Pelosi Delivers Remarks at Terror House Museum on Official Visit to Budapest

Budapest – To mark the 90th anniversary of U.S.-Hungarian diplomatic relations, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi led a bipartisan delegation to Hungary on Monday.  The delegation met with government officials and leading members of civil society.

In remarks at the Terror House, a museum conceived as a memorial to those tortured and killed at the hands of the Nazis and Soviet Union, and co-hosted with the Tom Lantos Institute, Leader Pelosi celebrated the strong diplomatic relationship between the American and Hungarian people.  Leader Pelosi also expressed concern over recent legislation enacted by the Hungarian government and the subsequent effect on democratic institutions.

Below are the Leader’s remarks as delivered:  

“Good afternoon everyone.  As you probably are aware, I’m greatly humbled by the very generous introduction by a very great American Ambassador, Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis.  Your Excellency, thank you for your kind remarks, thank you for your patriotic duty, serving the American people in friendship with the people of Hungary.  The Ambassador is really known around the world – establishing chairs of human rights, et cetera, across the United States, and in our home state of California, hometown of San Francisco, for her efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, dialogue both political and interfaith, invest in the arts, encourage discourse on democracy and global affairs, and I might add that she has been a leader in the empowerment of women and we all take pride in her great achievements.  And I’ll say more about that in a moment.  Thank you very much.

“With all that has been said, I just want to take this time and say that on behalf of our entire delegation, how pleased we are to be in Hungary at this important time.  And why we are here at this important time.  I want to introduce them, I’ll do it by seniority.  Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, represents the Silicon Valley in the Congress of the United States, and she is a friend of, as Californians we all know, of Ambassador Kounalakis.  Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York state.  Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio, who is with us.  And of course, as Representatives in Congress, we’re always on call, another Member who has to address some concerns in her district, so she may be joining us momentarily, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, first African American woman elected from the state of Alabama, a freshman Member.  So, we have the experience, and we have the new on this visit and the many meetings that we’ve had today.

“I know we talked about titles, power, influence, and accomplishments and legislation, and the rest but I view this as a very personal experience, coming to Hungary at this time.  When we went to the embassy this morning, we went into the Ambassadors office, and there was picture of Cardinal Mindszenty – there he was.  It really struck us, those of us who were Catholic, and of a certain age, because in the fifties, as young people, Cardinal Mindszenty’s plight was what we prayed about every day.  Congresswoman Eshoo knows about devotion, and [Congresswoman] Schmidt is probably too young, but she knows – being a daily communicant, associate, and her parents are experienced in this regard.

“But Cardinal Mindszenty, as you all know, was a great patriotic hero here.  And in the United States, he was someone that we prayed every day, in Catholic school, for the conversion of [the Soviet Union], as we called it then, Russia, and the personification of that impressive Russian-Soviet influence was Cardinal Mindszenty, and it was particularly moving to see his picture this morning because yesterday was Mother’s Day in America.  What’s the connection?  The connection is that, when I was young my mother devoted and prayed at home and in school and in church, for the Cardinal, and she read his book and she followed his proceedings at the time and was inspired by him to write a poem to her own mother and the poem, it says, inspired by the writings of Cardinal Mindszenty.  And what he said, from that poem of Mother’s Day, is that, he said ‘Mother, I think of you, I dream of you, who can fathom true meaning of the word mother?  Even when it is said by an old man, it sounds like its coming from the lips of a child.’  So beautiful.  Faith-based, yes, but not strictly religious, in terms of that term, but an inspiration to us all, to see his picture – much more robust than we remember him in the U.S., very gaunt, in your office, but quite a thrill.  I mention it to you now, is to say that this is connected for so many of us in America, who learned of Hungary and the plight of the Hungarian people in 1956, which followed very soon after that, then the world knew about the freedom fighters and the struggle that was here.

“That’s why I’m glad to be here.  I want to thank Maria Schmidt, and her leadership as Director of the Terror House Museum, so that we never forget.  I want to thank Rita Izsak and your leadership as President of the Tom Lantos Institute – he always made sure that we never forgot.  And we’re so honored that Katrina Lantos-Swett is here with us today, for her leadership, in so many respects, and more on Tom in a moment.

“But getting back to American ambassadors in Hungary, Ambassador Kounalakis is one in a long line of proud American representatives here in Budapest.  The first U.S. Ambassador, we observed the 90-year friendship, to Hungary, Theodore Bretano, and he said in 1922, as he prepared to set sail from New York for Hungary: ‘I take to the Hungarian people this message, that America is their friend, that it is our desire to renew and strengthen that friendship between us that has lasted since our own independence was achieved.’  So, as we observe 90 years, we recognize that it’s a longer relationship, and of course the last 22 years have been very transformative.

“On the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two nations, we celebrate that friendship, which is based on shared values.  I’ll always remember my first trip to Hungary as a Member of Congress.  It was in 1988, the Iron Curtain was still down, and we came as part of a North-Atlantic Inter-parliamentary group.  We came here.  We met with Prime Minister Karoly Grosz, he was the Prime Minister at the time, we met with him.   And what was very remarkable about the visit, to me, was that that on one of the evenings we were here, then-Ambassador Mark Palmer invited dissidents to come to the residence to meet with this, it was a large Congressional Delegation, I thought it was remarkable that he invited them, I thought it was courageous that they came.  Some of you weren’t born, maybe you read it in the history books because you all look so young.  But, at that time, one of the big issues that they talked about, not only aspirations for freedom and the rest, but that the recent demonstrations have been about the Danube, about damming the Danube, and while thousands people might turn out for a demonstration, expression of freedom or another, but the Danube was sort of catalytic – it brought so many more people, and was another step – anyway, that’s the impression we had that evening.

“It was a, I felt it was a reflection of the policy of our Administration, under the leadership of President George Herbert Walker Bush, the first President Bush at the time, that our Ambassador could go forward in that way, little did we know – that was 1988 – little did we in the Congressional Delegation know, that in just a few short years, under the leadership of Tom Lantos, we would be advocating for the membership of Hungary in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, when we were there on that NATO trip.  And I was honored to be in Paris with President Clinton, when the expansion of NATO was celebrated.  So, it all seems to have gone very fast, but we know that there was a very long history leading up to that for the bulk of the time in that 90-year diplomatic relationship, there was plenty of hardship in Hungary.

“In recent days, that friendship – we have worked together for our common goals – transition in Libya, stability in the Balkans.  Hungarian forces serve alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  And Congresswoman Schmidt would want me to say that the close relationship with the Ohio National Guard particularly.  And we know that over 2 million, more like 2 and a half million Americans are proud of their Hungarian heritage, and serve as bridges between our two countries.

“As you may not know, that in the Capitol of the United States, every day, most of us pass by a statue, and we honor Hungary by having a statue of a great Hungarian freedom fighter, a father of your democracy some say, Kossuth.  I’ve been calling him ‘Kossuth’ since grade school, through high school, for many years, and now I know it’s pronounced ‘KO-shoot.’  You know his historic story, leading the Hungarian people in a revolt against foreign rule, with these brave freedom fighters 164 years-ago, the seeds for Hungarian democracy were formed.  Ultimately, as you know, the movement for freedom was brutally crushed and he was taken as a political prisoner – until the Congress of the United States intervened and brought him to America.

“When he arrived in New York, he was greeted as a revolutionary with a 31 gun salute – that was the number of states that we had at the time…one for each of the states.  He addressed the large crowd that welcomed him with the English he had learned from studying Shakespeare and the Bible when he was in jail.  It was on that day that the Mayor of New York referred to Kossuth as, ‘the enlightened representative of Hungarian independence, the champion of human progress and of universal freedom.’  I mentioned all of this just to say that the connection between our two countries has many manifestations, all of them strong and inspirational.  And that takes me to my colleague, Congressman Tom Lantos – Chairman Lantos.  It was a joy to me when I was Speaker that he would be, when we were in the majority, he would be the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I think Katrina will attest that was a charm for him.

“Like Kossuth, he dedicated his life to the cause of freedom.  As a teenager, you know his story, he escaped Nazis and joined the resistance as Hitler’s army occupied Budapest.  Tom Lantos liked to say he was a Hungarian by birth and an American by choice – and he was equally proud of both countries.  As the only Holocaust survivor, as Rita mentioned, ever elected to the U.S. Congress, he used his experience to empower the powerless and give voice to the voiceless.

‘On one of the first days I arrived in Congress, he said ‘you have to come to a meeting,’ and it was with the Dalai Lama.  So, from the start, identifying with the aspirations of the people of Tibet, putting forth his plan for autonomy.  Whether it was, subsequent to Aung Suu Kyi, there is no cause, as Chairman of the Committee, passing the resolution in the committee, condemning the Armenian Genocide – that had not been done before.  These are not always popular issues and some have said it’s influenced other, shall we say, equities weighing in, but Tom was always constant.  Whether it was Soviet issues, you name it, you could walk the globe and his imprint was felt.  And it was really important to him because what he saw as a young person, and saying ‘never forget,’ just as we never forget that, but making sure that it didn’t happen again, and to stop it in its tracks wherever he saw behavior that did not respect the dignity and worth of every person.  And that’s why, one of the reasons he established the Human Rights Commission and that is why it is named for him today.

“Tom lost his family, and said to Annette, his wife, they were a team, Annette and Tom; they lost their families in the Holocaust but Katrina, and her sister Annette – named for her mom – Tom used to write to us and say ‘we lost our families in the Holocaust, but our two daughters, they gave us a family.  So, he was blessed.  How many grandchildren?  Seventeen grandchildren.  Seventeen grandchildren, two daughters and how many greats now?  And he bragged about them all the time in his work – and his family was everything to him, as you can imagine.  And such a joy to see his family continue his work in the Tom Lantos Institute here in Budapest.  And Rita, thank you for your leadership as President of the institute, your beautiful words about Katrina and her family.  And, again, Maria taking us on the tour – just a remarkable achievement in bringing together the physical and tangible manifestations of when the Nazis occupy this very building as their headquarters, and then followed, for a period of time, by the Soviets, aptly-named Terror House Museum.  Thank you.

“I mentioned that Tom worked around the world for freedom and self-determination; he was particularly proud when those rights were finally won by the Hungarian people 22 years ago.  In a democracy, the people decide.  The current Hungarian government was elected by a strong majority of the Hungarian people in a free and fair election.  But I join a long list of friends of Hungary – including Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Kounalakis – in expressing concerns about recent changes to Hungary’s system of checks and balances and their impact on democratic institutions.  These concerns have also been raised by other friends of Hungary in the EU and the Council of Europe.  Today, I met with Prime Minister Orbán and I – our Delegation did – and we stressed some of these concerns as we understood them, viewing them from the United States, and I understand that some progress has been made in addressing a number of these concerns.  Whether it’s the conversations with the Venice Commission, or suggestions being made by the Minister of Justice and the rest, I am hopeful that progress is being made.  And I’m encouraged by recent comments by Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Melia, from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  He was in Budapest last week, perhaps you observed that, and said that since the Venice Commission and some EU Commissioners have spoken up, the Hungarian government has been engaged in a process of revisiting some of the new laws.  It is encouraging to see that Hungary is taking another look at some of these reforms.  And I think we were encouraged by our conversation with the Speaker today, as well as with the Prime Minister.

“I began my remarks by quoting the first Ambassador to Hungary.  As he said about the newly formed relationship between Hungary and the United States, our friendship ‘will serve to bring about an international prosperity through which we alone can come to real peace and real happiness in the world.’  I will close by commending our current Ambassador for continuing to strengthen the U.S.-Hungarian relationship.  Under her leadership, may our friendship continue for another 90 years, and more.   And I’d like to call her up here, to the podium, because earlier today, when we met with the Speaker of the House, I was proud to convey to him, the original Treaty that was signed by [President] Warren Harding, Congresswoman Schmidt would like to add that he was from Ohio, and this is a copy of the Treaty that was signed, starting diplomatic relations between the United States and Hungary.  You can imagine all of the technical language, but it basically says ‘this Treaty between the United States and Hungary, signed at Budapest, August 29th 1921, to establish strong, friendly relations between the two nations, subject to the understanding…’  It goes on and on and on, but it salutes the friendship that was formalized 90 years-ago, and I want her to have a copy of it.  I tribute my staff for doing such wonderful research.  And because of her leadership, the pride we take in her, the dignity, intellect, and patriotism, the love of Hungary, and America, that she brings to the task, I wanted to express our appreciation for her service, her leadership, her Excellency.

“Thank you all very much for being here today.  As you can see, the connection between the United States, the American people and the Hungarian people is one that is personal, that is official, it is one that we hope will be prosperous, continue in good spirit for a long time to come.  And I’m very honored, as the leader of the House Democrats, but I’m sure Congresswoman Schmidt will afford me liberty when I say we bring greetings to all of you from the Congress of the United States.”

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