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The Hungarian Constitution: Heritage Foundation Seminar

The Federation urges cooperation among Hungarian American organizations to facilitate an educated debate of the provisions of Hungary's draft constitution and the context of the proposed changes. AHF feels we must make every effort to correct the record and educate the public on the long history of Hungarian democracy.3/25/2011 - The Hungarian American Coalition (HAC) and the Common Sense Society co-sponsored a seminar entitled, "Hungary's New Constitution: Prospects for the Rule of Law & Liberty in New Europe." The Federation urges cooperation among Hungarian American organizations to facilitate an educated debate of the provisions of Hungary's draft constitution and the context of the proposed changes. AHF feels we must make every effort to correct the record and educate the public on the long history of Hungarian democracy. The Seminar was held on March 21st at the Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium in Washington, DC and simulcast to the Common Sense Society audience in Budapest, Hungary.

AHF expressed concern that while the event was an excellent opportunity to educate the public regarding the historical context of the proposed constitution and its key provisions, it could have been an opportunity for the two organizations to discuss proposed provisions that affect our community and better prepare for the presentation. Bryan Dawson, AHF Executive Chairman said, "The program was an excellent opportunity to educate the public on the issues surrounding various provisions of the new Constitution and on the 1100-year-old Hungarian democratic tradition. We hope, when such an opportunity presents itself, we could collaborate and better prepare to maximize impact."

While the Hungarian representatives rightly referred to the 1100-year-old Hungarian democratic tradition, AHF believes HAC missed an opportunity to not only present a more detailed analysis of the proposed constitutional provisions from the Hungarian American perspective, but to also educate the public on the long history of Hungarian democracy. For example, the Hungarian-American representative on the panel said:

“This moment serves as a reminder of how far Central Europe has come in 20 short years, but a reminder that it is truly only yesterday that Hungary began those baby steps towards a democracy. This constitution in many ways is a declaration of their own independence from the past as a growing adult among democracies.”

Given the non-Hungarian audience and chance to educate the public and influence decision makers, this statement was unfortunate. While we have seen similar comments in the press from analysts limited in their knowledge of Hungarian history, we are perplexed as to why one who purported to speak on behalf of Hungarian Americans would not use this forum to correct the record.

Hungary has over 1100 years of democratic traditions and fought numerous costly wars and battles when those traditions were in jeopardy. Few nations can match Hungary’s progressive march toward democracy. Here are but a few examples:

In the 9th century we have examples of the Hungarian democratic tradition of Nobles electing their King as seen with the founding tribes of Hungary who elected Arpad as their King by Blood Oath (Vérszerződés). While most of Europe was trying to emerge from the Dark Ages, the Golden Bull of 1222, issued by King Andrew II of Hungary, “established the rights of Hungary's noblemen, including the right to disobey the King when he acted contrary to law (jus resistendi). This was also a historically important document because it set down the principles of equality for all of the nation's nobility.” The Age of Elected Kings (14-15th centuries) was a period of great success and growth leading Zsigmond (Sigismund of Luxembourg who had to accept power sharing with the Hungarian barons) to the throne of Hungary and eventually to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and giving rise to the great Janos Hunyadi.

Enlightened kings such as Matthias Corvinus followed. Even during the challenges of decline during the 1500’s and through the centuries, “Hungary kept its old "constitution", which granted special "freedoms" or rights to the nobility, the free royal towns such as Buda, Kassa (Košice), Pozsony (Bratislava), and Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) and groups like the Jassic people or Transylvanian Saxons.” The diet of Torda, in Transylvania, in 1550, granted freedom of worship with the words: "Every man may hold to his God-given faith, and under no circumstances shall one religion interfere with another.” Hungary was the very first place on the earth where freedom of religion was declared and legalized.

Following the fight against the Ottoman Turks, Hungarians rose up against the Austrian yoke twice. In the 1848 War of Liberation the nobility voluntarily relinquished its privileges and Louis Kossuth sought a Danubian Federation. His democratic ideals were so controversial, that US Congress had sharp debates as to whether to allow him to speak to a joint session of Congress as they were concerned with a secessionist South and debates over slavery and equality. “All for the People and All by the People; Nothing About the People Without the People - That is Democracy!” These are the words of Hungarian patriot Louis Kossuth, leader of the 1848 democratic revolution, spoken before the Ohio State Legislature… 11 years before Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

We must also remember the bravery of Hungarian voters, who, despite the Soviet Communist takeover of Hungary after WWII, elected the Smallholders party. The speaker mentioned how the legacy of 1956 should be reflected in the constitution, but 1956 and Hungary’s proud history of fighting for freedom and independence were certainly not baby steps.

These are important issues that must be raised when the opportunity presents itself. There is much disinformation and lack of understanding in both the scholarly and political sphere. We are open to assist and welcome collaboration on these important topics. - Bryan Dawson, AHF Executive Chairman

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AHF reacts to The Washington Post Editorial equating concern for national minorities with extremismAHF reacts to The Washington Post Editorial 7/22/2010 - AHF reacts to The Washington Post Editorial: "...the editorial, 'Hungary's Strongest Leader Targets the Media,' [July 19], seems to equate the prevailing sentiment in Hungary in support for minority rights and the new passport law with extremism. Nothing is farther from the truth."AHF letters reminded editors about the current extremism [see Slovak Language Law] in neighboring countries and explained that the legacy of Trianon continues to affect the lives of millions of ethnic Hungarians today. TrianonThe letters also pointed out the fact that dual citizenship is a common and globally accepted practice even in those same countries that would discriminate against an ethnic Hungarian exercising his rights. AHF feels The Post missed the point and mixed unrelated issues. However, we appreciate the fact the The Post's editorial included a link to AHF's page on the Treaty of Trianon.

Letters included those from members Frank Koszorus, Jr., AHF President; Bryan Dawson, AHF Executive Chairman; and Geza Cseri, former Science and Technology Advisor to the Allied Supreme Commanders of NATO. The Post published a Letter to Editor from Geza Jeszenszky, former Ambassador to the United States and Foreign Minister.

All four letters appear in that order below:

Dear Editor:

Based on erroneous assumptions and a casual understanding of the challenges confronting Hungarians, the editorial, "Hungary's strongest leader targets the media," [July 19], seems to equate the prevailing sentiment in Hungary in support for minority rights and the new passport law with extremism. Nothing is farther from the truth. Consequently, the editorial appears biased and falls short of the high standard The Post sets for itself.

Dual citizenship is not uncommon in Europe and elsewhere. Romania, for example, grants dual citizenship to ethnic Romanians living in Moldova.

Remembering the Treaty of Trianon, which transferred over three million ethnic Hungarians to foreign rule, is neither polarizing nor a concern of only the right, as the editorial also suggests. Rather it is an issue today because some of Hungary's neighbors discriminate against their Hungarian minorities. Slovakia, which adopted a language law prohibiting the use of Hungarian in public, or Romania, which refuses to re-establish a former Hungarian university, are examples. If these countries respected minority rights, Trianon would be relegated to the history books.

Perhaps next time The Post will examine the facts a little more closely.

Frank Koszorus, Jr.
President, American Hungarian Federation


Dear Editor:

I was confused by the editorial, "Hungary's strongest leader targets the media," [July 19]. The merits (or lack thereof) of government media controls has little or nothing to do with passports or citizenship which are matters of national identity, not nationalism. Dual-citizenship is a common practice throughout the world as is autonomy and respect for local, historic communities. Is the U.S. nationalist for allowing Americans to live abroad and keep their passports? Is the US extreme for accepting dual citizenship with Britain, France or Mexico? Is Hungary extreme for accepting dual citizenship for ethnic Slovaks living in Hungary? Slovakia accepts dual citizenship for some, but will not extend the same rights to ethnic Hungarians who have lived in their own communities for over 1,100 years. As such, it is clearly discriminatory. Unfortunately, the law to rescind Slovak citizenship for ethnic Hungarians who exercise their right to apply for Hungarian citizenship on Saturday, July 17, 2010.

Is the concern for the basic human rights of an ethnic minority an extremist, extreme right-wing position? Are Catalonians extreme for wanting to speak Catalan with the postman in Catalonia? How about speaking French in Quebec? Spanish in Miami? Italian in Switzerland? Slovakia, under a truly nationalist government that include Jan Slota who called Hungarians, “the cancer of the Slovak nation,” passed a law making it illegal to converse in Hungarian with a Hungarian postman in a post office in an 1100-year old Hungarian village.

For the 40 years of communist rule, it was taboo to discuss topics such as Trianon and asserting rights for ethnic minorities as to not disturb the “socialist brotherhood of nations.” Does the Post long for the brotherhood’s return? As the link you provided explained so well, any objective observer would see Trianon as a huge miscarriage of justice that continues to affect the lives of millions today. It is not a right-wing, extremist issue, it is an issue of human and minority rights that should transcend the political spectrum. The firm re-establishment of democracy in Hungary allows for a full examination of these topics, however uncomfortable for the West who bears the responsibility for creating these minorities and ethnic strife in the first place.

Bryan Dawson
Arlington, VA


Dear Sir:

As a 40+ years subscriber to The Post, and a member of the American Hungarian Federation, I would like to response to your Editorial: "Hungary's strongest leader targets the media," [July 19], is based on erroneous assumptions and little understanding of Hungary’s history and psychic. Equating Hungary’s support for Hungarian minorities and of the granting of dual citizenship as being chauvinistic and catering to extremism is further from the truth. Granting dual citizenship is a common practice. The neighboring countries Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic grant dual citizenship to their ethnic brothers living in neighboring countries. One example is Romania granting dual citizenship to ethnic Romanians living in Moldova. The fact that The Post never raised this issue before regarding the named countries why now when it comes to Hungary? Am I wrong if I detect a bias attitude in this?

When it comes to the Treaty of Trianon, you are telling to the Hungarians to forget it. How can you forget that your arms and legs are cut off, and millions of your brothers are under foreign rule, because that is what happened at Trianon. The Treaty unjustly, with malice, deprived Hungary of 65% of her inhabitants and 72% of her territory, an area as large as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio or Kentucky combined. The dismemberment also created 16 million ethnic minorities, including millions of Hungarians. This treaty totally altered the political balance of Central Europe which then led to the Balkanization of the area and created the political and economy hardships and turmoil to the country and the area. There are no extremists on this issue since practically the whole nation laments the injustice of Trianon.

If there is revisionalism in Hungary, it is fueled by Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia because of their oppressive and discriminatory policies. Slovakia, by the Benes Decrees and its language law prohibiting the use of Hungarian in public, or Romania, which refuses to re-establish a Hungarian university, or the continuous physical beatings of ethnic Hungarians by the Serbs in Voivodina are examples.

I hope that in the future, The Post will be more mindful of the facts and reality.

Geza Cseri
Mc Lean VA
President, CIC, Inc. and former Science and Technology Advisor
to the Allied Supreme Commanders of NATO


An unfair portrayal of Hungarian politics - 7/24/2010
[see original Letter to the Editor]

The July 19 editorial "Hungary's rightward lunge" was as inaccurate as it was unfair. It also revealed a superficial understanding of Hungary and Fidesz, the party that just won a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections this spring. A few examples:

In 2002, Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, did not cater to "Hungary's extreme right," as the editorial stated, but successfully opposed it and helped oust its representatives from parliament by defeating them during the elections.

Although Washington did not welcome Hungary's decision to purchase fourth-generation Swedish-British Gripen fighter planes rather than used American F-16s, it did not make Mr. Orbán persona non grata and a pariah, as the editorial suggested. In March 2002, President George W. Bush telephoned Mr. Orbán and invited him to visit the United States following the elections, which looked like an almost certain victory for Mr. Orbán's Fidesz Party.

As a staunch friend of the United States and an appreciative reader of The Post, I hope that the editorial policy relating to Hungary will be more balanced and factual in the future.

Géza Jeszenszky, Budapest
The writer was Hungary's ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2002.

12/1/2006 - Budapest Needs to Support Legitimate Aspirations of Hungarian Minorities, Not Eliminate Institutions. The American Hungarian Federation is concerned that revised policies by Hungary may not be sufficient to protect the Hungarian minorities living in the Carpathian Basin. The Federation hopes that other organizations and individuals, especially those who address minority rights issues, will join the Federation in its expression of concern. The full text of the Federation's statement, in English and Hungarian can be viewed below.

  • AHF Statement (English) [read more]
  • AMSz Nyilatkozat (Hungarian/Magyarul) [tovább]

Voting RightsHow Hungarian Citizens Abroad Can Vote: Dr. Janos Horvath's Awareness Campaign. [Magyarul]

2/18/2006 - Hungarians Abroad voting in Hungarian Parliamentarian Elections for the first time... Hungarian Parliamentarian on US Tour to help voters understand the procedures as DEADLINE approaches.

János Horváth, a senior member of the Parliament of Hungary representing the Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party, is going to visit several North American Hungarian communities between February 26 and March 6. The key purpose of his trip is to underline the significance of the upcoming general Parliamentary elections to be held in April in Hungary, and to spread the news to those Hungarians with voting rights that they may cast their votes at the Hungarian Embassies and Consulates abroad including those in the US and Canada for the first time if they mail their requests with the selected location to the appropriate local authorities in Hungary within the somewhat restrictive statutory deadlines. [read more]

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Heritage Foundation writes, "Hungary is now drafting and debating a new constitution and lovers of liberty should take note of this attempt to, in the words of The Federalist, “establish good government from reflection and choice.” The proposed constitution would replace the one adopted in 1949 and significantly revised during the regime change of 1989. At this critical juncture, Hungary has the chance to provide a model for proper constitutionalism in Europe. To fail, in the words of Hamilton, would be a “general misfortune for mankind.” If successful, Hungary will be the first European Union Member State to adopt a national constitution since the Lisbon Treaty took effect in 2009, naturally raising issues of self-government and national sovereignty within the context of European integration. Americans are watching with expectation Hungary’s new experiment in establishing good government."

Speakers included:

H.E. János Csák
Hungarian Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Member, National Consultation Committee on the Constitution

József Szájer, Fidesz MEP
Head, National Consultation Committee on the Constitution

Maximilian Teleki
President, The Hungarian-American Coalition

Robert Alt
Senior Legal Fellow and Deputy Director, Center for Legal & Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation

Marion Smith
Graduate Fellow, B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, The Heritage Foundation (Moderator)


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