Hungarian Diplomat Discusses Blending Public Relations And Politics In Iowa City

This story was written by Matt De La Peña, The Daily Iowan


Stephen Colbert thinks that Hungarians can't play the guitar. Zoltn Fehr helped prove him wrong.

When the late-night comedian of "The Colbert Report" proclaimed on his show that "Hungarians don't know how to [play guitar]," Fehr - a diplomat at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C. - used it to his advantage, getting Hungarian ambassador and accomplished guitarist Andras Simonyi on the show as a rebuttal.

Fehr said it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"We were building relationships with late-night talk shows at that point," he said. "I said to myself, 'We need to get involved in this somehow.' "

On Monday, the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council and the Iowa City Public Library hosted Fehr to discuss transatlantic diplomacy. It's the first in a series of lectures on international affairs hosted by the Iowa City Public Library and the council.

Fehr, a chief creative officer and press attach for more than three years, is a practitioner of "creative diplomacy," a blend between public relations and politics. His techniques have helped raise the profile of the Hungarian Embassy as well as end the perception that diplomatic relations remains a "behind-closed-doors" operation.

"[Creative diplomacy] is a new approach to diplomacy," he said. "Diplomats have traditionally been afraid to step outside the box. You never see diplomats in the style section."

Dubbed "the rising star of transatlantic diplomatic relations," Fehr has earned a reputation based on his ability to seize opportunity as it comes. Just as he did with Colbert.

Members of the audience, which included Univeristy of Iowa graduate student Danielle Rich, enjoyed listening to Fehr's approach to international diplomacy.

"His incorporation of the ['Colbert Report'] clips that we would be most familiar with was a great way to introduce us to their perspective on how they can use diplomacy to get a wider audience," she said. "It was a great presentation."

International Programs outreach coordinator Buffy Quintero had similar sentiments, noting that the concept of creative diplomacy is spreading.

"I think it's something that happens all the time," Quintero said. "It's something that happens on this campus. But I think some of the things that the Hungarian Embassy are doing are unique and important. This is the type of talk that could draw a diverse audience."

Fehr has organized other events featuring high-profile celebrities and dignitaries who have attracted the attention of the Washington elite. In 2006, he coordinated events sponsored by the Hungarian Embassy that featured actress Lucy Liu, as well as musical concerts to benefit soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fehr recalled his days as a high-school foreign-exchange student, citing his love of American culture as one of the reasons he chose to become a foreign diplomat.

"I think most pro-American people abroad and overseas that's how they fall in love," he said. "You live here, and it's love at first sight."
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