Hungarian ambassador says music moved his generation to tear down the wall.

14-11-2003

Music by musicians such as the Beatles, The Who, Bob Dylan, Hendrix and others moved a generation of Central Europeans to end oppression - according to Hungary's ambassador to the United States, Andras Simonyi. He told the Rock and Roll hall of fame in the US that as a fourteen year old in Budapest it was that kind of music, which drew his generation to the west and eventually helped end communism. Andras Simonyi - a rock guitarist as well as Hungary's ambassador in Washington - talks about how he got access to the music and what it meant.

How did you get access to the music?

"Well my access was through radio, through listening to radio stations."

So the reception would not have been stereophonic quality would it?

"Absolutely not, sometimes there would be a lot of fading."

Was it short wave radio?

"Short wave radio. I remember we were listening to Radio Luxembourg, Radio Free Europe, and voice of America and BBC."

And what were the bands you mostly listened to.

"There was a lot of good music in the sixties. It was really when the rock explosion happened in the West and we just wanted, you know to be part of it. Bands like Spencer Davis Group, like Traffic, like Queen, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin - you name it."

The bands you mention though were not so much about the cold war or political, perhaps about Bob Dylan one could say that but not those bands, so it wasn't really the lyrics that you were listening to?

"We didn't care about the lyrics, we cared about the music. For us, you know these couple of guys playing on stage with a Stratocaster; they would represent for us the free world. And it's interesting, the message Bob Dylan and others would carry had a totally different impact in Hungary as to the West."

What sort of impact and why was it different?

"You know because for us that music carried the message of Freedom. Listening to that music at night we suddenly became part of the West. So for us really rock music was about the West, about the free world and we really didn't care much about the changes they wanted to achieve in the West and I do believe that is the generation that finally brought down the iron curtain."

And so you make a direct link between the music and the end of the iron curtain?

"I would say, obviously, rock and roll didn't bring down the iron curtain. Some have been saying that I'm suggesting that this was the key issue. No it wasn't. It was simply part of the cultural change that changed the minds of people and created the atmosphere of real change."

Now you're in the US, you're Hungary's ambassador to the US. I guess that is not something you thought about playing the air guitar in a Budapest apartment all those years ago?

"Well, it's such a big thing for me. I was earlier the ambassador to NATO. I think my peers and I have worked very hard to make this happen. For me of course this music has always stayed with me since the sixties. And it has been a part of my life and you know things have just come together and I thought it was an important thing for me to tell the American audience"

14-11-2003