Zoltán Turai was HIF’s first Andrássy National Security Fellow. After his eventful six months in Washington, he returned to Europe and worked at NATO’s Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy as a Hungarian defense expert, and now heads up Hungary’s counterterrorism efforts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Where are you on your career path now?
I currently work as the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest dealing with several important issues. Although the outbreak of the coronavirus has slowed down our work for quite some time, my position generally comes with a lot of travel and requires the representation of Hungarian interests in various international fora (UN, EU, NATO, OSCE, Council of Europe). When I am not traveling, I usually prepare background analyses and talking points for the meetings of the senior leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I love my job and I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn from very smart people every day and contribute to the representation of Hungarian foreign and security policy interests.
Which achievements are you most proud of since we met?
I am proud of my professional journey with the ups and downs that have come with it. I had returned from the US before Christmas in 2017, and a lot of great things have happened since then. I spent a year as a seconded national expert from the Ministry of Defense at NATO Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, where I had the luck of working with people with very different professional backgrounds on strategic challenges facing NATO from Africa and the Middle East. I am very proud of having joined the Hungarian Foreign Service last August and pursuing a meaningful diplomatic career always full of new challenges.
How did your experience with HIF in the US help you reach your goals?
I learned a lot in the US both professionally and personally. First and foremost, I regained a lot of confidence, which I think is natural after a longer stay in America.
My experience also made me realize that if you really want to be good at something, you have to be passionate about it and work hard to reach your goals. I am very happy to have found my real passion in foreign policy.
I have always been interested in better understanding the world and interacting with people from different cultures. And last but not least, my fellowship at the Center for European Policy Analysis helped a lot when I applied to join the Hungarian Foreign Service.
What struggles/challenges did you have to overcome to reach or move closer to your goals?
I can say I was lucky enough not to face challenges I was not able to overcome, and I am very grateful for the lot of help, which I have received on my journey so far. But when it comes to any kind of profession, there is always some risk involved how much you can achieve.
I honestly believe that if you keep working on yourself, take your job seriously, and are ready and willing to learn new things and extend your knowledge, you have a very good chance of following your dreams.
What impact did your US experience have on your overall journey?
I have always greatly admired the American way of life and the values most Americans hold dear. Though I read a lot about American history, I was able to better comprehend it through the visits paid to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, George Washington’s Mount Vernon or Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. These visits or walks in historic parts of Washington, D.C. bring American values closer to you and will make you understand that “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness” are much more than only abstract philosophical concepts. My American experience strengthened my admiration for the founding principles of the United States and the values of Western civilization in general, and I truly believe that God, your country and family are especially important points of reference in your life.
What are your plans for the future?
I always try to be a better person and to advance further in my profession. I consider myself very lucky since I have found my real passion in diplomacy, so my goal is to continue building my career step by step as I have been doing this for the last few years. I am planning to spend a few years in Budapest and after that, it would be an honor to represent Hungary as a diplomat hopefully somewhere in Southern Europe or the United States.
What words of advice do you have for future recruits?
In my opinion, a future Andrássy Fellow has to be very curious about the world and always learn something new in the field of history, political science, international relations or geography. Dealing with foreign policy as a practitioner or a scholar requires complex understanding of our world and the challenges we face. You can always learn new things by reading interesting books, watching documentaries, or having a conversation with someone who has a different cultural background. I also would like to emphasize that even though English is the most important foreign language, speaking more languages helps you understand issues from a different perspective, which is always very useful. All in all, my most important advice is to never stop learning.
What books are currently on your reading list?
I very much enjoy reading the novels of Frederick Forsyth and Tom Clancy, since they mix relevant geopolitical analysis with political fiction. This means that you can learn a lot of interesting things about the world while relaxing. Besides foreign policy, I have a huge interest in political theory therefore I am planning to read some books of my favorite conservative thinkers (Roger Scruton, Bill Buckley) in the not too distant future.
The Andrássy National Security Fellowship at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) sponsored by the Hungary Foundation, was launched in June 2017, as a fully-funded six-month program aimed at developing Hungarian expertise on the United States and building long-term ties with the U.S. policy community through hands-on experience and analytical training in transatlantic policy issues.
The Fellowship was conceived in the spirit and legacy of Hungarian statesman Gyula Andrássy, who served as Prime Minister of Hungary (1867–1871) and Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary. Alongside Bismarck, he was an architect of European order gifted, in the words of a contemporary, “with great perspicacity, large minded and liberal views, and the decision of character so necessary to be a ruler of men … ever governed by a feeling of justice and honour in the performance of his duty.”