|History and activity
Raoul Wallenberg Association, HungaryWorking for a tolerant society for more than a decade
The Raoul Wallenberg Association, Hungary, (henceforward: the Association) was established on 17 December 1988 in Budapest. The early phase of the operation of the Association dates back to the feverish period when the collapse of the Communist regime became imminent. The Association was set up to defend the rights of various minority groups. Its founders included college and university students, sociologists, economists and journalists. They considered it a key issue in evolving democracy in Hungary to assure the same rights to minorities of all sorts (national, ethnic, religious, political, cultural, and other) as those enjoyed by Hungarian society in general. It is not enough to replace dictatorship exercised by a small Communist party elite by dictatorship of the majority, on whatever platform they stand. In a real democracy the rights of all sorts of minorities must be safeguarded.
The Association took its name from Raoul Wallenberg (1912- ?), a Swedish citizen, who was on the staff on Budapest Embassy of Sweden in 1944-5. At that time he helped thousands of Hungarian Jews avoid deportation to death camps. After his arrest in 1945 by Soviet authorities, nothing certain is known of him. He is presumed to have died in prison. The Association took his name in recognition of his dedication to fight discrimination and inhumanity.
Each year we mark Wallenberg’s birthday on 4 August by laying wreaths at his statue, which is in Erzsébet Szilágyi Road on the Buda side of Budapest, and we keep a candle vigil at his plaque in Wallenberg Street on the Pest side on 17 January, the anniversary of the day when he was last seen before being arrested.
We foster relations with several Wallenberg memorial organizations in other countries, including the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.
At present the Association has close to 400 members. Its head office is in Budapest and its groups operate independently in many parts of Hungary. The costs of its operation are covered by donations, membership dues and government subsidy. Over the past twelve years the Association has condemned discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, socially handicapped groups and disabled people, hostilities against non-European immigrants or non-white students. It has organized discussions and conferences of a sociological or historical character to shed light on these issues. The Association offers legal aid to victims of discrimination, and did fact-finding on a number of cases.
Episodes from the history of the Association
After 40 years of pause, the Association organized the first public commemoration in Hungary honouring Raoul Wallenberg on 17 January 1989.
The Association foiled an attempt by the municipality of Miskolc forcibly to resettle Gypsy residents from the inner parts of the town to tenements in the outskirts.
After far right elements daubed swastikas on a statue of Wallenberg in Budapest, the Association organized a protest rally near the statue. Among the personalities standing as a guard of honour at the statue were the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament.
We secured the release from prison of a Gypsy man whose indictment was unjustified.
The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Hungary, was formed.
We were co-organizers of a major conference, entitled: "Minority Rights - Human Rights in Hungary", whose contributors included eminent personalities from home and abroad and attracted considerable media attention.
We were among the civic organizations consulted in connection with the draft of a law on national minorities and another one, covering aliens who stay in Hungary.
We took part in the preparations for a secondary school - named after Gandhi - which is meant especially for Gypsy young people.
We helped organize an exhibition of documents relating to the activities of Wallenberg.
Several members of the Association spoke up in protection of the minorities in the printed and electronic media.
Our activists helped defuse tension in some villages where a part of the residents are Gypsies.
We were co-organizers of a demonstration in the town of Eger to protest skinhead atrocities against Gypsies.
On the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust, we organized a forum, where the invited speakers included theologians and historians.
The Association and the Wallenberg Foundation unveiled a memorial plaque to pay tribute to what the valiant Swedish personalities Carl-Ivan Danielsson, Raoul Wallenberg and Per Anger did to save people from persecution.
We took part in a protest march at the town of Gyöngyös to attract national attention to skinhead violence against Gypsies.
Our Association and the Anna Frank Foundation of Amsterdam organized an exhibition of photos and documents to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust throughout Europe. We added to the international collection a side exhibition, entitled "Anna Franks in Hungary", in which we presented problems of the Gypsy minority in contemporary Hungary.
Our legal experts, in co-operation with those of other human rights organizations, offered legal assistance to Gypsies in numerous cases involving atrocities, police violence or attempts to resettle Gypsies in urban ghettos.
We took part in preparing and conducting a competition where students wrote essays on what they know of the Holocaust.
We participated in mounting a major exhibition on the Holocaust.
The forums we organized carried the title: "For a tolerant society" and "Minorities and manifestations of prejudice".
Our Association was selected to be among the civic organizations that are always consulted when a draft law affecting human rights is in a preparatory stage.
Representatives of our Association participated in a conference where the relationship between Gypsies and the police was on the agenda.
A representative of our Association took part in the deliberations of the governmental body set up for the co-ordination of measures to improve the welfare of Gypsies.
We commented the draft of the law on non-profit organizations.
Two representatives of the Association made oral contributions on how PR is used in civil society at a session meeting of an international conference in Budapest, held by the International Public Relations Association.
The Association, in co-operation with the Association of Teachers of History, organized a major conference on the history (until the 19th century) of Hungary serving as a save haven for persecuted foreigners.
The Association co-operated with an aide of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights on a fact-finding mission to a village where the mayor failed to observe the human rights of local Gypsy residents.
The Association organized a forum, entitled "Is democracy - and the minorities - in danger?" The speakers included Members of Parliament from nearly all major parties.
I n May the Association organized a conference for teachers of history on how exclusionist policies gradually engulfed public life in Hungary during the 1930s and 1940s.
The speakers at the annual commemoration of Wallenberg’s birthday at his statue on August 4 included former Hungarian Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky and Tom Lantos, a member of the House of Representatives of the United States.
Members of the Association took part in the preparation of the law on asylum.
Before the campaign for the parliamentary elections began, we sent a letter each to the political parties asking them to honour the human rights of all of Hungary’s minorities.
The Association and the Jewish Youth Association of Hungary organized a conference entitled "Say no for racism". Our representatives made oral contributions.
Members of the Association were active in having a replica made of a memorial devoted to Wallenberg’s memory, which was removed from its pedestal before inauguration. The original of the memorial is in the town of Debrecen, the replica today stands in its original place: St. Stephen Park.
We organized a forum each about the civil liberties of religious people and the ways civil society can influence public administration.
UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and his wife, Nane Lagergren Annan, Raoul Wallenberg's niece, met on June 29-30 the Hungarian Raoul Wallenberg Association in Budapest. Mrs. Annan met the presidium in our office. The central ceremony was carried out in the St. Stephen Park, at one of the monuments of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Speeches were delivered by both Mr. and Mrs. Annan, as well as by Gábor Demszky, Mayor of Budapest, by Peter Trufo, American Ambassador to Hungary and by Ferenc Orosz, chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Association.
In the name of the Association, Dr. Orosz made a public statement that the Association - in agreement with Mrs. Annan- initiate the celebration of July 9, the anniversary of the start of Raoul Wallenberg's activity in Budapest, as the 'Day of Rescuers'.