- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Rock ‘n’ roll envoy

The Hungarian ambassador is a rock ‘n’ roll diplomat who believes that the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the hard-pounding Ramones — the big stars who played to packed stadiums, as well as the unknown garage bands who played for themselves — helped liberate Eastern Europe.

As a child in Hungary in the 1960s, Ambassador Andras Simonyi listened to the forbidden music on Armed Forces Radio, the British Broadcasting Corp. or any scratchy broadcast that penetrated the Iron Curtain.

“Rock and roll was the means of communication for me to the free world. It didn’t matter whether the communists built walls, they couldn’t stop the music,” he said.

Mr. Simonyi recalled Hungary under communism as a “dark, sad, unfree country” where “I built my own, little world, and rock and roll was my world.”

Mr. Simonyi, who has spoken on the subject at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, hosted a discussion on rock music as a “force for freedom” at a forum last month at the Hungarian Embassy.

His guest of honor was Tommy Ramone, the last surviving original member of the Ramones, the group that in the 1970s sought to return rock to its origins, only louder and faster.

Mr. Ramone, whose real name is Tamas Erdelyi, was born in Hungary and came to the United States with his parents in 1956, during the ill-fated uprising against communism.

He said he remembered as a 6-year-old in Budapest seeing a movie about the “decadence of the West.”

“It showed teenagers going crazy over this boogie-woogie music,” Mr. Ramone said. “I said, ‘Boy that’s good music. How can you get that music?’”

In Hungary, Mr. Simonyi took up the electric guitar and formed a band, called the Heavy Levy Marklin Blues Band.

“I really wanted to be a musician,” he said, adding that he eventually went to college and became a diplomat.

However, he never gave up the guitar. After the discussion on rock, the ambassador played with Mr. Ramone, who sang, and Chuck Young of Rolling Stone magazine, who moderated the forum and played bass.

The drummer was Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Russia who first played with Mr. Simonyi when both were ambassadors to NATO.

Mr. Vershbow, who was in Washington for meetings at the State Department, said he has been playing drums since he formed a band at Yale University.

“We were paid in beer,” he said.

Mr. Vershbow still drums occasionally with big band orchestras in Moscow.

Swedes in Texas

Texans will soon hear a Swedish accent on the streets of Houston when the Swedish Embassy opens its first consulate general in the Lone Star State.

Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson said the consulate general will formalize Sweden’s outreach to the American South.

“The Southern part of the United States is a vibrant and dynamic area with strong links to Sweden,” he said.

“The new Swedish Consulate General in Houston has an important mission in creating even stronger interaction between the United States and Sweden in several fields, ranging from trade and investments to scientific and cultural exchanges.”

Thomas Ostros, Sweden’s minister for industry and trade, said the United States is Sweden’s largest export market.

“This is why we are investing in yet another presence in one of its main growth regions,” he said.

Sweden has consulates general in New York and Los Angeles and an honorary consulate general in Detroit.

Sweden exported more than $12 billion in goods to the United States in 2003, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year. The United States exported more than $3 billion in goods to Sweden last year.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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