Is it possible to build an inclusive, democratic Hungarian diaspora community?

First off, I should explain my silence on these pages over the past several days. In addition to a very busy period at work, I have also been involved in a new grassroots movement taking off here in Ottawa, within an ageing and–for many of us–not especially welcoming Hungarian community.  On October 18th, 2015, the Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre (OHCC) held a members’ meeting, in order to vote on whether the community hall should become a member of the right-wing, openly pro-Fidesz National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada (NAHC). The NAHC was established in 2012 and its online paper, The Hungarian Reporter, allows for no opposing views or ideas, except those sanctioned by the Orbán government in Budapest. Not only is there no opportunity to comment, but the site will not accept guest contibutors either. In the past, the NAHC’s site published far-right material as well. For instance, last Christmas the Hungarian Reporter wished its readers a peaceful holiday season by quoting the words of convicted Hungarian war criminal and a prime minister of the Horthy regime, namely: László Bárdossy. The same “Christmas” article also asserted that Israel was a burden for Germany, in a reference to the legacy of the Holocaust and compensation payments.

Just nine months later, the NAHC announced that it would be donating a minimum of $1,000 to the Holocaust monument being erected in Ottawa. I strongly suspect that the government in Budapest instructed them to clean up their image on this front, because donating money to a Holocaust memorial, even if it is a symbolic amount given the scope of the project, does not come naturally to this group.

Unlike the NAHC, Ottawa’s OHCC  is not meant to be a political group, but is instead a community centre, providing some important services to local, and often elderly, Hungarians. Each Friday, the Centre serves a traditional Hungarian meal for both lunch and dinner, and at very reasonable prices, and many of those who benefit from this service are the elderly, living on modest pensions. The Centre also has a small library and they host occasional cultural and social events. The Centre currently counts 198 members and some of them were quite unhappy with the prospect of joining a one-sided, right-wing political group, just one year after the OHCC decided to leave the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada for this same reason.

On October 18th, 2015, the OHCC held a meeting to discuss this question (as well as other matters) and to organize a secret ballot on NAHC membership. A total of 95 members participated in the meeting, which surpassed the 20% turnout required for quorum.

Some of the Hungarians in Ottawa who showed up at the Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre to oppose membership in the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada.

Some of the Hungarians in Ottawa who showed up at the Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre to oppose membership in the National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada.

Several of us organized our own group and we made sure to show the broader Hungarian community and the government in Budapest as well, that there is real concern around the NAHC and political interference in the diaspora. We arrived twenty minutes before the start of the meeting, only to discover that the OHCC’s Board of Directors had suddenly changed a long-standing practice within the Centre, a mere three days before the meeting. Until this point, anyone could renew their membership or  register even a day before a general meeting or, indeed, at the meeting itself. Last March, the NAHC’s president, who also served on the Board of the OHCC, himself forgot to renew his membership and was allowed to do so in the middle of the AGM, and then voted in Board elections. He was not the only one to register and pay membership dues on the day of the AGM.

When our group discovered that several of our members were suddenly stripped of their right to register and vote, due to a hasty decision brought three days before the meeting, we protested near the entrance of the Centre and demanded that the Board reverse their decision. We came with a video camera, and one member recorded the scene. The Community Centre’s president, Tibor Lapohos, initially attempted to physically take away the camcorder, but was stopped by a member of our group.

After 45 minutes of confusion and deliberations within the Board, they decided to make an exception and allow all of our members to register and vote. By this point, the meeting was almost a full hour late. Since the Board had also just last week unilaterally removed one of its members, namely Judit Petényi–the host of the weekly Hungarian broadcast in Ottawa on CHIN Radio–for “not being in line with the expectations” of the Executive, we insisted that she be allowed to address the Centre. After some opposition from the Board, Ms. Petényi was allowed to speak briefly. Ms. Petényi’s cardinal sin was that she permitted opposing viewpoints and people from diverse backgrounds in her radio broadcast, since she became host this past summer. When she aired a four minute interview with me in August, there was an uproar in the community.

When it came time to the vote on NAHC-membership, our group already had a sense that we could not win the necessary one third of the votes, in order to stop the Centre from joining this political organization. (Two thirds are required for membership.) Out of 95 members present, a total of 73 voted in favour and 22 were opposed to membership.

Despite this defeat, the fact that 22 local Hungarians stood up in public and opposed the tactics of the Orbán government’s Hungarian Canadian partners and demanded that their voice be heard within the community, is in many ways a first for the diaspora.

A relatively small, but a growing group of Hungarians in Ottawa have started to organize at the grassroots level. We met the day after the OHCC vote to follow-up, review what happened and chart a course moving forward. What was encouraging to see was the diversity in our group, the fact that almost every demographic cohort was represented, including fifty-sixers, Hungarians who came to Canada in the seventies, eighties and nineties, Hungarians who relocated here in the past few years with young families and people already born in Canada.

We are meeting again within the next two weeks. If our plans get off the ground, we hope to have launched a new, inclusive and grassroots community, well in advance of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

14 Comments

  1. Charlie London says:

    Bravo!

    And yes, Chris, we were wondering when your next blog post would appear – hoping too that you were safe.

    It’s astonishing that Orban’s tentacles – and nefarious ‘Commocracy’ techniques reach across the Atlantic.

    Surprising too that the Canadian diaspora are so ignorant of what’s happening in Hungary – you’d expect them at least to be sensitive to what is – and what isn’t – acceptable in democracy – even down to local community-centre committee meeting.

    A ‘Beer-Hall Putsch’ comes to mind.

    I do hope you can get the 31(?) votes for the breakaway.

    That’s only half (or a third!) of the battle.

    You are still going to have to persuade the other Fiddeszbiks to embrace true democracy and remove the scales from their eyes.

    Judging from some of the contributors on here, you’ll have an uphill struggle.

    However a faint heart never won a fair lady!

    Good luck.

    • Charlie London says:

      I’m glad at least that the memorial has no connection, links or apparent influence from the hideous kitsch design of the Freedom Square monstrosity -you know – Gabriel and that eagle.

      It looks at least that it might be a useful memorial – if rather expensive.

      On no account must you let Maria Schmidt, et al, anywhere near the plans.

      Heaven forfend!

  2. Charlie London says:

    Chris?

    Is there no way that you can use HFP to build a network in Ottawa to defeat this committee board members stranglehold?

    Together with FaceBook couldn’t you build a base – and skew the meeting in the ‘illuminatists’ favour?

    (I don’t want to blow any schemes that may already be in the pipeline.)

    We’re with you all the way over here!

    • Christopher Adam says:

      Hi Charlie,

      Thanks a lot for your support…I am going to pass it along to the 20 or so people who are behind us and are part of this grassroots effort to finally break away the diaspora community from the Orbán regime or – at minimum – offer a viable, democratic alternative.

      I am hoping to use HFP, my Hungarian-language site – Kanadai Magyar Hírlap – as well as work with the weekly Hungarian radio broadcast in Ottawa to do something that is completely missing from the diaspora community–finally turn our backs on the regime in Budapest and show local Hungarians that they can build their own open, free-thinking communities without interference from Orbán and his collaborators

  3. It’s interesting. I left Canada many years ago for I wanted to live in London and couldn’t make it. Since then I didn’t pay too much attention to Canada or the Hungarian community there. These and the other Gollner pieces highlighted the importance of the Hungarian communities, the diaspora and their relation to the H government and the H government financial and political connection with Ca and the H communities not only there but in the world in general.

    In my country, where I live the during the years of the previous government the ambassador gave receptions to the all the H diaspora twice a year. Excellent hospitality, great kitchen, beverages, all free. The ambassador talked to all of us, introduced everybody to everybody, helped the Hungarians to find a job and kept the whole community together.He lived in the huge complex of the embassy as it incorporated an apartment building for the diplomats, too. A safe house.

    When Fidesz won, a new ambassador came. He moved to a new apartment at a luxury quarter where apps rental fee, a most modest average is around 4 million HUF a month.
    He gave his first reception. Poor kitchen and hospitality, snobbish unfriendly discriminating attitude towards the guests, H and local residents, and then…. suddenly from nowhere a guy with a pro camera appeared and started taking pictures of the guests. I asked him in whose hands would these photo pictures would end up. He answered that the ambassador is planning to display them pictures on a tableau in the embassy building. I couldn’t help broke up laughing and asked him “a tableau? With ribbons or without”. He didn’t gave up and started zooming in those who didn’t volunteer for posing.

    I think all those pictures ended up on Orban’s desk, and from that day the ambassador gives only one reception for the H community a year and only carefully selected guests are invited.

  4. REFUGEES

    It is a (dark) mystery to me why the Fidik mentality is so prevalent within Hungary. Part of the reason may be the language barrier, very limited extraterritorial experience, and of course Orban’s smothering media control. But I somehow doubt that Orban created this domestic Hungarian plurality — or perhaps even majority — in his own image. Rather, in his opportunistic, scruple-free and power-hungry way, Orban seems simply to have engineered his own strategy and image to fit this already prevalent mentality.

    Well, I think the strongest evidence for this is the Hungarian expat community. (I am somehow put off by the self-pitying connotations of exile, statelessness and victimhood evoked by the “diaspora” self-descriptor.) It is quite remarkable (and not in any positive sense) that people who have enjoyed freedom, justice, pluralism and openness for decades and decades in Canada and other countries still feel such a natural affinity to the dark Fidik mind-set. Of course it cannot be inborn; it is “cultural.” But Akos Kertesz would have come close had he called it “generic” rather than “genetic.”

    I can still remember in my single-digit years in Montreal (we were ’49-ers’) — several years still before I would learn that both my parents had been Jewish — that although we were clearly by language and background part of the same expat community, there was something distinctly alien about the membership of the “Budapest Home Club.” Back then I would not have been able to pinpoint or explain what it was: My parents also had a social circle of Hungarian immigrants whom I always found to be very much like us. Later, of course, I learned that our social circle had consisted mostly of crypto-Jews, like us, the parents aware of their origins, but the peri- and post-Shoah progeny not.

    Later, I thought it might just have been a Jewish/non-Jewish cultural difference — and in some respects it certainly was. The proportion of Jews in Montreal’s Budapest Home Club was low, and most of those were crypto-Jews. And alas some of those crypto-Jews too, took on this proto-Fidik mentality that I now recognize in full bloom in today’s Orbanistan — and OHCC/NAHC.

    The mystery remains. And remains dark.

    (I am ready for another burst of its ugly but revealing manifestations in the “pluralism” that Chris generously tolerates in the crude bigotry that keeps being posted anonymously on HFP by the proud patriots of this Danubian “diaspora.”)

    • For similar reasons, I have never belonged or participated in any Hungarian communities or centers in Canada. I sometimes would think that I wanted to, but then often reminded of the bigoted and politically influenced people that attend these places once there. I love the cultural activities, the food and dances, but cannot stand the hatred, jealousy and bigotry often displayed by many of the diaspora, even the ones like me who were born here. When I think of a cultural center, I think of inclusiveness, sharing our culture with the Canadian community and caring for the seniors and teaching the young. It shouldn’t be about politics or who agrees with who. Great way to drive people away from being a part of the diaspora is through politics.

  5. MEMORY CORRECTIVE

    Thanks to Chris’s thesis — https://www.ruor.uottawa.ca/bitstream/10393/24057/1/Adam_Christopher_Peter_2012_thesis.pdf — which I have just retrieved after writing the above, by googling “Budapest Home Club,” I discover that I misremembered the name of the Hungarian social organization in Montreal that I was remembering, and thinking it was called “Budapest Home Club” (which was in fact largely Jewish). The one I was probably remembering was the Hungaria Social Club… http://www.hungariaclub.ca

  6. “It is a (dark) mystery to me why the Fidik mentality is so prevalent within Hungary. ”

    Methink, because it is not a Fidik mentality. (and not only within Hungary).
    The Fidesz only ladles the juices from a big bowl. Small part of the big game, they are flying on borrowed wings. When toxic indigestion causes nettle rush we gonna cure the stomach and detoxify the body instead of smearing Novocain ointment into the skin.

    On the other hand, be brave, kill off the puppet and you will meet the master.

  7. András B. Göllner says:

    Congratulations Christopher to you and all your independent minded, brave civil-libertarian associates in Ottawa. May you succeed and bring fresh air into the life of those who are not afraid of diversity, the free competition of ideas, and discourse.

  8. In the name of the democracy you say to believe in, reinstate the comment of mine you deleted, along with the fellow who supported me in comment.

    • Charlie London says:

      You misunderstand democracy.

      Being a private blog you are required to show courtesy and respect – it is a given in the proper ebb and flow of debate. You are a visitor afterall.

      Indeed it is a necessary component of democracy too. If you ever happen to listen to debate in our Houses of Parliament you will see how debate is lubricated with a politeness code.

      However Chris has every right to exclude xenophobic and racist contributions, inter alia, – and having witnessed some of your rants – I am in no doubt Chris is justified.

      Add to this your vituperative attacks on him, himself and you have a contributor who adds no light or clarity, only heat.

      Have you tried Kuruc.hu?

  9. Well, that was easy, wasn’t it? A fine cultural marxist tyranny you’ve got here. Groundlessly calling someone names because you have no valid counter is shameful. I contributed only once in a polite manner. You must be speaking of someone else.

    • Charlie London says:

      You clearly know all about Marx but precious little about democracy – real democracy. Not the ‘commocracy’ exercised by your tyrant-hero Orban.

      Quantity has nothing to do with it – your posts have been irrelevant attacks on Chris.

      When someone starts a blog and allows comment they become vulnerable to nutters like you.

      You entry above is quite menacing. And lacks the usual politeness and courtesy when visiting someone’s ‘house’.

      I believe you know exactly why Chris has removed your post.

      Ask yourself if you would remove it if it was yours – under your Marxist ideology.

      You may have heard of Richard Field a philanthropist for Hungary who had to leave because of threats.

      Your knowledge and researching of Chris’ background is as menacing and threatening to give anyone cause for concern – a form of stalking.

      So why don’t you run along and play with your friends on kuruc.hu and your dialectical materialistic toys and finish your hagiography of Orban in a Trianon-losing environment……..

      And start your own blog? And peddle your own hate-site?

      If you must contribute here, I suggest you discover politeness and courtesy.

      And leave Chris out of it.

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