Washington, DC – On December 7, 2019, the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) held its Annual General and Board Meetings at the Kossuth House in Washington DC, after hosting the 28th annual Mikulás Dinner the previous evening.
The Coalition’s weekend activities began on Friday, December 6, with a plaque dedication ceremony at the Kossuth House, celebrating 30 years of freedom in Hungary and the renewed role of the Kossuth House in the service of the Hungarian-American diaspora. The ceremony was organized by the Kossuth Foundation and the Embassy of Hungary.
The Kossuth House, former headquarters of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America (est. 1896), was a long-time center for Hungarian-Americans and for anti-Communist activism until 1989. Earlier this year, the building was purchased by the Government of Hungary. It will continue to be managed by the Kossuth Foundation, an independent, not for profit organization, under a long-term management arrangement with the Government of Hungary.
Dr. Barna Pál Zsigmond, Mr. Zsolt Szekeres, Mrs. Andrea Lauer Rice and The Honorable Zsolt Németh at the newly unveiled plaque at the Kossuth House
The ceremony featured remarks by Mr. Gabe Rozsa, Coalition Board member and Chairman and Executive Director of the Kossuth House; Dr. László Szabó, Ambassador of Hungary to the United States; and The Hon. Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Hungarian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. A flag flown over the Parliament of Hungary in Budapest was presented, along with a letter from the Honorable László Kövér, Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly.
In the weekend’s next event, 25 Coalition Board members and guests attended a briefing at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Participating experts included: Corina Rebegea, Director, U.S.-Romania Initiative and Fellow-in-Residence; Donald Jensen, Editor in Chief and Senior Fellow; and Brian Whitmore, Senior Fellow and Director of Russia Program. The briefing touched on current issues in Central and Eastern Europe; the Russian invasion and ongoing aggression in Ukraine; and the importance of NATO’s role in Central and Eastern Europe.
On December 6, more than 100 Coalition members and guests attended the traditional Mikulás Dinner hosted by Ambassador Szabó at the Embassy of Hungary.
Master of Ceremonies Endre Szentkirályi greeted the distinguished gathering, including the hosts, Ambassador Szabó and his wife Dr. Ivonn Szeverényi; the evening’s keynote speaker, Hon. Zsolt Németh; Ambassador April H. Foley, former Ambassador of the United States to Hungary and Chairman of the Board of The Hungary Initiatives Foundation; Dr. Ágnes Virga, Coalition Chairman of the Board; Mrs. Andrea Lauer Rice, President of the Coalition; Ms. Susan Hutchison, Executive Director of the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for the Arts and Sciences and Lt. Col. Ret. Andy Hutchison; Lt. General Nicholas Kehoe, former Inspector General of the Air Force, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force; Mrs. Anikó Gaál-Schott; Dr. Barna Pál Zsigmond, Representative of the Hungarian National Assembly; Mrs. Anna Smith Lacey, Executive Director of the Hungary Initiatives Foundation; Mr. Marion Smith, Executive Director of the Victims of Communist Memorial Foundation; Dr. Zsolt Hetesy, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Hungary and his wife Mrs. Katalin Hetesy; Ambassador Ferenc Kumin, Deputy State Secretary, Development of EU and American Relations; Ms. Zsófia Rácz, Deputy Minister of State for Family, Youth and International Affairs; Mr. Szabolcs Ágostházy, Chief of Cabinet of the Prime Minister’s Office in Hungary; Coalition President Emeritus Maximilian Teleki and Mrs. Wendy Teleki; and Chair Emerita Edith K. Lauer.
Dr. Szentkirályi called for a moment of silence, during a slideshow presentation in memory of recently lost members and friends of the Coalition, including Mr. László Hámos (1951-2019); Dr. Béla Bognár (1931-2019) and Dr. János Horváth (1921-2019).
Next, Ambassador Szabó greeted the guests. In his remarks, he highlighted achievements of 2019, including the Hungarian government’s continued help for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Africa; reestablishing the Hungarian Caucus at the U.S. Congress with six new members; opening new consulates in Miami, FL and Houston, TX; purchase of the Kossuth House; commemoration of the 30th anniversary of freedom in Hungary; building the Embassy’s own accelerator house and science hub, currently hosting 8 Hungarian companies; the growth of economic cooperation and trade between the U.S. and Hungary; signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to bolster economic relations between West Virginia and Hungary, as well as a MoU between The Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) and the Hungarian Export-Import Bank Private Limited Company (HEXIM). He also congratulated Coalition President Andrea Lauer Rice on her recent election as U.S. President of the Hungarian Diaspora Council. Finally, he thanked the members of the Coalition: “It is in you where the nation survives in America. For Hungarians, Hungarians outside of the country are very important, not only because they are sometimes more Hungarian than Hungarians inside the borders of Hungary, but also, this gives us our identity, our place in the world. The fact that Hungary as a nation has been able to survive for 1100 years, is not only about wars, or powers, or winning, or losing, it is about our spirit, what is inside us, and you are representing that. It is hard to capture, but I think it is about love, about love for our compatriots, love for our nation, and love for our language.”
After dinner, Mrs. Lauer Rice delivered her remarks. Mikulás Dinners, she said, are one of her favorite events of the year, because it is a chance to look back as well as to plot a course for the year ahead. This year represents even more to celebrate: the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism and Hungary’s important role during that historic era; the 70th anniversary of NATO and the 20th anniversary of Hungary’s NATO accession. With respect to Hungary’s NATO accession, Mrs. Lauer Rice recalled the Coalition’s active role in the development of US policy at this critical time in post-Communist history, including the Coalition leaders’ meetings with US Presidents and sometimes heated debates with high-ranking US officials.
Mrs. Lauer Rice also stressed that protecting the human rights of the Hungarians who live in the surrounding countries of the Carpathian Basin has been a focus of the Coalition from the very beginning. The Coalition plans to bring back the human rights workshops that were a community staple in the late 1990s, to help young people in the US understand how best to inform their congressional representatives about these issues.
Mrs. Lauer Rice also described the Coalition’s flagship program, the John N. Lauer Leadership Training Program (LTP). Meanwhile, guests watched a video on “a week in the life of an LTP intern,” created by current LTP intern Hajnalka Tóth. Next year, the Coalition will celebrate its 100th LTP intern.
Finally, Mrs. Lauer Rice recognized the Hungarian government’s help and investment in the diaspora in the past eight years, emphasizing the Kőrösi Csoma Sándor Internship; the Mikes Kelemen and the Julianus Programs; the Bethlen Gábor Fund; the Rákóczi Szövetség; the Diaspora Council; and the Hungarian Standing Conference (MÁÉRT). She emphasized that, as the largest umbrella organization in the U.S., the Coalition must maintain its political independence if it is to effectively navigate the political waters in the United States, Hungary and the Carpathian Basin to best represent its members and the Hungarian American community, no matter who is in office at the time. She concluded her speech by thanking Coalition members and friends and said: “We wouldn’t be sitting here celebrating all of these anniversaries and achievements – the big and the small – if it weren’t for the commitment, leadership, support, inspiration and passion of so many of you sitting in this room.”
The evening’s keynote speaker was Hon. Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Hungarian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. In his remarks, Mr. Németh mentioned the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Trianon Peace Treaty and the importance of national cohesion, which transcends borders. He recalled how the late László Hámos, Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF) President, worked and lived for the idea of uniting the nation across borders. He expressed his admiration for current HHRF President Zsolt Szekeres, members of the Hungarian American Coalition, the Kossuth House, and all Hungarian organizations in the US. He also commemorated Dr. János Horváth and thanked 56’ers still with us today, as well as Czechoslovak 68’ers, the Polish Solidarity Movement, and all those who participated in the transition 30 years ago.
In urging a vision for “rebuilding Central Europe”, Mr. Németh recalled a memory from a Hungarian Ball he attended in Cleveland, OH, where the Harmónia band was playing– featuring a Slovak fiddler, a Ukrainian, semi-Hungarian harmonica player and a Serbian cymbal player, while the guests sang ’Szép Város Kolozsvár’. This, he said, encapsulates the common Central European existence and future.
Finally, Mr. Németh recalled the 20th anniversary of NATO expansion: “Thanks to the United States, we have been liberated. The US military people who are with us now very well that it is not enough to have the military might, ground forces are needed. We supplied the ground forces in Central Europe to make this transition successful, but without the American support, it wouldn’t have worked. We are grateful for that. And we are grateful to the Hungarian American Coalition, to Max Teleki, and to all of you who have worked so hard to make our NATO membership happen and to keep the American-Hungarian relationship close, and to keep alive the dream and the hope that we can fix the Hungarian American relations. And now, for 2019, as Ambassador Szabó said, we have achieved it.”
The dinner concluded with Hungarian Christmas caroling led by Ms. Noémi Bánhidi, Program Coordinator of the Coalition, and toasts from Ambassador Ferenc Kumin, Mrs. Edith K. Lauer and Mrs. Susan Hutchison.
At the Annual Meeting held on Saturday, December 7, Chairman of the Coalition Ágnes Virga presented her report of the Coalition’s accomplishments in 2019. Next, members heard the report by Coalition President Andrea Lauer Rice about the organization’s 2019 projects and activities. The Annual Meeting voted to renew the terms of the following individual board members: Anne C. Bader; Enikő M. Basa; Csilla Grauzer; Leslie L. Megyeri; George Pogan; Tibor Purger; Endre Szentkirályi; Max Teleki and Ágnes Virga. Ms. Piros Pazaurek, director of HungarianHub in Daytona Beach, FL was elected as new individual Board member.
Mr. Stefan Fedor reported that the next annual Hungarian Charity Ball will be held on May 2, 2020, raising funds for Father Csaba Bőjte’s schools in Transylvania. and American Hungarian will also organize the annual St. Stephen Charity Pilgrimage, inviting Dr. Csaba Ternyák, Archbishop of Eger, to Washington.
Mrs. Gabriella Vajtay, program manager for Reconnect Hungary, showed two short videos on the ReConnect Hungary and Transylvania programs. She announced that applications for next year’s programs are open until January 31, 2020.
Dr. Endre Szentkirályi introduced Cleveland State Univerity’s online Hungarian course. He then announced the next Hungarian Scout Jamboree, to be held at the Sík Sándor Hungarian Scout Camp in Fillmore, NY, from July 30-August 9, 2020, with the theme of “St. Stephen’s Kingdom”.
In the afternoon, the Board renewed the three-year terms of the following organizational board members: Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Society; Minnesota Hungarians; and Seattle-Pécs Sister Cities Association. The Board also approved Dorottya Barna (Sommerville, MA); Chris Brussalis and Christina Stacey Brussalis (Gibsonia, PA) and Alexander Matolcsy (Boston, MA) as new individual members.
Mrs. Csilla Grauzer became the Chairman of the Board for 2020, and Dr. Endre Szentkirályi was elected as Rising Chair for 2020.
Board members shared their insights on the meeting with CEPA experts, and also discussed the current challenges of the relationship between the United States and Hungary, commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Trianon Peace Treaty next year, and the situation of Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin.
Ms. Csilla Grauzer presented the recent developments of her project ‘Medical Supplies Donation Program’ to Hungary, which is part of her non-profit Creative Cultural Exchange, Inc.’s Power Of Positive Impact (P.O.P.I.). The program collects, organizes and ships basic medical supplies and donations to hospitals in need throughout Hungary and regions with Hungarian minorities, mainly in Transylvania, Romania and Subcarpathia, Ukraine.
The meeting concluded with Andrea Lauer Rice expressing her gratitude to all Coalition leaders, members and LTP interns.