By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary’s Dutch community on Friday, September 7, remembered the Netherlands ambassador to Hungary, Robert Milders, who passed away last month in his sleep at the age of 64.
Milders was known to have bravely expressed concern about rising antisemitism and extremism towards the gypsy, or Roma, minority in Hungary following his arrival in May, 2009, BosNewsLife learned.
Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews and thousands of Hungarian Roma are known to have perished in the Holocaust of World War Two, a still sensitive topic in this former Communist nation.
Yet, he also loved Hungary saying in an interview that he was “surprised” about this country’s “great wines and a keen sense of history.”
As a former sociologist and staunch Rolling Stones fan who more or less rolled into diplomacy in the 1970s, Milders knew how to mix diplomatic niceties with genuine interest in people’s lives, friends and family members said.
On Friday, September 7, the diplomat was also recalled as a driving-force behind Budapest’s annual ‘Critical Mass’ rallies, involving tens of thousands of Hungarians demanding more rights for cyclists.
This month’s event was canceled “because what we wanted has been achieved,” organizers said, referring to broader roads and more cycle routes in a country where the car had long been a status symbol.
The ‘bike ambassador’, as Milders was sometimes called, also encouraged business and culture to remain on track, at a time of a major economic crisis in this nation of 10 million people.
“Whether he spoke to a minister or to a worker, he gave everybody the same attention,” speakers said about the mainly smiling late diplomat, who was amazed there are three Dutch faculties in this country.
It was that same social concern he previously used while serving in Bangladesh, followed by diplomatic posts in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan.
“He was a lively man, open for everybody,” explained his long-time wife Ellen when addressing Dutch expats in the garden of the ambassador’s Budapest residence.
“I know that his spirit lives on in our three children,” she stressed in an emotionally charged speech, before toasting on her husband.
Milders passed away in the early hours of August 19 while on leave in the Dutch city of The Hague.
He was cremated August 25 and during a separate ceremony praised for his international contacts, “many of whom became his friends,” colleagues said. “He was the triple-A diplomat”, explained Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the former NATO secretary general and Dutch Foreign Minister.
“Through his own working method, a combination of openness, directness and a sense of humor, he had the unique capability of connecting people and to inspire them,” the Dutch Embassy in Budapest wrote in a statement.
When a reporter asked Milders what career other than being ambassador he would have loved to pursue, his answer was “bookseller.” The job he “definitely never wanted” was “bookkeeper.”
Besides Ellen, he leaves behind their children Emilie, Julia, Frederick and their partners.