IN AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AZERI OBSERVER MAGAZINE, THE SPOUSE OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE AMBASSADOR TO AZERBAIJAN, MRS. GABRIELLA SOLTI, SPEAKS ON HOW THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION INFLUENCED HER CAREER, THE CHALLENGES THAT WOMEN FACE IN A CONTEMPORARY WORLD, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PAYING ATTENTION TO THE SMALLEST DETAILS IN A DIPLOMAT’S DAILY LIFE. SHE ALSO CONFESSES THAT SHE FOUND A LOT OF SIMILARITIES BETWEEN HER NATIVE COUNTRY, HUNGARY, AND AZERBAIJAN, AND SHEDS LIGHT ON THE KINSHIP OF AZERBAIJANI AND HUNGARIAN ETHNIC GROUPS.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Please share with our readers about yourself, your family, education, and professional background?
Answer: I grew up in the downtown area of Budapest with my younger brother and sister in a precarious living situation, as our mother raised us alone since our very early childhood. By perseverance and by chance, this considerable handicap could not misplace us, and over the years we could all come through and find our places in life. I obtained my secondary education in a bilingual Russian-Hungarian high school after which I continued my superior studies at the Faculty of Philology of the Voronezh State University through a state stipend in the former Soviet Union. Those were the times of glasnost and perestroika (political and policy reform), and the final period of existence of the Soviet statehood with all of its difficulties and contradictions, but also hope for change. I graduated with a teaching diploma of Russian language and literature a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Upon returning to Hungary, it was impossible to find work with my degree, as after regaining independence nobody wanted to learn Russian in the country, so I had to choose a different profession. As I had also earned a certificate in foreign trade, I applied for and accepted a position in a big Hungarian bank specializing in foreign trade. Here I learned the ins and outs of the banking profession. Since then, I have been working in the banking sphere, and eventually as a certified chief bank group internal auditor for the most prominent Hungarian bank, which has several subsidiaries in Central and Eastern Europe.
Q.: How are you involved in the activity of the Baku Office of the Council of Europe?
A.: The Baku Office of the Council of Europe has specific tasks related to the implementation of different projects in the field of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Apart from supporting my husband, I am not involved in the professional activities of the Office. However, I have a role in social and teambuilding exercises.
Q.: Could you provide us details about these activities?
A.: Since my arrival in Baku, I have been an active member of the Association of Heads of Mission Spouses (HOMS), which is carrying out numerous cultural and charity activities in Azerbaijan. After almost three decades, I now have the opportunity to exercise my primary profession and to teach the Russian language to fellow diplomat’s spouses, on a voluntary and pro bono basis. I also joined the group of Francophone expats, which provides me with further opportunities to get acquainted with the hidden treasures of Baku and the possibilities to practice my French.
Q.: Do you have any hobbies? How do you pass your free time in Azerbaijan?
A.: In my free time, my favorite occupation is writing. My first book of poems and aphorisms was published two years ago. Since I have been here, I successfully finished two other books: an informative one about how banks work and a non-fiction novel one inspired by my university years in the last period of the Soviet Union. I have the best hopes that these books will be published in Hungary soon. Another favorite occupation, or rather a hobby, is fitness training which I practice regularly, usually six to seven days a week. We also have friends and family members visiting us in Azerbaijan, so I take these opportunities with them to discover the beauties of your marvelous capital and the surrounding regions.
Q.: How long have you been living in Azerbaijan? What are your impressions about the country?
A.: I moved to Baku and joined my husband in January 2018. Since then I have been living in constant delight, as I cannot stop admiring Baku’s atmosphere of the seaside Boulevard, the exciting mixture of ancient and modern architecture, the cleanliness of the city, and the kindness of its inhabitants. I see a kind of vibrant joy of life everywhere I look. For the time being, I have visited only a few regions in the country, but so far, I am sincerely impressed by the diversity and richness of the country’s cultural heritage, gastronomy, and natural sites.
Q.: Have you found any similarities between your home country and Azerbaijan?
A.: I most definitely have. Hungary and Azerbaijan are located in different geographical and climatic zones with more than 3,500 kilometers separating them. Despite this distance, there is a multitude of links which connect both countries. There are theories which believe that both nations originated from the Huns. Although there is no evidence of this kinship, the ancestors of Hungarians did migrate from the region of Ural Mountains southwards and spent around one hundred years in the surroundings of the Azov Sea before moving westwards and settling in the Carpathian Basin at the end of the 9th century. This period was significant and was marked by a multitude of exchanges with the peoples inhabiting the broader region, including the ancestors of the Azerbaijanis. Interestingly, there are more than one thousand words of Turkic origin in the Hungarian language, which also exist in the Azerbaijani language. There are a lot of other examples, but they would have to be fully discussed in a separate interview.
Q.: What is the primary role and mission of the spouse of a diplomat?
A.: In my opinion, the most significant role that a spouse of a diplomat should assume is to be a sound partner of their husband or wife in all aspects and to fully back him or her in performing their duties. I am formulating my answer this way because the profession of a diplomat is attracting more and more women worldwide, including in Azerbaijan.
Q.: What are the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of the life of a diplomat?
A.: The most challenging aspect is how to accommodate professional careers and family life while being abroad. Another challenge is the frequent moving, and being away from home and our beloved ones, including our daughter, parents, relatives, and friends. The most rewarding aspects of being posted in a foreign country are being part of an adventure, providing the unique opportunity to become acquainted with the country’s history, traditions, culture, language, natural treasures, and last but not least meeting its people, so we could find and build new friendships.
Q.: What does it mean for you to be the wife of a diplomat?
A.: First of all, for me, it means responsibility and honor. The way a diplomat’s spouse behaves, expresses themselves, and appears, regardless of the circumstances, can influence the image of the country or the organization they represent. Therefore, we should pay particular attention to the smallest details in our daily life in a conscious and constant manner.
Q.: What is your impression of Azerbaijani women? Do differences exist between women in Azerbaijan and women in Hungary?
A.: When I go out on the street people often talk to me in Azerbaijani, so it seems that there is not much difference in appearances (smiles). My overall impression of Azerbaijani women is positive. I find them smart, proud, hard workers, and people who put a lot of significance on respecting others and being respected. I think women in the modern world all hope for the same goals of harmonizing their professional careers with their family life, receiving equal treatment, not facing discrimination, and not having the threat of violence.
In this respect, I do not see much difference between Hungarian and Azerbaijani women. Differences certainly exist in terms of cultural identity, but these can be overcome through exchanges and a better understanding of each other.
Q.: As a mother of one daughter, do you have a message for children elsewhere in the world, to mark International Children’s Day (June 1st)?
A.: Although my daughter is not a child anymore, she graduated from the Semmelweis University of Medicine of Budapest two years ago and became the very first medical doctor in our extended family, she will remain my child forever. I’m a very proud mother, not only because of her medical diploma but also because of her personality and kindness.
What would be my message? Dear Children, the Future is Yours! I believe that our globe, the Earth, your heritage, which survived numerous cataclysms, will revive with your help as a beautiful, healthy, and safe place, where people can live together in peace and mutual understanding. In this vein, to mark the International Children’s Day, I wish to share with you a song that I learned when I was a child and has the following refrain: “Let always be Sunshine, let always be Sky, let always be Mama, let always be Me!”
Q.: Finally, our signature question to conclude the interview. It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does that manifest itself in your life?
A.: In our life, this aphorism sounds a little differently: behind all successful individuals there is a partner. For my husband and me, we are genuine partners. We assist and help each other in everything so that we can both be successful. In our practice, diplomats are returning from abroad to spend several years in the central administration before moving abroad again. During these periods at home, I can create values and build my career at the bank, and I can lean on my husband’s help in sharing with him the burdens of the household and other ordinary tasks. We mutually support and help each other in a multitude of ways when one of us has a challenging period and has to deliver in professional life.