BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has picked as secretary of state his longtime aide, Antony Blinken, whose ties to Europe, particularly to France, but also to Hungary and Poland, are lifelong, deep and personal.
Antony Blinken’s father, Donald Blinken, notably served as the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary for four years under president Bill Clinton’s administration, serving during a crucial time in the process of Hungary becoming member of NATO. He became the first U.S. Ambassador to receive the highest civilian honour of the Republic of Hungary in 1997.
Vera and the Ambassador
Antony Blinken’s father had developed an interest in Hungary prior to his nomination, through his second wife, Budapest-born Vera Blinken, who became a refugee in the United States after escaping from the communist regime in the 50s. In Budapest, Antony’s stepmother contributed to Donald Blinken’s ambassadorial mission through her knowledge of Hungarian language and culture and her outreach to the Hungarian community.
She notably founded Primavera, the first mobile breast cancer screening program in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2002, for her services to the Hungarian people, she was awarded the Middle Cross of the Republic of Hungary.
Vera and Donald Blinken published their dual memoir “Vera and the Ambassador” in 2009 which details their challenges and victories as they worked in tandem to “advance America’s interests in Eastern Europe” and to “restore a former Soviet satellite state to a pre-Communist level of prosperity”.
In 2015, the archives of George Soros’ Central European University (CEU) in Budapest were renamed The Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (OSA), as a reward for their generous donations. They arguably hold one of the most valuable collections of the Cold War era: the archives of Radio Free Europe.
But Antony Blinken’s ties to Central Europe do not stop here.
Blood and Hope
His mother, Judith Pisar, is also of Hungarian origin, her parents having emigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. In 1971, after divorcing Antony’s father, she remarried Samuel Pisar, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor and attorney who advised President John F. Kennedy and multiple French presidents.
After marrying Pisar and moving to France, Antony’s mother served for 17 years as Chairman of the American Center of Paris, where she was known as “America’s Cultural Czarina in Europe.”
Samuel Pisar, who wrote a memoir, “Of Blood and Hope,” about how he survived the Nazis, including time at the death camps of Majdanek, Auschwitz and Dachau, has described how Antony Blinken as a teenager in Paris had asked to hear about his experiences during the war.
“He took in what had happened to me when I was his age, and I think it impressed him and it gave him another dimension, another look at the world and what can happen here,” he told the Washington Post in 2013. “When he has to worry today about poison gas in Syria, he almost inevitably thinks about the gas with which my entire family was eliminated.”
Samuel Pisar, who died of pneumonia in 2015, is a Commander of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
Trouble for Budapest and Warsaw?
Antony Blinken has said that his stepfather’s experiences have informed his vision for the “engaged” role that the United States should play on the global stage.
Very critical of the diplomacy carried out under the Trump administration, Antony Blinken is indeed a fierce believer in multilateralism and in the transatlantic alliance. He views U.S. leadership in multilateral institutions as essential, and as such, he has been widely praised as an ideal choice to repair damage done to U.S. alliances during the past four years.
Taking into account Joe Biden’s recent comments regarding the respective governments in Hungary and Poland, the nomination of Antony Bilken could well spell trouble for Budapest, who clearly endorsed Donald Trump, and for Warsaw, who still hasn’t officially recognized Joe Biden as the next U.S. President.