Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vera and the Ambassador reviewed

American Foreign Policy Interests recently reviewed Vera and the Ambassador. We've pasted in the entire, glowing review below.

This is an exceptional book by two exceptional people, Vera and Donald Blinken, who set a high standard of achievement in a difficult ambassadorial assignment.

Donald served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary from March of 1994 until November of 1997. An investment banker and patron of the arts with a solid understanding of foreign policy issues, he was ideally suited to serve in the strategically important country of Hungary as it underwent a difficult transition from communism to democracy.

Vera Blinken, a former special assistant for the arts and cultural affairs to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and member of the Board of the International Rescue Committee, was proof that an ambassador’s wife can make a real difference. Hungarian born and fluent in the language, she was able to help Donald interpret the not always easy to comprehend Hungarian patterns of behavior.

Donald had two great achievements during his years in Budapest. He played a critical role in persuading the Hungarian government to accept the U.S. military base in Taszar, essential for U.S. participation in the NATO peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, which also paved the way for Hungary’s eventual entry into NATO. Equally important, his persistent yet diplomatic advice at the highest levels of the government was essential in moving Hungary to free market reforms after years of stultifying state controls.

Vera transformed what had been a somewhat dreary embassy resident, making it an exciting intellectual and cultural center for Hungarian leaders and visiting Americans. She also founded PRIMAVERA, the first breast cancer screening program in Central and Eastern Europe. She was, in every sense, a perfect coambassador.

It was a fitting tribute to Donald and Vera that each of them was awarded Hungary’s highest honor, the Middle Cross of the Order of Merit, something unprecedented for a husband-wife team.

Donald and Vera alternate in recounting the details of their Hungarian experience. They do it in a very frank and personal way, telling of both frustrations and triumphs, so that the reader gets to understand what running an embassy is like and why ambassadors are important.

At a time when President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are seeking to revitalize American diplomacy, this book by the Blinkens provides timely and inspiring testimony of how a dedicated and capable ambassadorial team can advance the interests of the United States.

- Richard N. Gardner, Professor of Law and International
Organization, Columbia University