Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany received GW’s highest honor Thursday from University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
Gyurcsany, who was issued the President’s Medal, has been prime minister of Hungary since September 2004 and has been praised for promoting democracy in Hungary; enunciating a pro-Atlantic and pro-European policy; and for keeping Hungary a member of the European Union and NATO. But the prime minister has also been criticized for being a member of the Communist Party up until about 1990.
The President’s Medal, established in 1998, is annually awarded to prominent national and international leaders for distinctive achievements. Former recipients include former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, former Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.
Trachtenberg said during Thursday’s ceremony at the Elliott School of International Affairs building that he selected Gyurcsany for the award based on his compassionate leadership.
Throughout his speech following the ceremony, Gyrucsany praised democratic ideals and admitted the challenges Hungary has faced since its transition to an independent democratic country after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“Hungary realized democracy and freedom because all the people of Hungary believed it could bring a better life,” Gyurcsany said. “Not just for the few, but for everybody. I have to share my opinion that many young democracies fear the new Hungary has not fulfilled its new promises to everybody. This is the greatest challenge for Hungary.”
Hugh Agnew, GW associate professor of history and international affairs, felt that presenting the award to Gyurcsany reflected positively on the University.
“Ferenc Gyurcs?ny is the current Prime Minister of Hungary, a country
that played an important role first in challenging communism, then in
reforming communism, and later in building a successful democracy that
was considered one of the front runners for accession to the European
Union,” he wrote in an e-mail Friday.
Agnew added that next year will mark the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s uprising against Communist rule in 1956 and said “timing of this award is quite appropriate.”
Despite Gyurcsany’s involvement in the Communist Party early in his career, Agnew believes that he is still deserving of the award.
“Mr. Gyurcsany emerged as his country’s prime minister through a democratic process, and GW students have no particular reason to question the Hungarian electorate’s opinions about their leaders’ political credentials,” he said.
During his speech the prime minister also touched on many proposals and ideas for making Hungary more competitive globally, including heavier state involvement in a fair economic market, more effective decision-making processes for the European Union, protection from Islamic extremists and a balance in the “advancement of culture, knowledge and health.”
Gyrucsany also presented the problems Hungary faces in being more like the United States.
“In the past 15 or 20 years we have lagged behind the United States,” he said. “We don’t know how to respond to this by keeping our customs while also being progressive.”
Gyrucsany emphasized the need to protect Hungary’s strong values while also becoming a more technologically advanced country.
“It is our duty to protect our families and our cultural values,” he said, adding that better education and technology are key factors in becoming successful economically in a global economy.
In addition to students and professors, new Elliott School Dean Michael Brown attended the event, along with Hungary’s ambassador to the United States Andr?s Simonyi and American ambassador to Hungary George Herbert Walker III. Walker is the first cousin of former President George Bush and uncle to the current president.