Hungarian citizens answered with a resounding YES on November 16, 1997, in a referendum on Hungary’s membership in NATO. 85% of voters favored NATO membership providing convincing evidence of the soundness of US policy on NATO enlargement, as well as of Hungary’s commitment to it.
The outcome of the November 16 referendum provides but the latest evidence of Hungary’s preference for western democratic values. It echoes historic votes cast in 1945 when 57% of Hungarians voted for a moderate center-right party, crushing the communists and their allies in the first post-war elections, in 1956, when against overwhelming odds, Hungarians attempted to vote with their lives for democracy, and most recently, since 1990, following the demise of Communism in 1989, Hungarians have held a series of free and fair, local and national elections.
The Hungarian American Coalition (“Coalition”) has been a strong advocate of extending the zone of security and democracy to Hungary and the other formerly captive nations of Central Europe. Since 1994, the Coalition has actively participated in efforts to promote this policy both in Hungary and in the United States.
In Hungary, the Coalition recently organized three conferences, entitled “Hungary in an Expanded NATO: Benefits and Responsibilities,” in cooperation with the Hungarian Atlantic Council and other Hungarian NGOs. The goal of the conferences was to provide the citizens of Hungary a forum for open discussion and in-depth debate of the security, economic and political benefits and responsibilities of NATO membership.
The November 6 conference, held at the Hungarian Parliament, was formally opened by President Árpád Göncz, and featured speeches by Western and Hungarian speakers, as well as statements from Hungary’s parliamentary political parties.
The conference then moved to two Eastern Hungarian cities, Debrecen and Miskolc, on November 8 and 10, where Mayors József Hevessy and Tamás Kóbold held receptions at City Hall and formally opened the conference to participants. Remarks by Western and Hungarian experts were augmented by selections of DUNA TV’s film, “NATO Mozaik,” providing opportunities for both proponents and opponents of Hungary’s NATO membership to debate their views. In addition to extensive newspaper coverage, local television in both cities presented 20-minute reports on the conferences.
The conference was made possible by the sponsorship of the German Marshall Fund, Malev Hungarian Airlines, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, the Honorable Ronald S. Lauder, and the Boeing Company.