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).



  1. Who cares??? I could nominate myself for the same job: credentials: born in Romania/ Hungary, only child of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust (which I don’t hide or cover up), whose grandparents were given over by the Hungarian arrow cross gendarmes packed into cattle grains to certain murder upon arrival to Auschwitz – June 13, 1944.
    And being a Jew, I don’t put my nose in dreaming of a 2 state (what “Palestinian state” Jon Greenwald???
    Now you of all people dare hint, mingle, try to force Israel what to do?
    Almody Tovab- J street member.

  2. I have a feeling that the gentleman would represent better the Trump line rather than the current American government.

  3. Avatar Pierre Divenyi says:

    I also have reservations about Mr. Greenwald being the appropriate person for ambassadorship in Hungary. He seems to be more interested in the rights of the Hungarian minority in the countries surrounding Hungary than in the loss of essentially all human rights of the people inside that country, except of those actively supporting Orban’s monumentally corrupt regime that, on the foreign politics front, has been also actively pushing policies exactly opposite to U.S. interests. So, no, Mr. Greenwald!

  4. Hungary has no human rights challenges. Anyone who starts out with the word “challenges” because of FIDESZ’s philosophy does not belong in Hungary.

    Hungary is a sovereign country. Mr. Orban ‘s policies supporting jobs, families and innovation are Hungary’s recipe for success. Hungarian government uses patriotism and common sense to rule the country.

    The US is not nor was elected as world leader. Hungary does not need the help of anyone from a country that has chaos on its border, does not enforce laws and the president is doing his best to bankrupt the country.

    If Biden wants to save the US, it should follow Hungary’s example. Jon Greenwald has an exaggerated feeling of self importance. Hungary does not want you. Keep your outdated ideas in the US and do not soil Hungary’s land by your presence.

    • Avatar Reality Check says:

      Congratulations Theresa, you managed to score an own goal!

      Freedom of speech is a human right, yet you are stating that those who practice it and speak out about Fidesz shouldn’t be in Hungary.

      I understand and don’t hold it against you since you are “challenged” in many ways.

  5. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    I nominate Maria von Theresa as Orbán’s next Ambassador to the Galapagos, and would gently ask Mr. Greenwald not to come out of retirement at age 78 in order to lead the latest Jewish-American geriatric tragicomedy in the Hungarian capital. The people of Abraham, not to mention Hungary, deserve a better show. How about giving a shot to a member of a new generation – a competent representative of Black Lives Matter, or a female member of Spike Lee’s film crew ? America’s interests in Hungary should be represented by a member of a generation that is less infected by the greed and blindness of the previous one. The very idea of turning to Béla Lipták for support is a dead give-away of Mr. Greenwald’s inadequacy, and of his lack of vision. Lipták has single-handedly done more than anyone in America to legitimize and popularize the criminal gang that is in charge of Hungary today. Mr. Greenwald could you please give us all a break?

  6. Avatar Pityi Palkó says:

    The European Union’s fundamental values are respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. These values unite all the member states – no country that does not recognize these values can belong to the Union.
    All this, O1G, this urine-smelling, village pleb, Hungary’s present Prime Minister, cannot comprehend since his mind is without a shred of modern imagination. His views are out of date and his ideas are of a routine, common thief. His limited peasant mind been poisoned by Marxist ideology during his years as a Kommunist youth leader during Hungary’s proletár dictatura. He is not able to tolerate men of first class ability, men who perceive the trends of the time, have the appropriate know-how, are able to think, men who has the judgement and foresight demanded in the 21 st century. His inner life is in every respect that of a philistine. His intellectual prowess does not extend beyond his innate highly skilled evasive cunning.
    Orbán Viktor’s manners, habits and character is of a person whose anti-intellectual social attitude undervalues and despises art and beauty, spirituality, intellect and personal freedom. He is a Philistine person of smugly narrow mind, with conventional morality whose materialistic views and tastes indicate a lack of and an indifference to democratic values.

  7. Avatar Don Kichote says:

    Probably Béla had to fight his high blood pressure after reading the friendly letter from Jon Greenwald. 🙂

  8. I hesitatingly write as I normally avoid this site like the coronavirus, but I know Jon Greenwald and this article interested me. As a liberal, the perspectives on this site and the resulting commentary are as infuriating as the idiot Trump supporters that love to chime in with their own false propaganda (“Maria von Theresa” attacking Biden for cutting taxes on working Americans as “bankrupting America” while cheering Trump who, even worse than GW Bush’s $2 TRILLION deficit, left us with a $4 TRILLION deficit). But there is little difference between communists and fascists, and this site reflects this.

    As a liberal who values human and minority rights and one who is deeply motivated by justice issues, it continues to strike me as deeply hypocritical to claim to be concerned over human rights and freedom in today’s Hungary and neglect minority rights elsewhere, whether in the United States, Myanmar, Kurdistan, or other areas of indigenous populations whose language and culture are under threat like those of the Hungarian communities in the Carpathian Basin.

    How can one call themselves American if not concerned with the rights of fellow Americans? How can one call themselves Hungarian if not concerned with the rights of fellow Hungarians? How can one call themselves liberal if not concerned with the rights of humanity everywhere? Right, Mr. “Devenyi?”

    It is very clear Jon Greenwald is concerned over rights and democracy in Hungary. Stability in Central and Eastern Europe is very much in US interests. Continuing to ignore issues that have been simmering for a century does nothing to promote US interests. Allowing an increasingly assertive Russia capitalize on these tensions does nothing to promote US interests. We see Hungary increasingly turning Eastward. That also is not in US interests. The United States should lead.

    While we may never fully recover from the pathetic, woeful incompetence of the Trump regime, Jon Greenwald should be LAUDED for his principled stance on the rights of Hungarians across borders they did not choose.

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