President Pál Schmitt Pays Historic Visit to Cleveland: Largest Hungarian Community in U.S. Turns Out for Five Events

On September 17-18, President of Hungary Pál Schmitt visited Cleveland, OH, home of the largest Hungarian community in the U.S.  In less than 24 hours, President Schmitt and his delegation visited a remarkable number of Cleveland’s Hungarian institutions and met with their leaders.

President Pál Schmitt delivering his speech at the statue of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Photo: Office of the President of the Republic of Hungary)

The events began on September 17, just an hour after Schmitt’s arrival from overseas, with a visit by the Presidential delegation to Mindszenty Plaza in downtown Cleveland.  Schmitt paid his respects at the bust of Cardinal Mindszenty and a statue commemorating the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.  A dozen leaders of the local Hungarian Scout troops greeted the President with Hungarian and U.S. flags, as well as their own troop colors.  The short program was organized by the Scouts and the Cleveland Hungarian Development Panel, an organization founded 20 years ago.  After the President thanked those present for their continuing loyalty to Hungary, the scouts performed their traditional scout song.

Mr. Schmitt then proceeded to the nearby Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Museum, a 25 year-old institution that is considered “the heartbeat of Hungarian Culture” in Cleveland.  There, amid the display of Hungarian costumes and cultural treasures, thirteen people took the oath of Hungarian citizenship in a moving ceremony administered by the Hungarian Consul from New York.  In his remarks, Mr. Schmitt mentioned that since the Parliament approved the simplified naturalization process, each week 5,000 Hungarians living outside Hungary’s borders have applied to become citizens of Hungary.  Before retiring for the night, the President examined the Museum exhibits, and joined the guests for a festive champagne reception.

Early next morning the delegation paid a visit to the Cultural Gardens of Cleveland, where the Hungarian Garden is one of the largest, featuring statues of Ferenc Liszt, Imre Madách and Endre Ady.  The President was shown around by the group that has worked most effectively to raise funds for the continuous improvement and upkeep of the Garden.

The President’s next stop took him to the 1902 statue of Lajos Kossuth at Cleveland’s University Circle.  Cleveland-area Hungarian Americans, including the Scouts, were present as Dr. Schmitt laid a wreath at the statue.  Next, he attended Mass at Cleveland’s oldest Hungarian church, St. Elizabeth Catholic Church.

An elegant lunch held at a downtown hotel was the final stop for the President and his delegation.  Present at the lunch were Mayor Frank G. Jackson of Cleveland, who presented Dr. Schmitt with a key to the city as well as other gifts.  Congressman Kucinich also visited with the President during lunch.  A special feature of the program was the presentation of Hungarian state honors to three outstanding Hungarian Americans:  Dr. Jeanette Grasselli Brown of Cleveland, Sándor Krémer of Chicago and Gabriella Nádas of Canton, Ohio.  Their outstanding efforts to assist Hungarians in and outside Hungary were lauded by Ambassador György Szapáry, Consul General Károly Dán and dr. Peter Forgach, respectively, and they received their honors from President Schmitt.

In his remarks the President said: “We feel responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living outside of our borders and we intend to promote and foster their connection with Hungary by preserving their Hungarian identity.  Our history, our culture, our traditions and our unique language have always worked together to create an inseparable bond.  Now (the new citizenship law) will make it possible for every Hungarian living outside our borders to obtain citizenship, to connect and to share this inseparable spiritual bond.  In our heart, we have always been one people, one nation.”

Several Hungarian American Coalition leaders took an active role both in encouraging Dr. Schmitt to target Cleveland as the location of his first U.S. visit as President, and in organizing the actual visit.  Coalition Chair Emerita Edith Lauer, with Honorary Consul László Böjtös, led an ad hoc committee which included Ted Horvath to plan details of the visit.  Mr. Böjtös greeted the President with brief speeches that provided an excellent overview of Hungarian American attitudes toward Hungary.  Ms. Lauer moderated the luncheon program, where two Coalition Board Members, Gabriella Nádas and Sándor Krémer, and a long-time supporter, Dr. Jeanette G. Brown were the honorees.

The Northeast Ohio Hungarian community is still the largest in the U.S. with approximately 100,000 residents claiming Hungarian heritage.  The churches, the Hungarian Scout movement, the Hungarian Heritage Museum and other institutions remain active in their commitment to maintain their Hungarian culture and identity.

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