Vera and the Ambassador: Escape and Return by Vera Blinken

By Vera Blinken

A behind-the-scenes examine international relations and diplomacy in post-Communist japanese Europe.

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Sushma was a nutritionist, and he told me to phone her. With all of Hungary’s problems, I had the good luck to identify a need in which the wife of the ambassador was an expert. Sushma and I established a program to educate Hungarians about the dangers of their diet, which was killing more men under forty with heart attacks than in any other country in Europe. To fund it, I set up the American-Hungarian Friendship Forum. I now had a reason to return to Hungary on a regular basis. In June 1989, the first President Bush visited Budapest and announced that the Peace Corps would be coming to Hungary to teach English, RETURN 37 the international language of business and technology.

A few weeks later, I received a phone call from the Peace Corps asking if the American-Hungarian Friendship Forum would underwrite a symposium the Peace Corps was planning to hold in Hungary that fall. Because this was to be the Peace Corps’ first program in a developed country, the organizers wanted to be careful about consulting with Hungarian educators on the parameters of the proposed English language curriculum. However, the Peace Corps was authorized to fund only programs, not conferences.

Tears erupted as each new sight exposed another hardship imposed by an oppressive regime. We had a letter of introduction to the American ambassador, Mark Palmer, from our friend John Whitehead, who was then deputy secretary of state. Upon arriving in Budapest, we learned that the ambassador was out of the country. It was just as well, since under the circumstances I was not fit company. It matched my mood that Budapest looked so sad and grey. The government had done little maintenance and only necessary repairs RETURN 33 since taking power and nationalizing private property after the war.

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