Hungarian Americans at war in Los Angeles

Hungarian Americans in Los Angeles won’t celebrate together this March 15th. Hungary’s most important National Holiday commemorates the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 that grew into a war for independence from the Catholic Habsburg rule. Instead there will be two commemorations at different locations on the same day, at almost the same time.

The “official” event is sponsored by the Hungarian Consulate and will take place at the St. Stephen Catholic Church on Woodlawn Avenue. After the Catholic Mass Péter Szilágyi, Deputy State Secretary for Hungarian Communities Abroad, and Consul General Tamás Széles will speak.

Catholic March 15th celebration

The second event will be held in the United Magyar House. No Hungarian government officials will attend.

Alternative March 15th commemoration without the Hungarian government.

Hungarian Americans in California have been divided for years. The vast majority of us who follow Hungarian politics oppose Orbán’s authoritarian rule. Yet there is a small group of Hungarian Americans, some of whom receive direct financial support from Budapest, who organize pro-Orbán propaganda events and act as „citizen lobbyists” for the regime.

The tension have simmered for years. Last summer when Consul General, Tamás Széles demanded that the Vice President of the United Magyar House, Álmos Sárvári be removed from his position after his critical comments about the Orbán government, the gloves came off. Hungary provides financial support to the House, and Széles made it clear that he expects unconditional loyalty.

It seems that he never heard about the First Amendment, the right to free speech. Széles thinks that he is still in Hungary where the government frequently attacks those who disagree with Orbán.

Mr. Pereházy (left), Consul General Széles (right) with Mr. Lajos Kósa, Hungarian minister without portfolio (middle) at the Los Angeles United Magyar House in 2017.

Magyar House President Mr. Miklós Pereházy called a press conference and without Sárvári present read his resignation letter. The bizarre public spectacle reminded me the Stalinist era in Hungary when stunned politicians learned from the newspaper that they had tendered their resignation. (Please watch Pereházy’s press conference in Hungarian here.)

Social media was abuzz. Pereházy was accused of allegedly misappropriating monies received earlier from Hungary and some claimed that he had wanted to „grab” the valuable real estate of the Magyar House. Many suspected that the Consulate was behind the campaign. In a bizarre move, Ms. Tímea Antal, Vice President of the House “clarified” the real estate ownership issue and resigned! (Read it here in Hungarian.)

Ms. Maria Janossy, a Los Angeles lawyer who runs the popular Hungarian Cultural Alliance – Magtár, questioned the finances of the Magyar House on Facebook. Magtár organizes musical and cultural events without Hungarian government support but also have readings of the works of anti-Semitic writer Albert Wass. She works closely with far-right Jobbik politician Krisztina Morvai. (Watch Ms. Morvai and Ms. Janossy on their 2016 tour in Transylvania)

Mr. Pereházy and Ms. Janossy in happier times.

Ms. Janossy’s relations with Ms. Morvai may raise some eyebrows. Morvai is currently a member of the European Parliament but in 2009 in Tehran she expressed her support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Read Morvai’s statement in the Tehran Times.)

Meanwhile Consul General Széles’s main goal is to stifle critical voices and cover up Hungary’s rampant racism and antisemitism.

The ongoing barrage of personal attacks in social media have resulted in a chaotic situation. Various groups and individuals are vying for financial support from Budapest and willing to declare their loyalty to Orbán.

Not surprisingly many of us fondly remember Consul General Balázs Bokor, a skilled diplomat who successfully navigated among the various groups a decade ago. Today, it is all out war where even the frontlines are not clear. I have a feeling this is just the beginning…

György Lázár

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