Hungarian American Coalition Holds 2015 Annual Meeting

Washington, DC – On December 5, 2015 the Hungarian American Coalition held its Annual General and Board Meetings at the House of Quakers in Washington DC, after hosting its 24th Annual Mikulás Dinner the previous evening at the Embassy of Hungary.

The Coalition’s weekend activities began on Friday, December 4, with the annual White House Briefing, attended by a delegation of 36 Coalition Board Members and guests. Representatives of the U.S. government included: Mr. Asher Mayerson, Staff Assistant, White House Office of Public Engagement; Ivan Weinstein, Hungary Desk Officer, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR), Department of State; Dr. Jeffrey Zavadil, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), Department of State; and Mr. Scott Dullea, Director for Russia Policy on the National Security Council.

The following topics were discussed: bilateral relations between the US and Hungary; continued Russian aggression or aggressive actions towards NATO and now Syria; the ongoing migration crisis in Europe; and how the relationship between Russia and Ukraine affects Hungary and the US.

Areas of particular concern that were already mentioned at last year’s briefing included latest developments on the renationalization of the Székely Mikó High School in Romania which was rightfully returned in 2000 to the Hungarian Reformed Church; and the fate of Mr. Attila Markó, Mr. Tamás Marosan and Mr. Silviu Crim, former officials of the Special Committee on Church Property Restitution who were sentenced to three years suspended imprisonment for carrying out their official duties in the case by restoring the property to the rightful owner.

On Friday evening, 96 Coalition members and guests attended the traditional Mikulás Dinner hosted by Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi at the Embassy of Hungary.  Master of Ceremonies Andrea Lauer Rice greeted the distinguished gathering and special guests, including Mr. Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Hungarian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs; Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi and her husband, Mr. Szabolcs I. Ferencz; Mrs. Zsuzsanna Kárász Lipsky; Ambassador Thomas Robertson and Mrs. Antoinette Robertson; David Kostelancik, future Deputy Chief of Mission to the US Embassy in Budapest; Dr. Katalin Kővári and Dr. William Carter; Dr. Lee Edwards, President, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation; The Honorable Aniko Gaal Schott; Dr. Ferenc Kumin, Consul General of New York; Mrs. Anne Bader, Founder of the International Cyber Security Dialogue; Ambassador Kurt Volker, former United States Permanent Representative to NATO (2008-2009) and Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, part of Arizona State University; and Mrs. Anna Smith Lacey.

She also greeted Honorary Consuls Mr. László Böjtös (OH), Mr. and Mrs. Philip Aronoff (TX), Dr. István Gergátz (FL), Mr. John Parkerson (GA), Mrs. Csilla Grauzer (MN), Mr. Chris Domeny (NC), Mrs. Eva Voisin, (CA), Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Bechara (Puerto Rico) and Mr. Miklós Bartsch (CA) as well as Mr. Stefan Fedor, founder of the American Hungarian Heritage House, and Mr. Gabor Rozsa, Chairman of the Board of the Kossuth Foundation. She also thanked the Embassy Staff for making the evening possible and recognized a few key people from the Coalition including Chair Emerita Edith K. Lauer and her husband John N. Lauer; Laszlo Fülöp, Chairman of the Coalition and his wife Coalition Board Member Ágnes Fülöp; Mrs. Eva Voisin, the Coalition’s Rising Chair, Coalition President Maximilian Teleki and all of the Coalition Board members and friends of the Coalition.

Mr. Zsolt Németh delivering his keynote address

In her welcoming remarks, Mrs. Lauer Rice highlighted the Coalition’s most important projects and accomplishments in 2015. She also recalled that at last year’s Mikulás Dinner she referred to the relationship between the US and Hungary as a marriage that had hit a rough patch and that she still thinks this is an accurate description. She expressed her hopes that next year she will be able to say that the two countries have emerged from their difficulties with an even stronger foundation and relationship.

As the Hungarian American community prepares to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution next year, part of the “Memory Project” video was shown, as a new initiative undertaken with Coalition member and award-winning documentary filmmaker Ms. Réka Pigniczky and Ms. Andrea Lauer Rice.  The interviews feature more than 35 Hungarian-Americans who immigrated to the US after the Second World War and after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Next, Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi thanked Coalition President Max Teleki and all of those who made the evening possible. The Ambassador underlined the importance of a series of visits of high-level Hungarian officials in the US in 2015, including Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament László Kövér, President of Hungary János Áder and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. She also highlighted a wide range of cultural events happening throughout the year and she expressed her hopes that the series of commemorations to come at the 60th anniversary of the 1956 revolution next year will help Hungary and the US to overcome the difficulties in their relationship as this anniversary will be „a fantastic opportunity for all of us to underline those values that link us most profoundly together: the very strong and profound belief in freedom and in the fight for freedom.”

After the dinner, Mr. Teleki introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Mr. Zsolt Németh.  In his introductory remarks, Coalition President Max Teleki urged everyone to remember that problems can be found in both the US and Hungary:  „…democracy can be hard…by definition it is advanced citizenship, and people need to work hard for it to succeed.” At the same time he stressed that Hungary and the US share universal core values such as “freedom and democracy regardless of religion or ethnicity.” He also emphasized the following: „Let us not give in to this myth of insecurity, we live in a great country, we are very blessed to be in the United States of America. We have obligations and responsibilities to our fellow brothers and sisters living across the Atlantic in the Carpathian basin and other allies throughout the world; and for those in Hungary that, regrettably, see the glass half empty, I would say that the West is far from declining. Those who have bet against America have always lost.”

In his address Mr. Németh said he felt the Hungarian American question has become less important because of security concerns; stressed the importance of preventing a power vacuum in the world through a strong US presence and relationship with Europe; credited Russian President Putin with strengthening NATO’s resolve; announced that Hungary was among the first to offer soldiers to fight ISIS, and will double its defense expenditures in the coming years; and also highlighted the importance of the upcoming 60th anniversary of 1956 when all Hungarians can express gratitude to our heroes, the freedom fighters and also to all those nations who showed solidarity and provided a new home to Hungarians.  Referring to the analogy that Mrs. Lauer Rice used to describe the current state of relationship between the two nations, Mr. Németh declared that „the love of freedom brought this marriage together”.

Mikulás Dinner attendees then enjoyed performances by the Hungarian band Louisiana Double who entertained the audience with a fusion of American and Hungarian music, poems and songs. Members of the band Ádám Apáti and Zsolt Pintér, who made their first record with Hungary’s great contemporary poet János Lackfi, are also members of the Hungarian band Rackajam with whom they visited the Embassy last year.

At the Annual Meeting held on Saturday, December 5, Chairman of the Coalition László Fülöp greeted all members and recalled the organization’s many past accomplishments.  Next, members heard the detailed report given by President Max Teleki about the organization’s 2015 projects and activities.  Treasurer Zsolt Szekeres provided an overview of Coalition finances, and he asked members to vote for the revised membership dues structure as presented earlier according to the By-Laws. The members accepted unanimously the first-ever rise in Coalition membership costs.

Coalition members voted to renew the terms of the following Board Members: Mr. László Böjtös, Ms. Ágnes Fülöp, Mrs. Andrea Lauer Rice, Mr. Geza Kadar, Jr., Mr. Péter Kovalszki, Mr. Charles Vámossy, Mr. Julius Várallyay, Mrs. Edith K. Lauer and Mr. Zsolt Szekeres; they also accepted Mr. István Nádas, Dr. Klára Papp, Mr, Miklós Bartsch and Mr. Gábor Rózsa as new Coalition members, as well as the Hungarian Christian Society of Florida as a new member organization.

The afternoon Board Meeting continued the morning discussions and began with an extensive Information Committee Report and recommendations by Tibor Purger.  Membership Committee and Nominating Committee reports followed with the re-nomination of the following organizations for three-year terms: Hungarian American Clergy Association, Calvin Synod of the United Church of Christ, Hungarian Communion of Friends, Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, Kossuth Foundation, Bethlen Communities and Hungarian Scouts Association in Exteris.  The Board voted to accept the American Hungarian Heritage House and the Hungarian Association as new Board member organizations. 

Rising Chair, Mrs. Éva Voisin, took over the rotating chairmanship of the organization, and Dr. Ágnes Virga, President of the Hungarian Society of Massachusetts, was elected as Rising Chair for 2017.

Ms. Andrea Lauer Rice gave an overview of her Memory Project plans as part of Board Members’ plans for potential 1956 anniversary commemorations in Hungarian communities.  Special reports on Coalition member organizations’ activities followed: by Mr. Imre Lendvai-Lintner, Hungarian Scouts Association in Exteris; Mr. Endre Szentkirályi and Imre on the 2015 Summer Scout Jamboree; Endre on the Cleveland State University’s Fulbright Program and language courses; the Kárpátalja Project that the Coalition supported with a $10,000 donation through the Scouts; Mr. Zoltán Székely-Mádai on behalf of HHRF on the plans for the fifth year of HHRF’s ReConnect Project; and Mr. Gabe Rozsa on the Kossuth Foundation and developments at the Kossuth House.  Ms. Csilla Grauzer, along with Mr. Imre Lendvai-Lintner Imre reported on the Diaspora Council held in Budapest on December 2 with many Coalition leaders as participants.

Before adjournment the Board discussed plans for the next HATOG – Hungarian Americans Together – and supported the idea of holding a Coalition Retreat during 2016.

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