The Hungarian American Coalition

by | Mar 11, 2014 | Organizations in Focus

An organization with a credible, dependable voice for the interests of Hungarians in the United States and around the world.

“For the past twenty years, the Hungarian American Coalition has played a vital leadership role in preserving and building a strong relationship between our two countries. Their good work, truly inspired, has brought together citizens in both countries who cherish the cultural and economic ties that bind us together.”

Ambassador George Herbert Walker, III
U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, 2003-2006

The Hungarian American Coalition (HAC) was created in 1991 in response to changing needs at a critical time in Hungarian history. After the miraculously peaceful dissolution of communism, the nation struggled to accommodate economic, political and social change. A number of active Hungarian Americans in the Washington area – predominantly those who had supported the anticommunist opposition in Hungary – recognized both the historic opportunity and the compelling need to create an organization that could identify and promote the interests of the Hungarian American community in the United States. Foremost among those interests was providing assistance to the historic Hungarian minority communities in the Carpathian Basin and helping in the transformation of Hungary into a democratic, free-market based country.

The Hungarian American Coalition maintains an Office of Information in Washington, DC, and is led by a 33-member Board of Directors, including a 7-member Executive Committee.

Since 1991, Edith Lauer (11 years), (Peter Ujvagi (1 year), Zsolt Szekeres (2 years) and Maximilian Teleki (10 years) have served as President.  The Chairmanship of the Board is rotated each year among Board Members who are community leaders from all over the U.S.

White House Internships

The Coalition Board established the White House Internship Program in 1994 to accomplish the above mentioned objectives. Through its selection of talented Hungarian American students, the Coalition sponsored service-minded future leaders to gain experience and further their interest in Hungarian American relations. Ameritech and later SBC Communications served as corporate sponsors of this program. Prof. Ludányi chaired the committee that selected the interns on the basis of academic achievements, activities in the Hungarian American community and interest in public service. Between 1995 and 2001, 16 young Hungarian Americans participated in the Coalition’s White House Internship program. Most of them worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison as a part of that office’s outreach to ethnic communities all over the U.S. Some worked in the White House Office of Personnel.

NATO Expansion

Between 2004-2009 the Coalition played an active role in the development of U.S. policy at a critical time in post-communist history. Putting the newly free democracies of Central Europe under NATO’s umbrella was a goal widely supported by the Clinton White House, many members of Congress, and not least, by many constituencies of voters of Central European origin.  Through participating in high-level meetings with President Clinton, Vice President Gore and other officials, and taking a leadership role in the Central and Eastern European Coalition, HAC was deeply involved in assuring that Hungary would become a member of NATO.  In 1997, before the Hungarian referendum, the Coalition also organized three town meeting style conferences in Hungary to acquaint Hungarians with the responsibilities and advantages of NATO membership.

Dr. Elemér and Éva Kiss Scholarship Fund

The Hungarian American Coalition established a Scholarship Fund in 1997 for the purpose of providing partial annual scholarships to Hungarian students to pursue studies at U.S. colleges and universities. The Scholarship Fund was renamed Dr. Elemér and Éva Kiss Scholarship Fund as a special memorial by the family and friends of Dr. Elemér and Éva Kiss, of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Dr. and Mrs. Kiss, members of the Coalition since its founding in 1991, left Hungary after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and settled with their family in Maryland. They demonstrated a life-long commitment to education both in Hungary and in the United States.

Congressional Internship Program (CIP)

This signature program of the Coalition was established in 2005 for the purpose of bringing English-speaking Hungarians from Hungary and the neighboring countries, to gain first-hand experience at the U.S. Congress and various Washington-based institutions. Internship participants are expected to complete a Coalition research project that enables them to become familiar with the Hungarian-American community. Through assignments to Congressional offices, think tanks and non-government organizations, CIP participants learn about the workings of both the U.S. government and the non-profit world. Their experience helps them establish contacts in the U.S. in their chosen field, and motivates them to enter public service in their country of origin.

Educational and Cultural Support

Central to the Coalition’s educational support is its commitment to institutions themselves. The generosity of countless Hungarian Americans through programs of the Coalition has allowed these institutions to grow and thrive. Among other institutions, the Coalition supported the Kolozsvári Reformed Kollégium and the Godparents’ Program. Among its goals and initiatives, the Hungarian American Coalition takes particular pride and pleasure in helping foster appreciation for Hungary’s history and culture.  The range of sponsored events – from commemorations in the Capitol to concerts in community churches – reflects the depth and breadth of Hungarian heritage and Hungarian identity, and is a reminder of the importance of sharing that heritage with generations to come and the U.S. public at large.

Adding Hungary to U.S. Visa Waiver Program

One of the Coalition’s most challenging – and successful – advocacy initiatives between 2005-2008 was the hard-won effort to extend the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to Hungary. The VWP helps promote better relations between the U.S. and its allies, eliminates unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulates business and tourism and allows U.S. embassies to focus resources in other areas.

The Protection and Preservation of Human Rights

Concern for the plight of Hungarians who live as national minorities is undoubtedly the most galvanizing issue among Hungarian Americans.  In the Hungarian American context, “human rights” issues have come to mean, first and foremost, the human rights of Hungarian historic national minorities. At its 1998 organizational retreat the Coalition Board of Directors reaffirmed their commitment to human and minority rights advocacy.

Hungarian Americans have a distinguished history of advocacy on behalf of Hungarian minorities.  A founding organization of the Coalition, the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF) was established in 1976 by young Hungarian Americans in New York to give voice to the plight of Hungarians in Romania. Over the past decades, led by László Hámos, HHRF has remained the foremost U.S.-based professional source of information and advocacy on Hungarian minority issues.

Information and Advocacy

Since its founding, a primary goal of the Coalition has been to provide Washington decision-makers and the general public with credible and timely information about issues of importance to its members. Every year, the Hungarian American Coalition operates an Information Office in Washington, D.C.; maintains ongoing communication with U.S. Embassy officials in Hungary; stays in frequent contact with Hungarian community leaders in Romania, Slovakia and Vojvodina about events affecting the Hungarian communities of each region; monitors news and media reports on matters of interest to Hungarian Americans to share and exchange with the community; organizes a December White House Briefing to acquaint members with officials of the Administration, the State Department and the National Security Council. We also meet regularly with members of the US Congress and White House to discuss issues of great concern, such as the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Annual Gala Dinners

In 2005, the Coalition began hosting an annual Gala Dinner to formally honor outstanding Hungarian Americans and friends of Hungary, as well as to expand community outreach and raise funds for the Kiss Scholarship programs. In an effort to strengthen the remarkable achievement of some member organizations, in the past few years the Coalition has made sizeable contributions from the Gala Dinner proceeds to their programs. The Gala Dinners have been held at such elegant venues as the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Decatur House, the Cosmos Club and the House of Sweden, all in Washington, D.C. HAC Gala Dinner honorees between 2005 and 2013: John N. Lauer and the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Society; U.S. Ambassador Nancy Brinker and the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris; Dr. János Horváth, Doyen of the Hungarian Parliament, and the William Penn Association (125th anniversary); Former New York Governor George Pataki; John C. Whitehead, former Deputy Secretary of State; Dr. August J. Molnár, President of the American Hungarian Foundation; Ambassador George Herbert Walker III; Dr. Charles Simonyi, software pioneer, philanthropist, future space explorer; Dr. Otto von Habsburg, European statesman, one of the initial architects of the European Union.

Recent Efforts

Since the fall of 2010, the Hungarian American Coalition has been involved in supporting the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The Coalition raised an additional $165,000, including an inaugural $150,000 grant from The Hungary Foundation (HIF).  With these funds, the Coalition organized the construction of key festival structures: the carved-wood Dance Barn and Peacock Tower as well as the iconic 10-foot tall Puli Dog wood slat sculpture, built on site by four Hungarian master carpenters and their seven assistants from Transylvania. The Coalition worked closely with festival organizers – the Budapest-based Balassi Institute and its Director Pál Hatos; the Hungarian Cultural Center in New York City and its Director Dr. Ágnes Fülemile; and the Hungarian Embassy in Washington – to help maximize the event’s potential and create a memorable experience for visitors.

Holocaust in Hungary, a moving historical exhibit documenting the horrific events that took the lives of 550,000 Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust, opened on January 23, 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.  The exhibit was sponsored by the Carl Lutz Foundation, Budapest; the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice; and the Hungarian American Coalition, with support from The Hungary Foundation and the Permanent Mission of Hungary to the United Nations.

The Hungarian American Coalition: The First 20 Years (the Coalition’s anniversary publication)

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