Soviets.”
They met a couple of communist politicians, including János Nagy deputy foreign minister, as well as István Huszár, who was deputy head of the minister council. Biden also met the leading Hungarian foreign politics journalists, which was according to the embassy’s records, just as useful for Biden as for the journalists.
The Hungarian politicians at the time were worried that the state of democracy, the rule of law and press freedom would disturb the relationship between the US and Hungary. At the same time, journalists were concerned that if the relationship turns cold again, hard times will come even within the borders.
Assisted by Lantos, Biden also had some secret meetings during his stay. These meetings included Hungarian Jews whose emigration applications were rejected for some reason by the Hungarian government. Ritch specifically highlighted meeting Hungarian author Iván Boldizsár, who told him about trying to maintain a national identity under the Soviet’s supervision. Ritch said, “For me, he embodied the tragedy of Hungarians stuck between the East and the West.” He only learned now that Boldizsár earlier wrote an anti-American, Stalinist book.
Diplomat Alan Hardy, who was with the senator during his stay, remembered the times as:
“You could have talked to any Hungarian, and they would have recited you all the Soviet’s opinions, while without saying a word, they could let you know that they do not believe a single thing from it. This taught me a lot about people in general and repressed countries like Hungary.”
After the visit, Biden ordered Ritch to get information from the CIA about the force reduction trials related to Hungary, for his report. Afterwards, he supported strengthening both the cultural and trading ties between the two countries. He believed this was the only way to takeout Hungary of Soviet control and that what happens to Hungary will have an influence on all of Eastern-Europe. Biden also supported the decision to give the Holy Crown that was taken during the Second World War, back to Hungary.