Hungary prepares to welcome French president as a “native son”


French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit Hungary on Friday in his first trip to Central Europe since taking office, with the aim of strengthening ties with the country his father left after World War II.

Sarkozy will have the rare honor of addressing Parliament, after meetings with President László Sólyom and Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. “The priority of this trip will be to strengthen the partnership between the two countries,” Gyurcsány’s spokeswoman Bernadett Budai told AFP. The two leaders are also expected to share their experiences on economic reforms, including on social security which is a problem faced by both countries, Budai said.

For Sarkozy, it is also an opportunity to renew ties with central Europe following a brief chill in 2003 when former president Jacques Chirac attacked central European countries like Hungary for supporting the US invasion of Iraq. Chirac then said the countries of the former Soviet bloc, who went on to join the European Union in 2004, had “missed a good opportunity to keep quiet” when they lined up behind Washington. Sarkozy is likely to get an especially warm welcome in Budapest.

Although he speaks no Hungarian and has had little contact with the country, many here are proud that the son of a Hungarian immigrant made it all the way to the Elysee Palace. “For Hungarians, Sarkozy is ‘Hungarian’ even if they say this partly in jest,” Krisztián Szabados, a political analyst and co-author of a book on Sarkozy, told AFP.

Hungarian media focused on Sarkozy’s immigrant background in their coverage of the French elections in May. And Sarkozy himself emphasised his immigrant origins during the presidential campaign, saying it was his work ethic that permitted him to rise to the pinnacle of French politics. That drive was perhaps first recognised by Sarkozy’s great-aunt, Mariann Sárközy, who only met the French president once - when he was only eight years old. “I only saw Nicolas once in Paris when he was still a little boy. Already then he made a great impression on me and I told his father he will be a great man one day. He just laughed, but I was right,” the 92-year old Mariann told AFP in Budapest.

Mariann Sárközy, first cousin of Sarkozy’s father Paul (Pál in Hungarian), is known to be the French president’s last relative in Hungary. A meeting between the two is not part of the French president’s official schedule, but there is speculation that it may take place after all. Mariann said she has an invitation in hand to attend Sarkozy’s speech in parliament. “We may meet there but he also may not have time, after all this is not a family trip but an official visit,” Mariann Sárközy said. (

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