The short history of the CHRR’s first demonstration, 1976
A small group of second-generation Hungarian young people set up a literary and debate society in the middle of the 1970s, called the United Hungarian Youth Organization in the Hungarian House in Manhattan. In 1975, they founded a so-called Observatory and the Advisory Council to ensure the correction of misleading statements spread by authors and publishers of derogatory information in articles, films, etc. in various media, which were written as a result of deliberate counterfeiting, ignorance, or distortion. The young people at this debating society were informed of the Romanian provisions, which were severely damaging to Hungarian churches in Romania by press monitoring, in an article that had been published in an article in the Neue Züricher Zeitung in 1975. For that reason, they considered the situation of Hungarians living in Romania increasingly exasperating, and they decided to take countermeasures. To this end, according to the proposition of the Transylvanian branch of the literary and debate society, they began to organize a serious public demonstration in November 1975. Since none of the statutes of the existing Hungarian organizations at that time allowed for this kind of “political” activity, however, when filling out the police license forms, they came up with a name which was intended to be only ad hoc at that time. They gave the name Committee of Human Rights in Rumania, but this did not yet constitute a formal framework.
The organizations founded earlier with the aim of providing support for Hungarians living in Romania, and in particular the members of the American Transylvanian Association, which was established in 1952 (with which members of the CHRR had friendly and family ties), responded to the organization of the protest in various ways. Béla Teleki, chairman of the American Transylvanian Association (ATA) and former president of the Transylvanian party 1941 and 1944, had distant family connections with László Hámos through his mother. He was opposed to the idea of the demonstration. Mr. Hámos’s then father-in-law and vice-President of ATA, Ferenc Koréh, in contrast was an important supporter of the protest, who invited him every week to his permanent show in Radio Free Europe, which was broadcasted to Hungarians living in Romania. In addition to the two hours of conversation, Hámos and his companions were trying to publish an advertisement of appropriate quality in one of the leading American newspapers. They managed to publish an advertisement almost a complete page long in the New York Times on May 7, 1976. (For details, see the highlighted item.) Seeing the advertisement, the applicant for the seat of mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, who had been fighting for human rights throughout his career, read the article and soon contacted the young organization personally.The protest organized on May 8, 1976 lasted for three hours. It moved the youth of New York and New Jersey. A total of three thousand Hungarian and American protesters gathered in front of the building of the Romanian UN Mission on 93th street in New York. The organizers (some fifty members of the group) showed considerable discipline over the crowd: they put up barricades one hundred meters away from the building, signs with chauvinistic content were confiscated, and people shouting things that were potentially incendiary were reprimanded. Several politicians also received word or sent written statements. Through his first Secretary, Senator of New York James Buckley assured Hungarians of his support, and one of the candidates for mayor of New York, Mario Biaggi, made his statement in person, drawing attention to the fact that U.S. legislators are accountable not to the Romanian government, but to American citizens. The great success of the demonstration gave momentum to the movement in protest against the grievances suffered by Hungarians in Romania, but at the same time, according to the founding members of the organization (Attila Zalavári, László Hámos, and Jenő Brogyányi), they had to pay a heavy price for this victory: the loose organizational framework proved insufficient to govern the increased number of activists. Many sought to play leading roles in the organization from the first time, and others wished to unite it under the umbrella of other Hungarian organizations, and others went beyond the tasks which had agreed on in advance, thus harming the reputation of the organization and in some cases failing to carry out the tasks with which they had been entrusted. As a consequence, at a reunion held in February 1976, the abovementioned founding members commissioned László Hámos officially to register the name “Committee for Human Rights in Romania,” which originally was intended to be an ad-hoc organization in New Jersey and New York. The intention was to ensure that “this name cannot be used for unauthorized fundraising without permission.” The incorporation took place on 1 July, due to which the loose organizational rules were replaced by a written constitution.
New York, United States
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Author(s) of this page
- Hermann, Gabriella