Zbigniew Brzezinski is a “hawk” with whom I have associated myself for a long time. In the seventies, his crew cut, straightforward style and very personal accent , as National Security Adviser during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, was unavoidable on the World stage. He must have been the most terrifying enemy for the East European regimes. He was mercyless towards them.
I saw him for the first time somewhere around 1988 at a lecture he gave at the Academy of Sciences in Budapest. He brought a clear message to the then still captive nations of Eastern Europe. I can’t remember the details, but I do remember the fact, that I got into a fight with one of my best friends, he himself a professor of politology, on how we should interpret Brzezinski. I positively shared the views of the former National Security advisor on the issues of human rights and democracy.
I never thought I would ever become friends with professor Brzezinski. However I got in touch with Zbigniew as soon soon as I had arrived in the US. He was at the most prominent Washington security think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS. His views are always very profound. Whatever he says carries a weight. I was impressed by his vigor, his analysis and handling of the most recent facts. However what really overwhelmed me was his knowledge of the political protagonists of Central Europe. On this he was never ever wrong. His political analysis always meant a lot to me.The fact that I could call him for advice anytime was really important. He was sure to return my calls and always made time for a conversation.InWashington, Zbigniew Brzezinski just cannot be ignored. We owe him our gratitude for the help he gave us in support of change in our part of the World, and his support ever since.
We Hungarians do have an additional, special „relationship” with him. When in the seventies the Carter administration came up with the idea that the Hungarians should be handed back the crown of St.Stephen, Dr.Brzezinski opposed it. His opposition was based on the notion, that if the Americans give back the Hungarians this symbol of nationhood, they would legitimize the communist regime. On the other side there were those, who argued, that thats exactly the point: if by handing over the crown jewels they emphasize the nationhood of Hungarians, that can be a message of Hungary breaking away from the Soviet block. Zbigniew stood his grounds, but the President finally decided to give back the crown. I gather that it must have been at Zbigniew Brzezinski’s insistence, that it was a people to people act and not one between the US and Hungarian government, much less the US government to the Socialist Workers Party.
Zbigniew almost got his way. The crown was kept at Fort Knox, where they have the US gold reserves. That was all what they knew about the crown.That’s where they stored it after the „gold-train”, with all the looted Hungarian treasures [captured from the Germans] was brought here in 1945. They had no idea where the jewels could be in that huge fortress. A few days before the delegation, headed by then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance was supposed to travel to Hungary, the crown was nowhere to be found.
Zbiegniew told me that they had come up with all kinds of ideas. One was to cancel the visit. Someone even proposed, that they should make a fake crown, this way there would be a handover and there wouldn’t. Finally at the last minute his assistant called:
-Sir, they found the Hungarian Crown.
He told the story with a big smile.
His wife Emilie is an artist, a sculptor.The seemingly fragile but strong, elegant lady, mother of three, cuts, hollows, forms huge tree trunks, sometimes weighing tons, gives them a new lease on life.
Sometimes she discovers giant trunks on the sea coast , transports them back to their home in McLean, where she built her studio.I happily recall her successful exhibition in Budapest in the summer of 2003.
Zbigniew never disguised his heavy handed criticism of the Bush administrations foreign policy, including the Iraq war. His book „ The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership” called upon America to rethink its role. He meant his book, „A second chance” to be a wake up call and warned, that in his view the US has squandered much of its power and influence. America now will get a second chance and would better use it well. We had some excellent conversations during the end of the Bush presidency and at the dawn of the Obama „era” on the future of the Transatlantic family.We agreed that America must succeed because if not, the whole western world will slide down a slippery slope, with unforeseen consequences. Dr.Brzezisnski was sure about Obama’s victory. His son, Mark, an other friend of ours, even more so.
When I asked him how he knew, Mark said:
-America it not going to change, because it has already changed. The only place in the country they haven’t realized is in Washington D.C.
Zbigniew is a great believer in Central Europe and in Hungary, and he always spoke about us with great respect. Still he could not hide his disappointment with the performance of the then Hungarian government.
Zbigniew could be cool too.He and Emilie were the best of our guests at the Embassy, when the great Donovan (Mellow Yellow anyone?), the „fifth Beatle” came to a dinner with movie director David Lynch, and gave an impromptu concert.
And of course tennis.
It took a long time, before I dared to take up the challenge. Zbigniew has a reputation as a great tennis player, what am I going to do if I blundered. How are we going to discuss word politics, power when the word „looser” will be written on my forehead.
The professor has a great tennis court next to their house. I was ready for the worst. I had to run a lot. A tough opponent.Now I really understood why the Russians were so scared of him. However, I have a secret weapon. My legwork. As a child I rode a bike 2 -3 hours a day, and whenever I can I walk. My legs are strong and fast. That is how I was able to force stability upon Zbigniew’s hard and attacking game. There was of course another fact to my disadvantage.I could not look at my opponent without humility: oh my God, its Zbigniew Brzezinski across the net.
After a long and tormenting match lasting more than two hours, I won.The biggest victory of my life, like winning Wimbledon.
An outstanding politician, great sport.Writing this book I talked with Zbigniew.
Don’t forget to mention the tennis match.