Hungarian American Coalition Holds 2017 Annual Meeting

Washington, DC – On December 2, 2017 the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) held its Annual General and Board Meetings at the House of Quakers in Washington DC, after hosting its 26th annual Mikulás Dinner the previous evening at the Embassy of Hungary.

On December 1, more than 100 Coalition members and guests attended the traditional Mikulás Dinner hosted by Ambassador László Szabó at the Embassy of Hungary.

Master of Ceremonies Endre Szentkirályi greeted the distinguished gathering and special guests, including hosts Ambassador Dr. László Szabó and his wife Dr. Ivonn Szeverényi; the evening’s keynote speaker Ambassador Kurt Volker, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations and Ms. Ia Meurmishvili; Ambassador April H. Foley, former Ambassador of the United States to Hungary and Chairman of the Board of The Hungary Initiatives Foundation; Ambassador Thomas Robertson, former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest; Ambassador Ferenc Kumin, Consul General in New York and Ms. Zita Bencsik, Consul General in Chicago; Dr. Ágnes Virga, Coalition Chairman of the Board; Mrs. Andrea Lauer Rice, President of the Coalition; Ms. Susan Hutchison,  Chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.

Other guests included Dr. Matthew Shank, President of Marymount University and his wife Mrs. Lynne Shank; Mr. Joseph Foster, Vice President of Marymount University and his wife Mrs. Stephanie Foster; Ms. Eszter Sándorfi, Head of the Department of North America at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFA); Ms. Dóra Loydl, US Foreign Policy Coordinator, MFA; Ms. Andrea Gulyás, State Secretary at the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture; Mr. Zsigmond Perényi, Deputy State Secretary for International Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office; Mr. László Hámos, President of the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation; Mr. Imre Lendvai-Lintner, President of the Hungarian Scouts Association in Exteris; Mrs. Enikő Molnár Basa, Executive Director of the Hungarian American Educators Association; Mrs. Anna Smith Lacey, Executive Director of Hungary Initiatives Foundation and Mr. Marion Smith, Executive Director of Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Mr. Szentkiráyi also welcomed Honorary Consuls Mr. Phillip Arnoff (TX); Mr. Miklós Bartsch (CA); Coalition Member Mrs. Eva Voisin (CA); Mr. John Parkerson (GA) and Ms. Alicia McCart; Ms. Katalin Pearman (WA); and Coalition Vice President Ms. Csilla Grauzer (MN). He also greeted Mr. András Juhász, Trade Commissioner from Chicago and Ms. Judit Czakó, Economic and Trade Commissioner, New York.

From the local Washington community, Mr. Szentkirályi welcomed Coalition Vice President Mr. Stefan Fedor and Mrs. Erika Fedor, founders of the American Hungarian Heritage House; Mr. Gabe Rozsa, Chairman and Executive Director of the Kossuth Foundation; Ms. Kinga Révész, President of the Hungarian Science Club of Washington; Mrs. Kinga Hydras, Hungarian Academy, Washington, DC and her husband Mr. Labros Hydras; Dr. István and Mrs. Krisztina Hargitai, DC Hungarian Scouts. He recognized Coalition Internship Program Alumni present, including Mr. Márton Aichelburg, Mr. László Baksay, Ms. Lilla Fördős, Ms. Noémi Szakonyi and her husband Mr. Máté Vincze, as well as current Kőrösi Csoma Sándor Internship Program participants Mr. Gábor Balogh and Ms. Eszter Rácz.

He also gave a special welcome to all the hardworking members of the Embassy of Hungary, including Dr. Zsolt Hetesy, Deputy Chief of Mission; Dr. Béla Gedeon, Press and Public Affairs Officer; Mr. Péter Gyombolai, Hungarian Diaspora Liaison and his wife Mrs. Eszter Gyombolai; Ms. Zsófia Koncz, Foreign Policy Officer; Ms. Dorottya Mártonffy-Nagy, Trade and Investment Attache; Dr. Krisztina Osvát, Counselor, Hungarian Diaspora Affairs; Mr. Zoltán Patai, Financial Director in Charge of Managing the Economic Region and his wife Mrs. Renáta Patai-Szabó, Consul; Mr. Lőrinc Páva, Economic and Trade Attache and his wife Mrs. Réka Páva; Dr. Dávid Singer, First Secretary, Cultural Affairs and Mrs. Nikolett Singer; Dr. Mónika Varga, Consul; Mr. Krisztián Janzsó, Head of the Economic and Trade Section; Ms. Dóra Zombori, Political, Military and Energy Officer; Ms. Szilvia Németh-Dudás, Office Administrator and Mr. Benedek Kovács, Assistant.

Finally, Mr. Szentkirályi welcomed all members of the Coalition, especially President Emeritus Maximilian Teleki and Mrs. Wendy Teleki; and Chair Emerita Edith K. Lauer.

Next, Ambassador László Szabó welcomed all the guests, and delivered a message from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who at a meeting with Ambassador Szabó described Hungarians living in the US as “Hungary’s most important asset”. Ambassador Szabó underlined that the Coalition is the largest Hungarian umbrella organization in the US, and the US has the largest diaspora of Hungary. The Ambassador also highlighted the importance of the common ground created in the previous centuries and the welcoming environment that allows Hungarians to preserve their identity while being American citizens. He emphasized the fruitful cooperation between the US and Hungary since the system change, and pointed out the defense and security sectors as the greatest achievements. The Ambassador named areas where Hungarian and US foreign policy is completely aligned: fighting against terrorism; working on energy related projects to decrease the Russian influence in Central and Eastern Europe and assuring Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Ambassador Szabó concluded by stressing how remarkable work the Hungarian American Coalition is doing to preserve the identity of Hungarians in the US.

After the dinner, a video was shown on the Coalition Internship Program (available here) followed by Coalition President Andrea Lauer Rice’s welcoming remarks. Mrs. Lauer Rice provided a detailed description of her recent presidential trip to Hungary and Subcarpathia in November 2017, which she said was a perfect example of the kind of the behind-the-scenes work the Coalition does throughout the year and the unique role the Coalition plays in the Hungarian American community. During the trip, the following areas of Coalition work were included: diplomacy and advocacy; promotion of art, culture and history; Hungarian-American community outreach; building bridges between our nations; monitoring Hungarian human rights in the Carpathian basin and developing future leaders. Mrs. Lauer Rice stressed the significance of Hungarian language and education in maintaining Hungarian communities in Ukraine. As part of the cultural outreach, in 2017 the Coalition celebrated the premiere of the documentary “Cold Warriors,” which grew out of the Coalition-sponsored Memory Project: Hungarian American Visual History Archive of which Lauer Rice is a co-founder. She described the 7th annual meeting of the Diaspora Council, an event where 25 American representatives joined other global leaders of the Hungarian diaspora communities at a conference hosted by the Hungarian government. Following up on the video, President Lauer Rice highlighted the many achievements of the Coalition Internship Program that has helped train 82 Hungarian interns since 2005, with many participants who now work in leadership positions in Hungary and the Carpathian Basin. The President concluded her speech by thanking Mrs. Susan Hutchison, Ambassador April Foley and all Coalition members for making this program possible. She also gave special thanks to Zsolt Szekeres for his extraordinary effort with CIP and the Presidential trip.

In a surprise award ceremony, Edith K. Lauer, Coalition Chair Emerita recognized Ambassador Thomas Robertson, former Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Budapest on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Coalition “for representing the best traditions of American diplomacy during Hungary’s historic transition and beyond”. The laudation also included: “His years of service on behalf of freedom and democracy and his friendship with the Hungarian people have earned the enduring gratitude of Hungarian-Americans”. Ambassador Robertson thanked the Coalition the help they provided in opening doors to work on issues of mutual interest and he also emphasized the role of the exchange and internship programs in maintaining Hungarian-American cooperation and friendship.

Coalition President Andrea Lauer Rice then introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Ambassador Kurt Volker, US Special Representative in Ukraine negotiations. Ambassador Volker began his address remembering his times spent in Hungary during the preparation for NATO membership, and the Bosnian war in which Hungary was a reliable partner of the US. Next, he listed some challenges that the entire transatlantic community faces today: on the foreign side, there are China, Russia, ISIS and the deeply felt effects of globalization; on the domestic side, there are the elites, populists, threats to jobs, security, tradition, family and values. The first thing he stressed about the answers to these challenges is that we need to know who we are; and secondly, we need to take a stand. Thirdly, we have to recognize that not all who do not belong to us are our enemies. Fourth, we must hold our leaders to account and finally, we must be patient. Hungary and the US are friends who have some differences but these are not fundamental ones of who we are. Thus, to deal with the challenges, we have to face the real enemies and not those we perceive to be. Finally, Ambassador Volker brought up the new education law and minority rights in Ukraine. He stressed, that the citizens of Ukraine have to speak Ukrainian but at the same time the minorities must have the right to speak their own languages.  He added that there is a greater problem that needs to be solved first, which is the changing of borders in Europe by a foreign nation. 

The dinner concluded with Hungarian Christmas caroling led by Ms. Noémi Bánhidi, Program Coordinator of the Coalition and a Mikulás toast from Coalition Chair Dr. Ágnes Virga.

The evening’s keynote speaker, Ambassador Kurt Volker delivering his remarks Photo Credit: Kevin Allen

At the Annual Meeting held on Saturday, December 2, Chairman of the Coalition Ágnes Virga greeted all members before presenting her formal report of the Coalition’s remarkable accomplishments in 2017.  Next, members heard the detailed report given by Coalition President Andrea Lauer Rice about the organization’s 2017 projects and activities.  The Annual Meeting voted to renew the terms of the following individual board members: Mr. Stefan Fedor and Mr. Peter Wm. Forgach.

Mr. László Hámos reported on the ReConnect Hungary Birthright Program by showing two videos and asked participants to spread the word about the program for the 6th round of call for applications. Mr. Gabe Rozsa also gave an update on the current state of Kossuth House, happily reporting that the Kossuth Foundation finally owns the building, but it will take a lot of time and effort until the building can be used again. 

In the afternoon Board Meeting the three-year term of the following organizational board members were renewed: Hungarian Cultural Society of Connecticut, Hungarian (Magyar) Club of Chicago, Hungarian Society of Massachusetts, Civic Enterprises. The Board also approved Sarolta Borzási (Cluj Napoca, Romania) and Ms. Susan Hutchison as new individual members.  

At the Board meeting, Mr. László Hámos and Mrs. Eva Voisin reported on the seventh Diaspora Meeting, and Mr. Hámos also asked participants to review and sign the Minority Safepack Initiative. Ms. Csilla Grauzer then presented 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.). In the framework of this program, they collect, organize and facilitate the shipment of basic medical supplies donations for mission purposes to hospitals in need throughout Hungary or in regions with Hungarian minorities mainly in Transylvania, Romania and Subcarpathia, Ukraine. Ms. Grauzer reported that they have already shipped more than 160 boxes to Budapest in August, 2017.

The meeting concluded with Andrea Lauer Rice saying a special thank you to all Coalition leaders, members and CIP interns who had worked so hard throughout the year.

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