All ambassadors bring their own style of diplomacy to the position, but one Hungarian rocked successful diplomatic protocol to its core: András Simonyi.
In his newly released memoir, Rocking Toward a Free World: When the Stratocaster Beat the Kalashnikov, the former Hungarian ambassador recounts his rise to international acclaim both as a diplomat and rock musician, bringing readers to appreciate the power of music to unite, to bridge differences and to help heal old wounds.
Born in 1952, Simonyi grew up behind the Iron Curtain and under a most repressive regime—rock music was banned, records were sold on the black market, concerts were controlled, protests were surreptitiously concealed within lyrics, and listening to Western
radio often brought severe punishment or even jail time. Then Simonyi’s life was changed when he first heard the Beatles’ All My Loving at a party.
“This is my music,” he said, and he hasn’t let it go since.
Throughout the work, he expresses his love of the electric guitar which becomes a main character in the book, promoting the idea that it was rock ‘n’ roll that broke the monopoly of the Marxist ideology force-fed to millions living behind the Iron Curtain.
The music that this diplomat so loved cut through the “barbed wire” because groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and other great musicians supplied the hope and rebellion that couldn’t be contained within the Berlin Wall.
In 1965, with the help of his father, he bought his first guitar—a copy of a Fender Jaguar. Soon he formed a band and, as they played for Hungarian audiences, he began to realize that rock ‘n’ roll music was something very important—something even greater than itself.
“It was about sending a strong message of freedom through the Berlin Wall to us who were
living behind the Iron Curtain,” he said. “We, too, wanted French fries, blue jeans, and Elvis.”
Through his passion for music, Simonyi came to realize that he could play a role in promoting cooperation between East and West.
In 2002, Simonyi, equipped with a Ph.D. in international affairs, arrived in Washington, D.C. as the Hungarian Ambassador.
He formed a band called the Coalition of the Willing; many of its members were high-ranking government officials. The group still performs today, donating its proceeds to worthy causes and bringing new audiences to understand that shared music can often
accomplish more than negotiations around a table ever will.
“A fascinating and very personal account
of how rock and roll conquered communism.”