Inclusion and pluralism: Transforming Ottawa’s Hungarian community

Last Thursday, fifteen local Hungarians in Canada’s capital met at a “neutral” location to chart a course that would transform the small, but active local Hungarian community into one that is much more inclusive than it is now, welcoming a plurality of people, backgrounds, life experiences and views. This past Sunday’s Hungarian-language radio broadcast on CHIN 97.9 FM was a case in point of why a new-found openness is so very much needed, not just in Ottawa, but in all Hungarian diaspora communities. The weekly radio broadcast’s host, Judit Petényi, had produced an interview with a young Hungarian recipient of a Kőrösi Csoma scholarship, who as part of this Hungarian government program, was sent to Ottawa by Hungary’s Prime Minister’s Office to volunteer at the Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre, as well as among the Scouts and at the Hungarian School of Ottawa, which offers instruction once per week. The Kőrösi Csoma scholarship program costs over $2 million and out of 400 applicants, 100 young Hungarians were delegated by the Prime Minister’s Office to serve in diaspora communities throughout the world–from Canada and the United States, all the way to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The young scholarship recipient delegated to Ottawa, Kata Kovács, also has a responsibility to produce “reports” once per month, accompanied by photographs, of people and events in the local Hungarian community and then forward these directly to the Prime Minister’s Office, after they have been vetted by her local “mentor,” Tibor Lapohos, who happens to be the Vice President of the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada, an openly pro-Orbán group supported by Budapest.

Ms. Petényi recorded an interview with Ms. Kovács and had planned to air it this past Sunday. Unfortunately, Ms. Kovács was not able to obtain permission from the Prime Minister’s Office to air the interview and as such, the host had no choice but to simply share some information about the program that she obtained through her own research. Since the Kőrösi Csoma program and the openly right-wing National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada are linked, she also raised some questions in her show on this organization, and hopes to conduct interviews on the group in the coming weeks. (Listen to the most recent radio broadcast here, in Hungarian. The relevant sections on the government program in question and on the National Alliance, start after the 10 minute mark. )

The lack of dialogue, the lack of respect for pluralism, little to no transparency and very tightly controlled messaging are all prominent features of how the Orbán government conducts itself, both in Hungary and abroad. I was very pleased to see how the Ottawa community radio broadcast has been pushing the envelope on this front, especially after Ms. Petényi started hosting the weekly show this past summer.

The cooperation between fifteen local Hungarians, comprised of current and former members of the Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre (OHCC), as well as Hungarians who are new to the community, is another important step in the direction of real dialogue and inclusion. It’s a grassroots initiative called the Hungarian Forum of Ottawa (Ottawai Magyar Fórum) and during the first meeting, a wide range of concerns were raised openly and respectfully, in an environment where everyone present felt comfortable expressing their views.

These included:

  • The presence of exclusionary partisan politics within the Hungarian community and specifically within the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada;
  • The continued pressure being placed on the OHCC to become a member of the politically-charged and partisan National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada, despite the fact that the supporters of this initiative were not able to muster the local two-thirds majority support in 2014 that would have been needed to renew the community’s membership;
  • The departure of numerous older members of the OHCC, many of whom have dedicated long years of volunteer work and helped to build the Centre over 30 years ago, because they felt that their voice wasn’t being heard, or felt disrespected;
  • The sense of secrecy and the lack of transparency was raised by many. An example of this is how even for the most innocuous events (such as for Hungarian lángos and bake sales), the email information sent out to members of the OHCC includes a stern, bilingual warning at the bottom of the text, warning members not to forward or share the information with anyone, as the email is confidential and the property of the OHCC. As well, the OHCC’s current leadership, which is aligned with the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada, has previously argued that all general meetings in the Centre are fully confidential, even though the by-laws do not stipulate any such blanket secrecy. This is “the will” of the executive, we are often told. As such, it becomes impossible to share with the broader community developments that could be of interest to people who are not members, such as whether the OHCC joins or removes itself from the National Alliance;
  • The current President of the OHCC is also the Vice President of the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada. The Hungarian Forum of Ottawa discussed whether this may be a conflict of interest;
  • The current executive of the OHCC requested that Hungary’s ambassador to Canada, Bálint Ódor, once again give the keynote address at the 1956 commemorations, scheduled for October 25th. Participants in the forum wondered why eyewitnesses and survivors of the 1956 revolution could not be asked to serve as keynotes and whether they were consulted before a Hungarian diplomat was again, seemingly by default, asked  to assume this role;
  • The reporting obligations built into the Kőrösi Csoma program are of concern to local Hungarians, considering that information and photographs of individual Hungarians are being collected, shared and stored in the Prime Minister’s Office. There is no information on the precise volume and nature of this data and how it is being used by the Orbán government.

The Hungarian Forum’s initial meeting lasted a solid four hours, including a lovely meal, and there is interest in holding future discussions within the coming weeks, as well as charting a coherent strategy to achieve the group’s stated goals.

According to the 2011 census, a total of 1,885 residents in Ottawa-Gatineau speak Hungarian as their mother tongue. The OHCC’s current membership stands at approximately 200 or just over 10% of the city’s total Hungarian-speaking population. While the capital’s Hungarian community is small and ageing, Ottawa continues to attract Hungarians who are here temporarily for studies or for work. And with a little more emphasis placed on empowerment, grassroots initiatives and inclusion, there is an opportunity to expand the community and make it more relevant.

A monument commemorating the 1956 Revolution and refugee crisis, as well as Canada's decision to accept 38,000 Hungarian refugees, on Maple Island, in Ottawa. Photo: ottmem.blogspot.com

A monument commemorating the 1956 Revolution and refugee crisis, as well as Canada’s decision to accept 38,000 Hungarian refugees, on Maple Island, in Ottawa. Photo: ottmem.blogspot.com

7 Comments

  1. Avatar Charlie London says:

    Surely the ‘reports’ (and no doubt ‘intelligence’) back to the Prime Minister’s office should be open and public?

    Doesn’t Ottawa have a freedom of information act?

    I bet those who are ‘chosen’ for the Kőrösi Csoma program are from the Fidesz faithful families. And haven’t we found out that a university education in Hungary is the most expensive relatively on the planet?

    These are from the elite Fidesz families just like Orban was from an elite communist one and allowed to travel.

    The reporting back to Orban smacks of the spying everyone did on each other during the communist years – with people like Ader and other moustachios still under suspicion because Orban refuses to open the archives – with Orban’s dad being protected too.

    Let’s hope the HFO can prise itself away from Orban’s tentacles and attract the next generation who can plough their own furrow.

    I don’t have much hope if those reports (and photos!) keep going back. I believe workers in Hungary already live in fear back home.

    Let’s hope the diaspora in Ottawa don’t have this sword of Damocles hanging over them.

    • Avatar Christopher Adam says:

      Charlie, I agree–and the news of reports brings back lots of memories for me…of my days as a PhD candidate in history, going through dozens of boxes of declassified intelligence reports on Hungarian Canadians and on Canada from the pre-1989 period. Then too, “scholarship-holders” would arrive in Canada, come under the guise of some sort of cultural exchange aimed at helping the local community, and use their time here to gather intelligence. The last scholarship-holder came in circa 1983, to Toronto.

      Some things never change….or at least don’t change much.

  2. Mr. Adam,

    Thank you for your article and its attempt to expose the Orban government’s secret agendas.

    Now do us all a favour and don’t wait until the third paragraph of your next article to expose your own.

    Impress us with those Cultural Marxist tactics that are so prevalent yet so unknown by western readers. You know, the ones you learn in schools like Carleton University? In fact, educate your readers about Cultural Marxism and the Frankfurt School. Describe, then, this information in the context of a country such as Hungary and what it needs to protect itself from such undemocratic influences. Tell us why you use the word “pluralism” instead of “multiculturalism” and who you want to include and why. What assets are you looking for? Tell us how Multiculturalism as it is deployed in Canada would quickly destroy a small country such as Hungary, as it is destroying our larger country Canada. Explain that all cultures are considered equal in Multicultural societies, even those that are inferior. While you’re at it describe to us in detail the perils of Keynsian Economics and how Orban discarded slavery to western banks, including the IMF, in brave favour of Austrian-School independence. Then, if you will, move on to illuminate for us all the marriage between Cultural Marxism and Islam. Explain to us why Merkel chooses cultural suicide and Orban does not. As a Historian, go on in detail about Hungary’s experience with Islam, and the perilous position it has always been in as it straddles the fence between acute multiple dangers both east and west.

    There is so much to write for one who wishes to reveal agendas, wouldn’t you agree?

    Victor Orban is a great Hungarian patriot who is trying to preserve Hungary for future generations of Hungarians. He is also trying to protect and preserve the Hungarian diaspora created post the shameful Trianon dismemberment of Hungary.

    Regards

  3. I am in total agreement with Mr. John Kovach! We would all be interested to hear about your own “conflicts of interest” and bunk ideas as a pseudo academic Mr. Adam. In a previous post you indicated that you were embarrassed to identify yourself as Hungarian as a result of the actions of the Hungarian government. I hate to break it to you: but it is the Hungarian community that is embarrassed to count you among it. The Hungarian community in Ottawa has long been internally divided along religious (of which the Catholics have been the most vehemently against cooperation), regional and political grounds (previous Socialist puppet ambassadors in Canada are known to have withheld awards for 1956 Hungarian heroes who were outspoken critics of leftist governments). Needless to say the community was able to build a vibrant community through its own ingenuity – not like the freeloading migrants you support. It is you and your “friends” who are undermining the Hungarian community by creating deranged ideas of a Hungarian police state or some perceived great divide in the community. The only real police state that ever existed in Hungary was under your beloved Socialist and communist utopia. I would like to see you call out those Socialist and communist criminals who remain at large with blood on their hands.

    Where were you when innocent protesters were beaten on orders from Gyurcsány?

    Where were you when irrelevant organizations like the Canada-Hungary Educational Foundation featured phony “prominent” leftist Hungarians during an exhibition at the NAC without any input from the community?

    Where have you been in defending Hungary or the Hungarian diaspora communities in times of need? You and people like you are the true perpetrators of division. Keep creating those boogeymen Mr. Adam! You have to pay your bills somehow.

  4. Avatar Charlie London says:

    You are the one with a mote in your eye.

    You hagiography of Orban can only come from someone who has probably come from a controlled, centralist communist background – believe me it shows.

    How else could you hold Orban in such regard?

    Canada, in the main, has at least most of the required components of a democratic country – which seeks to treat everyone equal and to give equal opportunity regardless of culture background.

    Orban? Well it’s OK if your a so-called ‘pure’ Magyar – but not if you’re on the wrong side of the underclass. What about the exploited, oppressed and murdered 10%?

    You know nothing about living in a decent multicultural, pluralistic, liberal society. Notice those three word?

    All words which have a warped coded meaning in Hungary.

    What Orban has created is nothing like a fair society that many in England would recognise as anything like a democracy.

    Believe me I have direct knowledge and experience of Hungary. I have direct experience of Orban’s ‘Christian’ society.

    It is nasty nasty nasty.

    Nothing close to democracy.

    At least Canada is a true democracy.

    Begone with your self delusion.

    Go and live in Hungary – illiberal, cruel, ‘Christian’, commocracy.

    Yeah. It’s great over there.

    • Avatar Charlie London says:

      And btw – I too would deny being Hungarian in the present climate.

      Orban has given Hungary a bad name – as has his supporters who seem to glean their rhetoric from Fradi.

      Until Hungary comes back into the human race I’d lie low too.

      For humanity and sanity.

      • Avatar Charlie London says:

        …….and it certainly shouldn’t be in Europe.

        Fancy being a Russian satellite again? Orban and Jobbik would.

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