The Hungarian-American emigration has gone through significant changes over the past 130 years. Initially, each wave of emigration aimed to keep the Hungarian community together and establish Hungarian centers in the United States. The largest Hungarian communities in the United States were formed in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, California, and Florida.
Like other ethnic minorities in the United States, Hungarian-Americans cooperated and created communities, organizations, churches, and clubs to support each other. Initially, political divisions were not very common and did not overshadow ethnic identity. However, this changed during the immigration waves caused by historical turmoil.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, economic reasons were the primary drivers of emigration. József Attila, the great Hungarian proletarian poet, sang about it by saying, „Many of our lords were neither lazy nor cowardly; they left their possessions to protect them from us and emigrated to America, a million and a half of our people.” Many of them ended up working in Carnegie steel mills.
Pre-World War II Hungarian politics were not favorable, but mainly the poor Hungarian „serfs” fled to America to escape poverty. These early emigrants were more cohesive than later political refugees. The post-1945 and especially post-1956 emigration waves politicized the Hungarian-American emigration.
Both persecutors and the persecuted sought refuge in America and often found themselves face to face. From this point on, they continued their domestic political battles in America. Since the anti-communist revolution refugees received significant support, especially from the Republican Party, Hungarian-American emigration also shifted to the right for existential reasons. Its entire success and reputation were thanks to its fight against communist Hungary.
As a result, the Hungarian-American emigration became increasingly radicalized and moved further to the far right. Members of the post-1945 emigration, including Horthy’s military officers, gendarmes, Arrow Cross members, and war criminals, played a significant role. They hid in America under the cover of anti-communism and welcomed the 1956 revolutionaries with open arms.
Later, even the 1956 revolution was retrospectively given a far-right and anti-Semitic interpretation, despite the fact that most of the revolution’s leaders were communists and Jews who wanted an independent Hungary but a democratic socialism. This caused left-wing emigrants to become far-right as well, out of fear and a desire for survival.
Before his death, the far-right leader of the Rahway Hungarian Club in New Jersey revealed that he had been a communist party secretary in Hungary before the 1956 revolution. However, he changed his views when he came to America because he was afraid. He lived his entire life in falsehood because he feared the far-right Hungarians, who did not tolerate any deviation from their ideology.
They took over Hungarian-American organizations, churches, clubs, and pushed everyone else out who did not radicalize with them. Those who wanted to belong to the Hungarian-American community had to adapt to them. The rest of the Hungarian-American community, which was not radicalized, became isolated, left out of Hungarian institutions and organizations.
This resulted in the scattering of the Hungarian-American ethnic minority. Instead of assimilating into American life, political battles in Hungary became more important. As a result, some Hungarian-Americans began to assimilate while others lived in America but seemed disconnected.
This process led to a situation where Hungarian-American priorities shifted from American elections to Hungarian elections, especially state senate elections, which have a more significant impact on Hungarian-Americans’ fate. The 2023 legislative elections could have been a significant opportunity.
Especially in states with large Hungarian communities, like New Jersey. There are continuous Hungarian areas, and New Brunswick is considered the capital of Hungarian-Americans in New Jersey. By working together, they could elect Hungarian representatives to the New Jersey legislature who could represent the interests of Hungarian and other ethnic minorities.
However, this opportunity is being missed due to the reasons mentioned above. The historical process described reached its peak when Viktor Orbán became prime minister and extended his political goals beyond Hungary’s borders. To achieve this, he wanted to use Hungarians living abroad, including Hungarian-Americans.
Because of the reasons mentioned, the official organizations and communities of Hungarian-Americans welcomed this with open arms. By this time, the political battle within Hungarian-Americans was over, the far-right had taken over everything, and everyone else was pushed out. Orbán Viktor found natural friends and allies among them for the realization of his American plans.
This is why a shift occurred, and American elections have become important again for different reasons. Orbán wants to influence American domestic politics, the balance of power in America, and American elections. This is especially true for presidential elections. Orbán campaigns for Donald Trump even in America, as if he were a legitimate player in American politics. The reason for this is that the fate of the Russian-Hungarian illiberal model in the world depends on the United States.
Orbán’s openly stated goal is to export his illiberal, authoritarian system to America. The far-right wing of the Republican Party views Orbán’s Hungarian model as a role model. Orbán invests substantial funds in lobbying activities in America and the „purchase” of Hungarian-American organizations to strengthen this impact and influence.
Only Hungarian-Americans who support him receive money from Budapest.
Orbán has realized that not only the presidential election is important, but also local American politics because the narratives there eventually rise to the national political level. Therefore, he invests efforts to have Hungarian politicians visit American Hungarian organizations, ideologically influence them, and make them financially dependent on the Orbán government.
As a result, even the diversity that existed in New Jersey has disappeared. Peter Pastor, a historian and emeritus professor at Montclair State University, stated that as a result, the American Hungarian communities have completely distanced themselves. As he does not support the authoritarian Orbán government, he is no longer invited to events at the New York Consulate General.
The progressive-minded Bessenyei Circle ceased to exist in New Brunswick, and there are reports from the city that the Hungarian Catholic priest has been ‘bought by Orbán.’ Even the Reformed minister is not their enemy. According to Peter Pastor, the Manhattan Hungarian House and Library, which serves the New Jersey Hungarians, is also in the pocket of the Orbán government, and others are also being pushed out from there.
The previously active Hungarian Cultural Institute in New Jersey only organizes programs that conform to the Orbán regime, and inviting sociologists, historians, or other social scientists with independent thinking is inconceivable. Previously, historian and Holocaust researcher Randolph Braham gave a lecture in New Brunswick, but such a program would no longer take place.
According to Peter Pastor, Orbán buys everyone with Hungarian taxpayers’ money. And they know what is expected of them in return, whom to support, and whom to vote for. George Lazar, an American Hungarian publicist, is most concerned with the Orbán government’s expansion in America. He says that the electoral preference is an automatic consequence.
The expansion of the Orbán regime in America is based on the realization that they need local lobbyists who will protect the Hungarian regime from American criticisms. It has developed to the point where they want to dictate who should be the president, as Orbán stated in his interview with Tucker Carlson. American Hungarians have thus become extreme Trumpists.
In New Jersey, podcasts, Hungarian-language radio shows, and YouTube channels propagate Trumpist propaganda, which is financially supported by the Orbán government. As a result, some of the New Jersey Hungarians proudly admitted to participating in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot to overturn the election result.
George Lazar first reported that Kiss ‘Sizare’ Péter, the vice president of the American Hungarian Citizens League in Garfield, New Jersey, appeared on the Budapest HirTV program, which is the flagship of the Orbán government’s propaganda machine and one of Hungary’s largest television channels.
Kiss Péter stated that there was great anticipation among American Hungarians for the screening of the Tucker Carlson film about the struggle between George Soros and the Hungarian government, which was promoted with the subtitle ‘Fight for Civilization.’ In this context, anti-Semitism represents the ‘struggle for civilization.’ The question is, whom do these people vote for?
George Lazar draws a parallel between political propaganda and support for the Orbán government. His organization previously received 2 million forints from the Hungarian government. George Lazar continuously informs on Facebook that Hungarian ministers, and even the Hungarian President, visit American Hungarian communities.
As a result of financially supported relationships, complete entanglement ensues. According to George Lazar, a hundred years ago, Hungarian organizations encouraged new immigrants to learn English and quickly assimilate into American society. Today, the opposite is happening. They are encouraged to separate and preserve their Hungarian identity.
The activists of the Orbán government pay grant money to those who create isolated Hungarian-speaking groups, who isolate themselves and spread Budapest’s far-right, homophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic ideas among the new American Hungarian immigrants as the ‘fifth column.’ They receive money for this and vote for those who promote it.
This has a long tradition. Once, the famous Hungarian singer-guitarist Péter Gerendás performed at Hungarian clubs in New Jersey. When he met the leader of the Hungarian club (Hungarian American Athletic Club) in New Brunswick, he spoke about the ‘hook-nosed ones’ after five minutes, even demonstrating with his hand what they look like.
Gerendás Péter did not know that he was proudly acknowledging his Jewish heritage and identity. This tour also had a stop in Washington, where at the Hungarian embassy, Péter Gerendás sang a song about the Holocaust before the leaders of American Hungarian organizations. It was presented as a song about the victims of the Jewish Communists.
Orbán Viktor was already in power, and his people were at the embassy. George Lazar presented another typical example. Ildikó Antal-Ferencz lives in Denville, New Jersey. She arrived in America with her family barely a year ago. She was born in Romania, perhaps a Romanian citizen, and obtained an economics degree in Budapest. She blogs and writes fervently, and her articles are published in Budapest as well.
But the far-right Bocskai Radio, paid by Orbán, also spreads them in the USA. She was an external journalist for the Protected Society Foundation, which builds a ‘network’ in the USA. Its leaders are László Földi, ‘intelligence expert,’ as chairman of the board, and his wife, Andrea Földi-Kovács, a former TV presenter. Both are Orbán’s propagandists.
They want to spread ‘normality’ in America. The organization is racist, for example, they consider Muslim immigrants as criminals, anti-Semitic (they call Facebook the Zuckerberg network and also label Soros as a criminal). But they mainly conduct homophobic propaganda, along with shocking videos. Antal-Ferencz Ildikó did not respond to our request.
Antal-Ferencz is a devout Catholic. It seems that she is in contact with Balogh László, the pastor of the Saint Stephen Roman Catholic Church in Passaic ‘sent out’ by the Orbán regime. A significant portion of American Hungarians seek help around Hungarian churches, where occasionally scandalous far-right figures perform.
According to George Lazar, recently arrived families from Hungary often struggle to integrate into American life. They barely speak the language, have a different mentality, and are easily ‘entangled’ by the Orbán government’s far-right activists. They often ‘launch’ in priestly robes, and ‘entanglement’ is not difficult when they also grease with grant money.
A whole government network has been built on this. One of these is the Diaspora Council, which George Lazar sees as a kind of far-right family business. Currently, it is led by Andrea Lauer Rice (formerly her mother, Edith Lauer). How exactly they selected the Council members and who elected Andrea Lauer Rice remains a secret.
They closely cooperate with the Washington embassy, and their task is to minimize criticisms of Orbán and silence opposition voices in America. This is a kind of semi-legal lobbying organization, and Orbán pays for their trips to Budapest for guidance each year. These are called ‘consultations.’
They take great care to infect American Hungarian children from a young age. Only those who are aware that they teach not only Hungarian culture and language but also conduct massive far-right brainwashing in Hungarian schools can enroll their children. The American Hungarian Scouts are a separate chapter in this story.
The Foreign Hungarian Scout Association is based in New Jersey. According to their official description, ‘the roots of the organization are in refugee camps in West Germany after World War II. The Hungarian scout leaders, themselves exiles, recognized that scouting was a viable framework for character development for refugee children.’ This ‘character development’ takes place.
It is a fact that the organization was launched by Hungarian Army officers who were friends of Hitler. Most of them served Miklós Horthy, while some supported the murderous fascist leader Ferenc Szálasi, who was later sentenced to death and hanged. This spirit has permeated the organization from the beginning.
In recent times, they have received significant financial support from the Orbán government and have begun to operate as a kind of propaganda organization. They use American Hungarian children as props for American events attended by Orbán government politicians. When Katalin Novák, the President of Hungary, visited America, uniformed children lined up to greet her.
The completely opaque non-profit Foreign Hungarian Scout Association registered in America has only a P.O. Box address in the tiny town of Newfoundland, New Jersey. All this does not prevent the Orbán government from pouring Hungarian taxpayers’ money into the organization. The organization does not disclose financial data.
According to George Lazar, the Hungarian scouting in America would not exist for a single day without Orbán’s money. Péter Szilágyi, the Deputy State Secretary responsible for national politics, is the one who disburses the money to the American Hungarian organization. However, it is not only Hungarian American youths who are ideologically educated.
Under the Kőrösi Csoma Program, the Orbán government sends Hungarian young people to America, including New Jersey. The Hungarian government pays for their nine-month stay, during which they are supposed to teach Hungarian folk dance, Hungarian folk music, and the Hungarian language. However, they often work illegally in America, and their activities involve something entirely different.
As it turned out, these young people are conducting a kind of intelligence or espionage activity. It became a scandal when it was revealed that they have to collect data and write reports to Budapest for the State Secretariat for National Policy. The last time such activities took place was during the Communist dictatorship when they set up an informant network.
A part of the government’s funding distribution to Hungarian organizations in America comes through the Bethlen Gábor Fund’s ‘applications.’ George Lazar believes that the Orbán government, bypassing American authorities, sends millions to loyal Hungarian Americans. It is not clear how they account for the funds, if they account at all.
It has been suggested that part of the funds ends up in the accounts of phantom organizations. These programs and support are organized at the government level. The Center for Fundamental Rights conducts significant political lobbying. According to George Lazar, its main activity is the attack on fundamental rights.
Orbán does not hide that he would like Donald Trump to be re-elected. This is why he expects American Hungarians at all levels to vote for Trump’s supporters. Hence, they receive financial support. The Bethlen Fund sent only 4.5 million forints to New Brunswick in 2021, but also 1 million to Fairfield and elsewhere. This is just one source.
In our research, we did not find any evidence that the Orbán government, in addition to the above, also organizes the participation of American Hungarians in elections. But there is no need for it. Those who need to know whom to vote for, what is expected of them, and whom to serve already know. Therefore, election interference does not happen now. It happened long before.