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AHF on Hungarian American Unity and Political Influence

2003 (updated 2005) - Hungarian Poltical Influence in the United States (Magyar Politikai Erõ Amerikában). Bela Liptak, professor, author, inventor, and a hero of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, launched a discussion on Hungarian Poltical Power in the United States (Magyar Politikai Erõ Amerikában). Mr. Liptak, a highly-respected member of the Hungarian-American community, called for unity and a national democratic process to ensure the representation of Hungarian American interests. AHF engaged the discussion immediately and echoed the call for greater unity within the American Hungarian Community. The resulting discussion opened a surprising dialogue and exemplified the difficulties of creating a national voice.

AHF's Bryan Dawson commented, "We must end petty divisions come together to have a stronger voice. Common ground and a focus on issues that unite rather than divide is key. We cannot criticize Hungary and its government and express concern for the survival of Hungarian culture in the Carpathian Basin without looking at ourselves first. We haven't opened a true school in United States, we haven't reached out to the next generation, our churches and community organizations are disappearing, and we find it hard to understand that unity brings strength, finding it difficult to come together under an umbrella organization."

Dawson also republished his "The Iceman Cometh: The New Hungarian Ice Age" (seen on the right) to stimulate discussion and promote unity within the Hungarian American community.

AHF 1st Vice President, Frank Koszorus, Jr., wrote an opinion on concrete steps the community must take to help make its voice heard, including "setting a political agenda and striving for greater cooperation and genuine coordination and a willingness by the leaders to share information, consult with each other and involve more than a small inner circle of decision makers of any one organization." The article entitled, "Steps to Political Influence," is based on his experience in Washington. The article appears below:

Steps to Political Influence, by Frank Koszorus, Jr.
1st Vice President, American Hungarian Federation [download]

My experience as a Washington advocate working with fellow professionals and a variety of organizations has led me to conclude that in order for the Hungarian American (“HA”) community to have its voice better heard, the following steps (or a combination thereof) could be considered:

1. The community’s members need to become more politically active by, among other things:
a. voting AND letting their representatives know that they are voting;
b. contributing to candidates; and
c. mobilizing fellow voters;

2. Establishing more political organizations. There are individuals who have more political clout than some organizations have. Also, many of the community’s organizations are tax exempt, educational entities or foundations. While these organizations perform a valuable function of disseminating educational information,
their political activities are restricted by laws and regulations. To the extent political organizations are formed, they will require leaders and/or paid, full time staff who are experienced in politics, including campaign financing.

Washington-based political organizations also will require leaders and paid, full time staff who are well versed in the ways of Washington, have academic and/or professional training and experience in politics, media relations, advocacy, community outreach and international relations, and know what government bodies, committees, subcommittees, etc., to focus on;

3. Institutionalizing their organizations, regularizing procedures for reaching a broad-based consensus on issues of common concern and mobilizing grassroots (along the lines of your Bela Liptak’s “Lobby”). While several organizations representing different constituencies can exist side by side as long as they consult, share and coordinate their efforts, national umbrella organizations that are able to attract active members from various generations can serve as a forum for discussion and act as a catalyst for the necessary changes;

4. Success will require greater cooperation, genuine coordination and a willingness by the leaders to share information, consult with each other and involve more than a small inner circle of decision makers of any one organization – the broader the base, the better. (This means that decision making and “credit” will have to be shared also – it will have to be a democratic process);

5. Setting a political agenda, enlisting allies (often outside of the HA community) and seeking to exercise actual political influence with the aim of achieving concrete results and realizing well-defined expectations;

6. Setting sights higher by moving beyond merely gaining access to decision makers and reacting to developments to actually setting the agenda and framing the issues. This, by definition, involves an effective monitoring function as well;

7. Focusing on the political process here and on Washington, D.C., and media here, as opposed to institutions, media, etc., overseas. In other words, the effort must target and mobilize the community here;

8. Independent evaluation and analysis. To the extent the assessment and evaluation of the strength of the HA community needs supplementation, it should be performed by an independent American institution, not the Hungarian government and/or organizations with an interest in the outcome as Charles Fenyvesi correctly points out. This survey should assess: (a) the overall HA community; and (b) those who are interested in politics and likely to become involved. A credible survey – and in order to be credible it will have to be conducted by an independent and respected institution – will support items 1 – 7 above.

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The Iceman Cometh: A New Hungarian Ice Age
by Bryan Dawson, Vice President,
The American Hungarian Federation
November 2003, edited November, 2005
[Download The Iceman Cometh]

I was watching the Discovery Channel's remarkable presentation, "Ice Age," aired in 2003. The program took the viewer through various developmental periods during the ice age and discussed the reasons for human survival and success, despite great odds and environmental challenges. Scientists on the program posited that the reason we have been so successful is our ability to adapt to climate change. The program introduced us to a small traditional hunter-gatherer ice age clan that was faced with extinction.

Hunter-gatherers strive in small groups living off the land. As the ice and oppressive cold moved south, resources quickly disappeared and the clan was decimated. With half the clan now dead, the remaining three were forced to flee and seek assistance from other groups. Since competition for resources was fierce, conflicts with other groups were inevitable. The clan of three found it hard to survive as other hunter-gatherer groups were not willing to take them in as they were seen as encroaching on already scarce resources. Near starvation, the clan continued their trek through the ice-laden European landscape and eventually stumbled on something strange indeed...

The clan found something never before seen on the face of the planet: A "village" that ensured survival through a large community of cooperation where a division of labor provided for all. As icemen learned to specialize, they became more and more effective in all their endeavors, be it farming, cooking, tool making, art, or tannery. Their increasing skills as individuals benefited the group as whole. As the realization that cooperation and larger numbers protected them from enemies, human and beast, grew, a rudimentary government developed. The community elders learned to focus on this common ground.

The community continued to grow as more and more hunter-gatherer clans joined it. Pride grew and communities developed unique styles in art, culture, and language. Those that did not contribute were exiled and went extinct. It is interesting that scientists say this community evolved first in the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe!

But wars and vindictive victors soon blanketed the region in a new ice age. After centuries of struggle, Hungary once again found herself in a devastating ice age: Soviet occupation and the grips of a cold war. The Hungarian icemen of 1956 turned to community, as did their ancestors 20,000 years before. 1956 brought people of all political backgrounds together. Intellectuals and workers, rural farmers and city workers, military and civilian, men, women, and children fought to crack the thick ice of Soviet communism. The common ground found in the desire for freedom and independence set aside petty differences.

But the Soviet ice age was one that would leave a lasting
impression on its victims. The pride that helped iceman’s community could not flourish in the new Hungary. Pride was
seen as a danger to Soviet imperialism. Pride, knowledge of history, and love of self were all systematically attacked in
the interests of Soviet fraternity. Hungarians stopped trusting each other and corruption grew at the highest levels of
government and in the population. Unfortunately, many modern Hungarians today have seemed to forget these bitter lessons and the mistrust promoted by our occupiers infects us today...

We have all seen public attacks on fellow Hungarians circulating across the Internet. The attacks, launched from various sides of the political spectrum, are often without regard for decency and show a lack of will to verify rumors and innuendo. This behavior discourages those that would be active and contribute to our growth as a people. It also sends the wrong message to other “clans.” It shows weakness at a time we need to unite. The hunter-gather mentality that pervades our organizations is the reason the Hungarian-American community has accomplished little for the group as whole. We must end petty divisions come together to have a stronger voice. A common ground focus on issues that unite rather than divide is key. Hungarians, like any family, must learn that it is OK to disagree on some issues; we must work with those willing to contribute to causes arrived at by a focus on common goals.

But we must be vigilant against hypocrisy. Can we legitimately criticize Hungary and its governments and express concern for the survival of Hungarian culture in the Carpathian Basin without looking at ourselves first? How many true schools have we opened in the United States? Not one. Have we reached out to the next generation to ensure our organizations and presence in the United States continues? No. Do we ourselves believe in having a national voice and the political process? A rhetorical question, I know, but how many of you are part of a national umbrella organization like AHF and voted for your leaders or declared candidacy for office?

The climate is changing again. Hunter-gatherers beware, the Iceman cometh! We are building a new village. Let's be
careful in what we think, how we think, what we say, and how we say it. Let’s all "Break the ice" before it swallows us.

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