The landlocked central European country, Hungary, used to be known as a satellite state for the Soviet Union during the communist era. It shared a lot of history with the then socialist Ethiopia.
More importantly, hundreds of students were sent to Hungary, as it was one of the best European countries in terms of ideology and quality education. It was categorized as a high-income economy by the World Bank in 2007, and was put among the thirty most popular tourist destinations. After more than two decades diplomatic silence, and a shutdown of the consular offices between the two countries, a renewal procedure has taken place through scholarship and investment. Marcell Biro (Ph.D), state secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, has just visited Ethiopia to restore stronger diplomatic ties with Africa. He met with several government officials, including the deputy prime minister and minister of education, Demeke Mekonen, and discussed the future prospects of bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Henok Reta of The Reporter caught up with him to learn about the new approaches the two countries have set towards a new era after the fall of communism. Excerpts:
The Reporter: You are heading a high-ranking Hungarian delegation here after some twenty years. What brought you here? How hard was it to pursue strong relations with a new approach?
Marcello Biro: I was appointed to this position by the president two years ago, and my main duty is to follow the legislative process. I am here to meet government officials, to seek the continuation of the former diplomatic relations with Ethiopia in its new version. Both countries were once so active in the socialism ideology, and now they are embarking on a new era in which they can foster democracy, prosperity and justice.
How did you conceive the idea of renewing the historic relationship with Ethiopia and the entire continent?
Ethiopia and Hungary were well known for their strong relationship in the 1970s and 1980s because both had a common political ideology and interest in building a great nation. Many Ethiopian students attended schools in Hungary and made the relationship solid. This time Hungary is reopening its eyes to Africa, and the continent is attracting eyes from every corner. We organized an African forum a few weeks ago, and it was attended by the AU commissioner, Mrs. Nkosazani Dlamini-Zuma. Ethiopia, as a country, is the most important one and a place where the African Union is found.
You have been holding talks with the Ministry of Education. What new scholarship programs are you planning for this country?
These two new scholarship programs will foster the development of the civil service in the country. Public administration is so vital in mobilizing people for development, and education is a key to address the people as well. Our National University is well known in Europe for its special offers in the field of public administration. So, Ethiopian students are invited to study there and come back to promote the civil service and the country’s immense human resource.
You lectured at the University of the Public Servants in Addis yesterday. What reaction did you get from the students?
It was a very nice opportunity for me, and I faced many questions with regard to public administration. The challenge set by the students was important for me. We shared ideas that are very important for both of us. We were asked by the students how we put the justice and public administration together, and we tried to elaborate according to the constitution. We also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, and its counterpart of Hungary, to reopen the embassy and facilitate a study tour for the public administration development in Ethiopia.
Hungary was among the countries from East and Central Europe that were terribly affected by the communist ideology. How difficult was it to transform your country to its current situation?
Well, it was so difficult for the people to restore the country entirely because it was necessary to start from zero. Just, generally speaking, we closed the window of the former ideology, and opened a new window for a new ideology. Moreover, we came along with several continental partnerships, and cooperation. Joining the EU in 2004, we then entered NATO. Now, we abide by the EU’s working principle. We have a parliamentary democratic state that holds an election every four years.
Are there any lessons that Ethiopia can learn from the swift transition you made within a couple of decades?
I think Ethiopia did similarly well, and it’s still doing well. We did it our way, and you did it your way. Maybe we can learn a lot together now. When we started our journey we were not aware of the things to do next, when joining the EU we got a lot of lessons on how to construct a state and everything under a democratic will and decision.
Apart from the education sector, what have you been planning to share with Ethiopia? Do you see any possibility of a trade and investment boom under the bilateral cooperation?
I think we can share our experience in good governance and justice. We have a promising trend in Europe for the future. In October we are organizing a voter’s summit, and that might be a good opportunity to get a glimpse of light for Ethiopia and the other African countries. On the other hand, Africa is now becoming a different continent from the time it was before, and we should shake our business community to look into it. In Ethiopia, for instance, the agriculture sector has plenty of options. That might be another possible area to seek involvement.
When will Budapest return its embassy back to Addis from Nairobi?
I think it’s been discussed for a few years, but we do not yet know when it will return. However, things are moving rapidly to do it. It was in 1992 when the government wanted to reopen it here, but due to budgetary reasons and inconvenience it was delayed until now. It will reopen soon because Addis has now become the capital of Africa.
Danube, the continent’s second largest river, is flowing across six countries including Hungary, and you have been sharing it together for equal benefit. What could you tell the riparian countries of the Nile River from your experience, as you are here at a time when Ethiopia and Egypt are discussing their differences?
This is, of course, a moment when the Egyptian and Ethiopian Foreign Ministers are holding talks in order to halt the escalating unfavorable conditions over the Nile. We, the six countries, had a concern over the Danube, but we came together to discuss all the differences, and found a way through which every country could benefit from the water. Through time it has become a sign of solidarity. It feels happiness when sharing the water from its capital in Budapest. It had several aspects, such as energy and transportation. It took some twenty years to come up with a solution that helps everyone. In spite of all these problems we could manage our differences to use it together. I think the Nile’s future will be the same, as a round table discussion is taking place among the countries.