Alumni Series interview with Balázs Mártonffy, HIF’s Graduate Scholarship Alumnus
Balázs Mártonffy has a cheerful demeanor and makes a thoroughly professional impression. After his many academic and professional successes in the US, he decided to return to Hungary last year and put public service at the center of his pursuits. He was one of HIF’s earliest Graduate Scholarship recipients for the Fall 2014 / Spring 2015 season. He received his doctorate degree at American University in an impressively short period of time, and for his doctoral thesis received the prestigious 2020 John McCain Dissertation Award at the Munich Security Conference earlier this year. His area of expertise is NATO issues and he currently is the deputy director of the Security Policy and Non-Proliferation Department, at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade while teaching part time at the University of Public Service. We caught up with Balázs in Budapest to see how his American academic experience shaped his life and career.
Where are you on your career path now?
I am currently working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest, Hungary, where I am the deputy head of the Security Policy and Non-Proliferation Department. This role assists with the development of Hungary’s wider security policy and non-proliferation agendas, including counter terrorism efforts and cyber-security policy issues. The department primarily is concerned with NATO, the European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy, and the OSCE, but is also the focal point for Hungary’s role in the Council of Europe. In addition, I am also an assistant professor of security studies at the University of Public Service, where I teach courses on security policy and research methods.
Which achievement are you most proud of since your time in the US?
There is very little room for debate on this one: finishing my doctorate degree, in International Relations, at American University’s School of International Service. A PhD is a long and arduous process, and my, while comparatively short, still took four and a half years of hard work and sacrifice. My wife and family fully supported me in this effort, and I am ever grateful to them.
In addition to my doctoral committee members, Boaz Atzili, James Goldgeier, and Aaron Boesenecker, and Andrew Bennett as the external reader, the Hungary Foundation doctoral scholarship I received for the first year of my studies was a great help with its timely completion. And it seems the hard work and excellent help paid off, as the Munich Security Conference recognized my research with the 2020 John McCain Dissertation Award. I also enjoy teaching and interacting with students very much, so I felt deeply humbled and honored to have been selected as the recipient of the William C. Olson Teaching Award in 2019.
How did your experience in the US help you reach your goals, and what impact did your US experience have on your overall journey?
“My U.S. college and university education (including as an Eliot Scholar at Washington University and a Sie Fellow at the University of Denver) provided a solid footing for both a broad academic and research mindset, which have been incrementally helpful in my career. The HIF scholarship which I received for the first year of my doctoral studies assisted with enabling me to focus solely on my academic pursuit.”
I am continuously excited to publish both in English and Hungarian, attempting to assist with some transatlantic cross-fertilization of the academic world. As one concrete example, this year the University of Public Service became a member of NY-based Consortium on Qualitative Research Methods. My university was the first to join this excellent academic initiative from the former Warsaw Pact states and we are very excited to continue exploring other avenues of cooperation as well.
What are your plans for the future?
While the Covid-19 pandemic imposed challenges on our societies globally, working at the Foreign Ministry puts me at one of the focal points of the response. A part-time academic pursuit is also keeping me quite busy, as we have transitioned to online teaching mid-semester and I recently had to finalize a chapter on nuclear modernization and International Relations Theory for Routledge. Overall, I feel quite at home where I am.
What books are currently on your reading list?
There are two that I am making progress on concurrently, somewhat slower than I’d like but progress nevertheless:
Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, by Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai, an oeuvre that won National Book Award for Translated Literature, and The World: A Brief Introduction by Richard Haass [President of the Council on Foreign Relations].