Washington, DC – On April 22, 2010, the Hungarian American Coalition hosted its sixth annual Gala Dinner at the House of Sweden in honor of George Pataki, Former Governor of New York. The Coalition recognized Mr. Pataki for his ongoing interest in Hungary and pride in his Hungarian American heritage, as well for his thorough understanding and deep empathy for the human rights issues of Hungarian communities in surrounding countries. Ambassador April H. Foley, Michael F. Neidorff, Ambassador George H. Walker III, and John C. Whitehead co-chaired the event.
Coalition Vice President Andrea Lauer Rice welcomed the distinguished guests attending the event, provided an overview of Coalition activities and introduced the screening of a movie clip from “Incubator,” a documentary film by Coalition member, Réka Pigniczky. This newest Coalition project provides an insight into how Hungarian parents passed onto their U.S.-born children their own strong ethnic identity. A musical interlude and dance performance by the Tisza Folk Dance Ensemble entertained participants during the festive dinner.
Mr. Maximilian N. Teleki, President of the Coalition, introduced the Coalition’s 2010 Honoree, former Governor George Pataki, “who was named after George Washington, as his brother, Lewis, was named after Lajos Kossuth…two fathers of democracy – fighting for freedom, justice, and independence.” He lauded Gov. Pataki’s achievements, his “highest success in the fields of public service, diplomacy and business…while remaining true to his Hungarian heritage…”. Quoting from the letter to Mr. Pataki of soon-to-be Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Mr. Teleki read: “My friend…we have talked many times that after the elections I intend to establish a new forum with meaningful infrastructure that deals with those Hungarians living in the West. I would also like to see you as close collaborator in setting it up. It is an obligation long overdue – to build new ties to our Hungarians in the West, and I cannot think of a better person to play a key role in paving the way for that, and I look forward to working with you in the future.”
In accepting the award, Mr. Pataki recalled his personal experiences in Peekskill, New York, that included a strong work ethic, small-town family values and traditional Hungarian bacon-baking on Sundays. He praised the Hungarian American Coalition’s efforts of effectively promoting Hungarian American relations for the past 19 years. In response to Mr. Orbán’s letter, he said: “Clearly, we all need to rise to the challenge and the Coalition must play a role in any such effort.” He then urged those present to become actively involved in passing on Hungarian culture and identity to the next generation, and to help provide more access to opportunities for Hungarian talent to develop Hungary’s economy. He also denounced the Slovak Language Law, which violates human rights of minorities, declaring it to be “the most anti-democratic law that has been introduced in Europe in the last decade.”
A round of toasts from Mrs. Edith Lauer, John C. Whitehead and Kurt Volker followed Mr. Pataki’s speech. Mrs. Lauer quoted from the Hungarian author, Sándor Márai: “Never be afraid to say what in your soul you know is the truth,” to praise Mr. Pataki for a political career based on integrity. Mr. Whitehead recounted how his good friend, Mr. Pataki, persuaded him after September 11 to accept the Chairmanship of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Ambassador Kurt Volker, congratulated and expressed his gratitude to Mr. Pataki for his remarkable achievements, and also commented on the remaining difficult economic challenges in Hungary and Hungary’s potential leadership role in the Balkans.
After the dinner, a short video presentation highlighted the Coalition’s Congressional Internship Program, which the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences has sponsored since 2005. Several former interns described the significance of their four-month-internship to their professional and personal development, and how their time in Washington had significantly changed their views of politics and society in Hungary. In closing, Andrea Lauer Rice listed the all major funders of the 2010 Gala Dinner and thanked all those present for supporting the work of the Coalition.
Among those in attendance were Mrs. Pamela Quanrud, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; Ambassador Béla Szombati and Mrs. Szombati of Hungary; His Excellency Ambassador of Morocco Aziz Mekuoar; Ambassador Angelos Pangratis and Mrs. Pangratis; Chargé d’Affaires and Acting Head of the European Union Delegation to the United States. Prominent guests also included Ms. Susan Hutchison, Executive Director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for the Arts and Sciences; Mrs. Annette Lantos, Mrs. Katrina Lantos Swett and Mrs. Annette Lantos Tillemann-Dick; The Honorable Dr. Lee Edwards and Mrs. Edwards, Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation; Ambassador Kurt Volker; The Honorable Mary V. Mochary; Ambassador Thomas B. Robertson; Anne C. Bader, Senior Fellow with the Fund for Peace in Washington DC and with the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom; Nicholas B. Kehoe, Ret. US Air Force General and President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society; Dr. August Molnar, President of the American Hungarian Foundation; Mrs. Edith K. Lauer, Chair Emeritus of the Coalition and Mr. John N. Lauer; Mr. Stephen Varga, Chairman of the William Penn Association; Mr. László Megyeri, President of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America and Mrs. Megyeri; The Honorable Aniko Gaal Schott; Mr. Ferenc Darvas; Mr. László Böjtös, Honorary Consul General of Hungary, Mr. László Hamos, Chairman of the Board of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of American and President of the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation.