Seventy-eight year-old Jon Greenwald is lobbying to be the next US Ambassador to Budapest

Seventy-eight year-old (!) Princeton and Harvard trained Jon Greenwald wants to be next US Ambassador to Budapest.  He has already contacted the Biden team and declared that he wishes to serve the US in Hungary.  Greenwald also wrote a letter to Béla Lipták (Hungarian Lobby) about his past Hungarian experience and motivations and we asked permission to re-publish it.  Here it is.

Jon Greenwald

Dear Béla,

Thank you for our good conversation Friday. I shall look for your book when it is published next month, but today I want to respond to your email and explain a little further to the Hungarian Lobby why Eastern Europe and particularly Hungary are special to me, and why I have told the Biden team that I wish to serve our country there. I’ll try also to respond briefly to the important points in your message 

Though I was able to bring some money into the Biden campaign, I’m not a partisan political insider, but rather a foreign affairs professional, with 30 years experience in the Foreign Service, much of it in and about Eastern Europe, and nearly 20 years as vice president with the International Crisis Group, perhaps the leading conflict resolution non-governmental organization in the world.

I served in Hungary as the embassy’s political counselor in the 1980s; I was political counselor in East Berlin when the Wall fell. I helped negotiate the Helsinki Final Act and was a key U.S. delegation member at the initial review conferences in Belgrade and Madrid. I taught in Budapest at the Central European University on my 2014 sabbatical. I understand the region’s importance and the challenges still present there, not least that Viktor Orbán is perhaps the most influential champion of a populist “illiberal democracy” in Europe; but also because, as you indicate, it is essential to deal with the human rights deficiencies Hungarians still suffer in neighboring countries if we are to achieve and maintain the vital U.S. security interest President George H.W. Bush described as “Europe whole and free” and President Clinton began to implement with NATO and European Union expansion.

My desire to return to Hungary, whose language I speak, though very imperfectly, is also a matter of heart. Budapest was the first post to which I went with my wife after we met and married in Berlin, and my roots are all in the old Kingdom of Hungary. 

My grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side came from the High Tatras in what now Slovakia. When I drove my parents from Budapest, we found our last European relative reading Uj Szo in her Kosice apartment. In Haligovce, below the Polish border, the old gentleman who said he was the village’s last Hungarian and had known our family took us across backyards to uncover the grave of Wilhelm Grunwald, the brother who stayed when my grandfather went to the New World.  

My mother’s father came at age 15 from Tiszaderzs to Scranton. Her mother, who raised her in Scranton, came from a village east of Debrecen on one side or the other of today’s Hungary-Romania border. Both grandmothers spoke to me frequently of “the good old emperor” (Franz Josef).

In the 1990s, responsibility for improving and guaranteeing the human rights of the Hungarian minorities in Eastern Europe was turned over to the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) as a precondition for NATO and European Union membership.  Unfortunately that responsibility was imperfectly carried out. 

Candidly, and as you know, an ambassador in Budapest cannot make up the deficiencies alone. It is necessary to find and work with allies, including U.S. ambassadors in the neighboring countries, at the OSCE and at the EU in Brussels, but also importantly with the Orbán government. I would strive to build that coalition, knowing that Joe Biden shares the objective. I would hope quiet diplomacy can persuade Prime Minister Orbán that greater U.S. cooperation in achieving human rights improvements for the wider Hungarian nation should be reciprocated, that his government would in turn seek the stronger partnership built on shared democratic values that would be much in the interests of both Hungary and the U.S.

If I can serve again in Eastern Europe, I will prepare not least by consulting widely on these issues and strategies with fellow Americans who proudly share my heritage in and passion for these lands, and I will put a lifetime of diplomatic experience into the job.


— Jon Greenwald


Jonathan (Jon) Greenwald

Jon Greenwald, now “retired”, was a U.S. diplomat for 30 years, then for 17 years, until 2017, vice president responsible for research and reporting at the International Crisis Group, a leading non-governmental conflict prevention organization. As a member of the Board of the Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School (Kingston, PA), he initiated in 2017 and leads its project, in partnership with the Givat Haviva International School in Israel and Schule Schloss Salem in Germany, to bring Israeli and Palestinian students to study together. The project – on pause for a year due to Covid — seeks to inspire other top schools globally to do the same, so as to strengthen the people-to-people infrastructure that can ultimately support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.

An international law specialist with a Harvard Law doctor of jurisprudence degree, he retired from the Foreign Service in 1998 after serving as Minister-Counselor of the U.S. Mission to the European Union. Earlier posts included Belgrade, Budapest, Madrid, West Berlin and East Berlin. At the latter, he was the embassy’s political counselor as the Wall fell and Germany reunited. He served on U.S. delegations to the UN General Assembly and the international conferences that drafted, then reviewed the Helsinki Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE/OSCE) and held key positions in the State Department’s legal, intelligence, human rights, counter-terrorism and European bureaus. 

From 2006 until completion of the work in 2017, he served concurrently and pro bono as the State Department-designated U.S. member of the three-person commission created by a U.S.-Austria agreement to adjudicate some 21,000 Holocaust-era claims on behalf of the Austrian National Fund for Victims of National Socialism, a service for which Austria conferred on him its High Honor Award with Star for Services to the Republic.

He has taught diplomacy as visiting professor/practitioner at Lawrence University and conflict prevention, counter-terrorism and European and Middle East politics at Lawrence summer programs and the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington. He led a seminar on Iran and the U.S., focused on the nuclear negotiations, at the Central European University’s School of Public Policy (Budapest, 2014); coordinated foreign policy issues for Senator Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign (1999-2000) and has authored a book, Berlin Witness: an American Diplomat’s Chronicle of East Germany’s Revolution, as well as articles for the Washington Quarterly, Aussenpolitik, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Haaretz, Forward and Politico.

A Pennsylvania native who also holds a summa cum laude BA degree from Princeton and an honorary doctorate from Misericordia University (Dallas, PA), he lives in McLean, VA with wife Gabriele and cats. He is a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, the American Foreign Service Association, the Democratic Party and Biden Campaign National Finance Committees, Foreign Policy4America and J Street leadership councils, and the Boards of the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT, Barcelona) and the Balkans Policy Research Group. He speaks English (native), German (fluently), Hungarian and French (professionally).


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