The new Hungarian ambassador to Canada, Maria Vass-Salazar, arrived in Ottawa in September in the midst of challenges. However, she took up her post with great enthusiasm and sense of commitment. She set as her goal the further strengthening of Canada – Hungary relations. She gave an interview to the Kanadai/Amerikai Magyarság of her impressions of the first few months and her meetings with the Hungarians in Canada. (A portion of the interview.)
It has been almost two months since you arrived in Canada. How do you feel in the country and what were your first impression?
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to be able to introduce myself through this interview. It is a great personal honour to be able to serve in Canada. In my two-decade diplomatic career, it is the most gratifying and honoured posting to be able to represent Hungary, to be able to look after Hungary’s interests in Canada. My family and I arrived two months ago, and our two children quickly settled into their new life here. My first impressions of Canada are extremely positive, in spite of the difficult circumstances in which I had to start my diplomatic posting as the wide-ranging restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have placed great restrictions on our lives.
In the midst of challenges but with great enthusiasm and determination, I threw myself into my ambassadorial work. In these early months, I have received excellent first-hand experience of cooperation with our Canadian partners regarding the possibilities of further strengthening Canada – Hungary relations. It is particularly important for me personally, the warm and positive reception I received from the Hungarian communities living in Canada. I think it is of utmost importance to continue the fruitful collaboration that my predecessor, ambassador dr. Bálint Ódor, was able to build with the Hungarian communities in Canada. I look forward to a close relationship with the Hungarian communities. I look at it as a dedicated priority. I would like to give every aid possible to their extremely valuable activities, to realize their goals.
In the past weeks, you have been in Toronto, Niagara Falls and a tour of western Canada. What was it like to meet with the Hungarians of the diaspora Canada-wide?
It was a very uplifting experience! I feel it is important to meet personally with the Canadian Hungarian groups at the beginning of my mandate. My first trip outside Ottawa took me to Toronto. It gave me great pleasure to be able to meet with a large number of Hungarian organizations, to be able to express my appreciation toward them [for their work], and also to express my commitment toward continued co-operation. I visited Niagara Falls at the invitation of the Hungarian community. It was a great honour and inspiring feeling to take part in Edmonton and Calgary in their celebration of the 64th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight. I visited Kelowna where I had an opportunity to meet members of the local community.
It was a moving experience to visit, in Banshaw, the cemetery and memorial of the first Hungarian settlers in Alberta. In Vancouver, I meth the representatives of the local Hungarian groups. I’ve had several opportunities to meet with the Ottawa groups and it was an honour to take part in the laying of a wreath at the 1956 memorial. As soon as the pandemic restrictions ease, I would like to visit Montreal, as well as make visits to every Hungarian community Canada-wide. I feel it is important to nurture the existing relationships as a sign of the Hungarian government’s dedication to, and appreciation of, Hungarians living in the diaspora. The task of retaining Hungarian identity and nurturing cultural values by the Hungarian groups of Canada, the groups create incalculable value with their active participation.
The work of ambassador is extremely multi-faceted. What are the goals, missions that you want to focus on in the coming years?
First and foremost, to represent the interests of Hungary, to serve Hungary – that defines everything, that is the main directive of an ambassador’s role. Canada is an important ally to Hungary. I feel it is of great importance to continue the co-operation with our Canadian partners on a government, and wider political, level, to continue to build relationships in matters of common interest. I think it is important to exploit all the possibilities in our being NATO allies. In the area of foreign trade, it is a high priority, an important government initiative, to boost the investment of Canadian companies in Hungary, as well as increase exports to Canada. In this regard, it is important to note that the Hungarian Export Development Agency (Magyar Exportfejlesztési Ügynökség) opened an office in Toronto, giving expanded export efforts a boost.
I attach personal importance to continue the existing relationships with the Hungarian communities, the retaining of our Hungarian national traditions by the organizations, to support their tireless work creating the spiritual, intellectual and cultural communities. Further, it is my special goal to spread appreciation of all of Hungary’s values as widely as possible in Canada.
I hope that, once the difficulties raised by the virus have disappeared, we can give new impetus to showcase the treasures of Hungarian culture and art – music, fine arts, performance art – in the same way as scientific breakthroughs, innovation, and Hungarian intellectual achievements.
All these goals we are trying very hard to accomplish with the co-operation of the foreign trade offices operating in Canada, the Toronto consulate and the Vancouver vice-consulate.
Click here for the full interview