Minority Rights Activists Meet with Hungarian-American Youth
Ten ethnic Hungarians from minority communities in the Carpathian Basin met with Hungarian-American youth at an innovative HHRF workshop, held August 6-7 at the bucolic Bercel Castle conference venue in Hungary.The goal: to encourage cooperation and advocacy on current human rights issues affecting Hungarian minorities.
The ethnic Hungarians, who came from Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia, included students and young professionals who are active in minority and community affairs. The Hungarian-Americans, who hailed from New Jersey, California, and Michigan, were currently visiting as part of HHRF’s Reconnect Hungary cultural immersion program.
HHRF has a track record of organizing workshops in various U.S. cities between 1989-2000. This year’s program, however, targeted a mixed group consisting of Hungarians from the affected regions as well as Hungarian-Americans, most with little or no regional experience.
The program began with Dr. András Ludányi, an organizer of the original workshop series, explaining how community activism in U.S. Congressional districts can shape legislation affecting Hungarian minorities.
“I enjoyed meeting a bunch of young activists from Transylvania, Slovakia, and Serbia. It’s exciting to see the various opportunities and roles my generation has to impact Hungarian minority communities.” – told Melanie Caroline Fosko, ReConnect Hungary participant
Next, three Budapest-based professional organizations introduced their work: Amb. György Csóti of the Institute for the Protection of Miniority Rights; Dr. Zoltán Kántor of the Research Institute for Hungarian Communities Abroad; and Attila Z. Papp, director of the Minority Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences.
“The workshop was the first time I was exposed to the crisis that Hungarians face living in Serbia, Slovakia, and Transylvania. The information was an eye opening experience that I won’t soon forget.” – Rebecca Diaz, ReConnect Hungary participant
The afternoon was devoted to how HHRFworks. President Zsolt Szekeresenumerated three guiding principles, honed over 45 challenging years: credibility (based on accurate and timely information); political neutrality (critical for a non-governmental organization); and specific, goal-oriented activities.
Tamás Papp and Péter Józsa, who both started as HHRF interns in New York, then spent years running its Budapest office, recalled a few favorites. Some activities, like setting up web hosting for newspapers at the dawn of the internet age, required planning and meticulous work. Others, like finding a way to meet a U.S. Senator and convince him to sign a resolution affecting minority rights in Serbia, were “lucky breaks,” but as Tamás emphasized: always be on the lookout for opportunities to make your case.
Next, Csilla Grauzer, Chairman of the Board of the Hungarian American Coalition, introduced her inspiring example of volunteer activism: the WeCare Project, which transfers brand-new yet unused medical supplies straight from a Minneapolis hospital to needy health care institutions in Hungary and the surrounding countries.
Though brief, the 2021 HHRF Human Rights Workshop was a great reboot of the program. The East Central Europeans got a glimpse of U.S.-style direct political action and volunteer can-do. The Americans got a crash course in minority issues. Both groups got a sense of the past and present of HHRF. And they were eager to chat and network with each other.
As Zsolt Szekeres emphasized: “To be active in Hungarian human rights, you don’t need a special degree and you don’t need professional experience. All you need to do is to get informed, find allies, look for opportunities, and contribute something – a letter to the editor, a school essay, a meeting with your Congressman, a joint project with a village in Transylvania. All this is human rights advocacy, anyone can do it, and it really counts.”