Washington, DC – Members of the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) were deeply saddened to learn that Miklós Duray passed away on December 30, 2022, after a lengthy illness. He was 77 years old. Duray was a human rights activist, internationally recognized dissident, and signer of Charta 77 in Czechoslovakia. He was a leader of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia for four decades and a long-time friend of the Coalition. He was considered the most influential figure of Hungarian community and political life in Slovakia since János Esterházy.
He was a great strategic thinker. In fact, his ideas on how to define citizenship for Hungarians living outside the borders of Hungary became the cornerstone of Hungarian government policy in determining their ties to Hungarian communities in the Carpathian Basin. By offering a path to gain a Hungarian passport, he created a revolutionary approach to ensuring that minorities could play an important role in society, no matter the human rights challenges of their country of residence.
Miklós Duray was born on July 18, 1945, in the town of Losonc (Lucenec), Czechoslovakia. Both his father, a doctor of law, and his mother, a schoolteacher, lost their jobs in 1945 due to their “undesirable” (ethnic Hungarian and non-Communist) family background.
Duray’s long career of human rights activism began as a student participating in the 1968 Prague Spring. He continued with Slovakia’s Hungarian youth groups and in Csemadok, a cultural association of ethnic Hungarians. By 1970, Czechoslovakian authorities banned him from all public activities and his name was on the Communist Party’s “blacklist” of 1971.
In 1978, he was one of the founders of the Committee for the Legal Defense of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia, an underground entity that published reports on human rights violations and the Czechoslovakian regime’s anti-minority policies. He was under constant surveillance, subjected to repeated interrogations and imprisoned twice.
In 1982, he was arrested and charged with “subverting the state order.” Thanks to pressure from Western groups, including Amnesty International, Duray was released. He later signed the Charta 77 statement and continued his activities with the Committee for the Legal Defense of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia.
He was arrested again in 1984 after organizing a protest campaign resulting in letters signed by 10,000 citizens. The protest was aimed against passage of a bill which would have endangered the continuation of minority-language schooling for Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian inhabitants. International groups came to Duray’s defense, including protests by numerous Members of the U.S. Congress (led by the Hungarian-born California Representative Tom Lantos). Duray was again released, but had spent a total of 470 days in jail without any conviction.
In 1988-1989, he was allowed to spend one year, with his wife Dr. Zsuzsanna Szabó, as a visiting professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Coalition member Dr Ede Császár and his National Committee of Hungarians from Slovakia was instrumental in securing this invitation. During his time abroad, Duray met with Coalition leaders and other Hungarian and American groups around the U.S.
After the fall of communism and the independence of Slovakia, Duray continued leadership roles as founder and president of the Co-Existence Political Movement. In 1994, three Hungarian parties had been created. Duray rightly feared that they would split the vote and dilute any hope the community had for effective representation. To prevent this he sacrificed his own political ambitions and came up with the plan to merge the parties, creating a single party for Hungarians, the Hungarian Coalition Party.
In July 1995, along with the two other leaders of the Hungarian Coalition in Slovakia, Duray participated in meetings with decision-makers in Washington D.C., organized by Coalition member organization HHRF.
In 2009 the Slovak Parliament passed a discriminative language law. The Hungarian community held a rally on September 1, 2009 in a football stadium in Dunaszerdahely. Duray and writer László Dobos invited then Coalition President Edith K. Lauer and Zsolt Szekeres to attend and speak at a rally attended by 12,000 people.
Coalition leaders would work with Duray, László Dobos and other leaders of the Felvidék community over many years. He became a trusted partner and dear friend to many.
Among many recognitions, he was the recipient of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2001.
To the very end of his life, Miklós Duray never ceased his activities on behalf of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. More broadly, he continuously sought out allies and movements throughout Central Europe, hoping to foster his vision of a truly European region where all ethnic groups can feel at home. In 2021 he was the recipient of the prestigious Pro Probitate award, previously won in 1994 by the heroic figure, János Esterházy.
The Hungarian American Coalition and indeed the entire Hungarian community mourns the loss of a true Hungarian patriot who gave so much of himself in public service, and whose commitment to human rights in general, but particularly the Hungarian minority community filled his life. His legacy is an inspiration to all of us.