On December 5, 2009, the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) held its 18th Annual General and Board Meetings at the Kossuth House in Washington, DC. Steven J. Varga, Chairman of the Board of the William Penn Association took over the rotating chairmanship of the Coalition. The Board also elected Ted Horvath, representative of the Cleveland Hungarian Historical Society as Rising Chairman.
The Annual Meeting re-elected Géza Kádár Jr., Dr. Peter Kovalszki, Edith K. Lauer, Andrea Lauer-Rice, Zsolt Szekeres, Charles Vámossy and Julius Várallyay for another three-year term and elected Ágnes Fülöp of Edina, MN as new individual Board Member.
The Board also renewed the Board memberships of the following organizations: American Hungarian Catholic Clergy Association; American Hungarian Foundation; Calvin Synod of the United Church of Christ; Hungarian American Cultural Association, Inc. (Kossuth Club); Hungarian Communion of Friends; Hungarian Human Rights Foundation; Hungarian Reformed Federation of America; Hungarian Scouts Association Abroad; Bethlen Communities and William Penn Association.
The afternoon Board Meeting included a comprehensive review by President Max Teleki of the organization’s 2009 activities and plans for 2010. Mr. Teleki reported on his recent trips to Hungary and Slovakia, and emphasized the importance of coordinated action by members of the Coalition in carrying out an ambitious agenda of strong opposition of the Slovak Language Law.
The Coalition’s weekend activities began on Friday, December 4, with the traditional White House briefing, attended by a delegation of approximately 25 Coalition members. The briefing was hosted by Mr. Jeff Hovenier, Director for Central and Eastern Europe, National Security Council. The briefing was coordinated by Mr. Joseph Kennedy, of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Later that evening, Coalition members attended the traditional Mikulás Dinner hosted by Ambassador Béla Szombati and Mrs. Zsuzsa Szombati at the Hungarian Embassy. Coalition Vice President Andrea Lauer Rice acted as Master of Ceremonies and greeted the distinguished gathering and special guests, including Mr. Gordon Bajnai, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary; Profressor János Martonyi, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Mrs. Annette Lantos; Jeff Hovenier Director for Central and Eastern Europe, National Security Council; Ms. Pamela Quanrud, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; the Honorable Joseph Bader and Mrs. Bader; Ambassador April Foley; Ambassador and Mrs. Walker; Ambassador and Mrs. Blinken; Ambassador Andras Simonyi; Ambassador Kurt Volker and Mrs. Karen Volker; Ambassador Tom Robertson and Mrs. Robertson; Ambassador Ho-Jin Lee and Mrs. Jung-Joo Lee; János Kóka, Chairman of the Nabucco Committee of the Hungarian Parliament; Ambassador Ferenc Robak; Ambassador Viktor Polgar; Ambassador Balazs Bokor; Ambassador Gergely Prohle; the Honorable Damon Wilson Vice President and Director of the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council; Bishop Tamas Fabiny; and Hungarian General and Honorary Consuls from all over the United States.
After recalling the first Mikulás Dinner 18 years ago and highlighting major projects and accomplishments of the Coalition since that time, Andrea Lauer Rice stated: “Tonight, we continue to demonstrate to Hungarians, Hungarian Americans and Americans alike – that although we may not hold the same political or ideological beliefs, when it comes to achieving a common goal, we CAN put those personal differences aside.”
Ambassador Szombati welcomed the Coalition’s distinguished guests to the Embassy and highlighted the role of the Coalition on issues affecting Hungarian-American relations. The Ambassador then introduced Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, whose visit to Washington to meet with Vice President Biden unexpectedly coincided with the Coalition’s annual events.
In his remarks, PM Bajnai reflected on his meetings with Vice President Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and leaders at the IMF. He described the importance of the U.S.- Hungarian relationship and reported on Hungary’s increased commitment to NATO’s multinational forces in Afghanistan. He compared the financial irresponsibility that caused the deep crisis in Hungary as the dare-devil action of a 20 year old driving his car too fast toward a precipice, and managing to turn it around in the last minute before it crashes. He stressed the need to continue in the future the reforms and austerity measures he introduced last spring after becoming Prime Minister. He also thanked Coalition members for their many years of devoted service to Hungary and Hungarians.
In his remarks, Coalition President, Mr. Maximilian Teleki recalled 1989 as “the year of miracles,” when all Hungarians held high hopes for the rapid rebirth of a stable, democratic and prosperous Hungarian nation. He continued: “…for Hungary to solidify its future in the Western community of democratic nations, it must reject Russian aggression in all its forms – its expanding financial and energy interests – which ultimately threaten not only Hungary’s sovereignty, but also its cultural and spiritual autonomy… Hungary must get beyond historic divisions that continue to play such a destructive role in Hungarian politics and society. In religious, social and cultural issues alike, Hungary CAN and MUST be scrupulous in embracing and defending individual civil liberties and the rule of law.”
Mr. Teleki then introduced Professor János Martonyi, who was the Coalition’s guest during five days of meetings and speaking engagements in Washington. In his keynote speech the former Foreign Minister spoke of the changing world; of Hungary’s position in Central Europe; its role and responsibilities through its membership in the EU and NATO; and of his country’s shared values with the United States. While he noted that Hungary is a small country, he also pointed out that size does not really matter, since “the most important things in life, such as honor, integrity, courage, love or patriotism cannot be quantified.” Regarding the deep divisions that exist in Hungary today, he said: “If we can agree – and I think many of us can – that in order to achieve something, we must establish a degree of national consensus in Hungary, then we should agree to discuss issues and stop labeling each other as we have done too often during our history.”
The 2009 Mikulás Dinner turned out to be an unexpectedly memorable event as the Coalition provided the venue for Prime Minister Bajnai and Dr. János Martonyi to meet in Washington, just as political parties prepare for elections in Hungary in the spring of 2010. Hungarian American community leaders had the opportunity to learn first-hand the speakers’ views of present-day Hungary as well as their recommendations for Hungary’s future.