Insignia of Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor to H.E. György SZAPÁRY
Cher György [“Georges”] SZAPÁRY [“Sapary”],
Minister Tamás [“Tomach”] Fellegi [“Fèllegui”], it’s a privilege to have you here with us,
It is a great honor to welcome you today to the Residence for a rare event, the bestowal of the insignia of Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor upon a foreign Ambassador serving outside France, Mr. György SZAPÁRY.
I would like to welcome György SZAPÁRY’s family and friends who have joined us here tonight to express their support and admiration.
A warm word of welcome especially to your sons Philippe, a physician in cardiology at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and your grandson Tristan.
I would also like to recognize the Ambassadors of Belgium, as well as Ambassadors Philip Reeker and Kurt Volker.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here today to honor a remarkable man who is an outstanding Ambassador for Hungary, but also for Europe and for the transatlantic relations.
György SZAPÁRY, your impressive path is, first, an exceptional illustration of Central European history in the past century. You embarked on this path as a child witnessing the horrors of the last years of World War II.
You experienced as a teenager the sad steps leading to Hungary gradually becoming a communist satellite state of the Soviet Union. At just 18, in the context of the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, you had to leave your home country without, of course, any certainty on the possibility to come back. It was the choice of liberty but also a dictated choice.
You started then an exile of 35 years. In other words, you spent half of your life abroad, especially here in Washington DC while working at the IMF, but also in Austria and in Belgium where you earned a Ph.D in economics at the prestigious University of Louvain, worked for the European Commission and acquired the exceptional command of the French language you still have today.
This path means that you are a perfect representative of the transatlantic relation with a rare knowledge of both the American, the Central European and the Western European culture.
Faced to the possibility of coming back to their home country, most of the people in a similar situation, after so many years outside of their nation, stay in their adopted country. You are among the very few who chose to quit a very successful professional career as a top level financial and monetary expert at the IMF.
When the Iron Curtain fell down, for the second time in your life, you made a risky bet in coming back to a country you had not known for so many years.
You reached once again top level responsibilities in becoming a deputy governor of the National Bank of Hungary and member of the Monetary Council of Hungary. You became also a member of the Board of Directors of the OTP bank, the largest Hungarian commercial bank and, in 2010, the Chief Economic Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister of Hungary.
You demonstrated in the different phases of this professional path a high competency in monetary and financial issues, to give just one example. You were the recipient of the Sándor Popovics Award, a prestigious Hungarian award in recognition of your outstanding contribution in the field of banking and monetary policy.
I am sure many of your colleagues, of my colleagues, envy the knowledge you have in these matters, more useful than ever in the challenging financial environment we face now.
As a French diplomat, I regret that we had not the chance to welcome you for a stay in France during your professional career (at least so far!). But I know how important the French language and the French culture have been in your life, both on a familial level (I know your sons are great French speakers, and I guess many of your prestigious ancestors were French speakers as well) and as a source of inspiration for your thinking. You have always been a friend to France, a proponent of its values, an amateur of its literature.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since it was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the Legion of Honor has been France’s highest award and one of the most coveted distinctions in the world.
This is precisely why President Sarkozy has decided to bestow upon you this very prestigious distinction that I am now going to present you on his behalf.
György SZAPÁRY, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous faisons Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.