15 years of flying 'Mummy’s flag'

Gabriella Lurwig-Gendarme

15 years have passed since the Hungarian flag was raised in front of NATO Headquarters. And if someone had asked me how I felt that day, and how it feels today, the first word that always comes to my mind is: proud.

I earned the privilege of joining the big celebration with my own tiny contribution to the Hungarian Mission to NATO as the Assistant to the Ambassador. I remember all the fuss about changing the letterheads, the door plate and the badges. We were no longer the Hungarian Mission to NATO but the Hungarian Permanent Delegation, and my Ambassador became Permanent Representative (or ‘PermRep’) on the North Atlantic Council practically over-night.

The colour of my partner badge was yellow back then, while NATO’s was green (maybe as in the colour of envy, I wondered). On the day of accession, we raced to the Pass Office to see which one of us would get the new badge first. Fun moments.

Ceremony marking the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, 16 March 1999

The day Hungary became a member of the Alliance, 12 March 1999, was and will surely remain the most historic for me. Along with other colleagues, I received a leather-bound folder with a certificate from the Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, thanking us for our hard work. I still have this NATO folder, decorated with the NATO insignia and a Hungarian ribbon, on my shelf at home. Though we got no bonus, we still felt that all those long working hours had finally paid off.

Suddenly we had free access to information, invitations to more meetings, and could open doors. I was even tasked to visit the registries of a couple of other delegations, getting ideas on how to set up our own. I am told that the Hungarian Delegation still has some of my old dossiers.

Hungarian flag is raised at the ceremony marking accession of Hungary to NATO, 16 March 1999

Joining NATO was, however, like throwing us into the deep water as we became immediately busy with the Kosovo War.

But between two official tasks we tried to take the time to celebrate, too. Together with my Czech and Polish colleagues, I was invited to participate in the get-togethers of the PermRep Assistants. These Tuesday luncheons were a lot of fun, especially as we were well aware that our Ambassadors were having serious discussions someplace else.

Hungary’s joining NATO also presented some other opportunities for us, such as being eligible to join NATO’s International Staff. I was amongst the very first Hungarians to do so.

And even today, my heart still beats with joy when I see our red-white-green flag proudly flying at the NATO HQ main gate. My children call it “Mummy’s flag”.