Atlanta Hungarians Commemorate the Fall of the Iron Curtain and Celebrate at the Atlanta Hungarian Festival

Atlanta Hungarians Commemorate the Fall of the Iron Curtain and Celebrate at the Atlanta Hungarian Festival

Andrea Lauer Rice, President of HCGA, Dr. Elizabeth Kiss, President of Agnes Scott College, Reka Pigniczky, award-winning Documentary Filmmaker and Piroska Nagy, Photographer and Authoer, are all daughters of Hungarian freedom fighters from the 1956 Revolution

On October 3-4, 2014, Agnes Scott College commemorated a significant historic event by hosting a conference entitled, “25 Years Later: The Fall of the Iron Curtain.” The programs were attended by members of the Atlanta Hungarian, Czech, Polish, German and Estonian communities.  Organized by Andrea Lauer Rice of the Hungarian Club of Georgia and Dr. Elizabeth Kiss, President of Agnes Scott College, conference co-sponsors included The Hungary Initiatives Foundation, The Atlanta Hungarian Meetup and Lauer Learning. The Honorary Consuls General from Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were also conference partners.

The Friday night VIP reception featured an exhibit of 50 historic black and white photographs taken by Ms. Piroska Nagy in Hungary.  She moved to Budapest in 1980 and at the encouragement of her father, Dr. Karoly Nagy, a 1956 freedom fighter, captured the images of many historic events between the fateful years of 1988 and 1990. This was the first stop in a 7-city tour of the photographs from her book, “Years of Euphoria, 1988-1990.”

In his keynote address Mr. Kurt Volker, Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO recalled the confluence of circumstances – a wave of peaceful revolutions challenging a failing Soviet empire - that caused the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989.  As a present challenge he mentioned the danger represented by an increasingly aggressive Vladimir Putin, the rise of nationalism, the economic problems in the EU and the U.S., the threat of terrorism and the fact that the U.S. seems to have lost the will to fight on all fronts.

On Saturday the conference featured two panel discussions, a mini film festival and the viewing of the film “Goodbye Lenin.” The first panel discussion, “People’s Revolutions,” was moderated by Dr. Elizabeth Kiss, the daughter of Hungarian Freedom Fighters from 1956. She posed many challenging questions to panel members and conducted the question/answer following their presentations.

The first speaker was Edith Lauer, Chair Emerita of the Hungarian American Coalition, who recalled both the unforgettable events of the unexpected and rapid political changes in Hungary in 1989, and also the enthusiastic reaction of the Hungarian American community to those changes.  

From Poland, Krysztyna Boryk-Jozefowicz of the TZMO Group, looked back at the birth and activities in the 1980’s of Solidarity, first as a labor union, then a movement and finally a political party that played such a crucial role in toppling the Communist government of Poland.  She felt the smaller nations of CEE needed more time to develop into full democracies.

Marion Smith, Executive Director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, DC, looked back at the poisonous legacy of communism unrecognized by many young people today.  He also provided an overview of the mission of VOC to educate all Americans about the past evils and present threats of communist ideology, and to establish a Museum to the Victims of Communism in Washington by 2017.

Dr. Alasdair Young, co-director for the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies at Georgia Tech, discussed his personal experiences when posted to the U.S. Mission in 1989 in Hungary.  He pointed out that the collapse of the Soviet Union and its dominance of satellite nations was the “Domino Theory” working in reverse.

Members of the second panel provided most interesting responses to the question posed:  “Is this Cold War II?”  All answered with a definite  “No,” as they agreed that the U.S. and Russia have more interests in common than the U.S. and China do.

Mr. Clyde Tuggle, Senior V.P. of The Coca Cola Co., felt that today there are more differences than similarities to the situation in1989.  Based on his years of living and doing business in Russia and the region, he stressed the similar characteristics and aspirations of Russians and Americans.  “No one benefits from war or sanctions against Russia,” he said, and expressed his opinion that the U.S. needs to engage rather than alienate Russia.  

Dr. Sheila Tschinkel, Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Economics, Emory University, expressed regret that Russia was not better integrated into Western institutions.  In her opinion the oligarchs who rule Russia practice endemic corruption.  Instead of economic development, Russia survives by selling its nonrenewable resources.  Its economy is 1/8th of the U.S. economy.

Mr. Stephen O’Connor, President of SAO, who lived in the CEE and Russia for over 20 years also stressed that Russians are much more similar to Americans than people believe.  He felt that rather than finding common ground to build a positive relationship with Russia, the “U.S. is jabbing the bear” too much.

Dr. Nikolay Koposov, History Professor, Georgia Tech, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, commented that Russians feel threatened by Western liberal democracy, and have developed the alternative model of corrupt state capitalism, one he termed “ethno-populism.”   He stressed that China has most to gain and Russia most to lose from a growing U.S.-Russia conflict.  “The Western world’s “moral victory” must be won all over again, under different circumstances now,” he declared.

The panel discussions were followed by a mini Film Festival presented by Ms. Reka Pigniczky, award-winning documentary filmmaker. Pigniczky showcased how filmmakers from the region have dealt with the topic of the transition from communism to democracy. She showed a series of trailers and clips from the following films: Bolshe Vita, 1994, Fekete Ibolya; Farewell Comrades!, 2011, Andrei Nekrasov; 6-part documentary, Magyar Retro (2008), Papp Gábor Zsigmond; Our Street and Marcin Latallo, 2003, Polish documentary.

The conference program ended with a showing of the 2003 feature film, “Goodbye Lenin,” a humorous satire about life in East Germany before and during 1989. The viewing was most appropriate, as interestingly, October 3rd was exactly the 25th anniversary of German reunification.

On Sunday, October 5, the 2nd Atlanta Hungarian Festival took place between 11 and 5 p.m. under the beautiful magnolia trees of Agnes Scott College.  Dr. Elizabeth Kiss and Andrea Lauer Rice welcomed the nearly 300 people who attended.  Crafts and games were available for children, as vendors sold Hungarian gift items and delicious Hungarian food specialties as well as the special wines of Hungarian vintner, Christian Sauska.  Folk dancers, Ottilia Varga and Tamas Komporday performed traditional Hungarian folk dances and gathered participants of all ages to several dance house sessions to the authentic folk music played by the Eletfa Hungarian Folk Band.    

To continue in the regional spirit of the conference, a Polish food vendor joined the festival, and students and singers performed from the Czech Atlanta School. The festival allowed Atlantans to enjoy not only Hungarian but Central European culture, a perfect way to end the special anniversary weekend.

updated: 3 years ago