Publications

The following is a select list of my published articles, op-eds and related works.————————————————————————————————————

November 16, 2014

Published in Centretown Buzz

Queensway must be a part of Ottawa’s transportation future

by Joseph Imre

Jonathan McLeod’s recent Ottawa Citizen op-ed piece, “Demolish the Queensway,” got many thinking about the cost-benefit of the Queensway to Ottawa’s transportation future.

Whether you loathe the 417’s existence or praise it as the city’s only rapid link across town, the highway known as the Queensway is as much a part of Ottawa’s fabric as the Rideau Canal and the many rivers that bless this city’s geographic location.

The Queensway has often been cited as a major blight on Ottawa, serving as a de facto “Berlin Wall” across midtown, separating communities, limiting access and reminding us each and every day that we only have one realistic freeway option east-west across the city. But what if the Queensway could be made a part of a solution rather than a reminder of poor city planning? What if we could mitigate its growing limitations and use what we have to improve transportation across Ottawa?

While Ottawa has embraced light rail transit (LRT) as a future public transportation backbone for the city, the conversation around a subway has always been quelled by apocalyptic predictions of gigantic development costs. In fact, Ottawa has been relegating the idea of a subway at least since 1915 when the Holt Plan proposed a subway between Bronson and Rideau Street along Wellington, with southbound arteries also running along Bank and Elgin.

While the 1915 plan is not particularly feasible at present, a century later and Ottawa will only have LRT in place, if we are lucky, by 2018 – with future expansion years away. After all is said and done, the new LRT will have negligible effect on the Queensway or the people that need it. This brings me back to the subway idea.

Much of the Queensway through Centretown is above ground, or slightly above-grade. The opportunity to build a subway under the Queensway, and thereafter above ground west of the 416 split and east of 174 split via the gap between east and westbound lanes, would provide for reliable rapid transit east-west, alleviate traffic use on the Queensway, and provide for a number of crucial transit points along the way with stations that could be integrated either underneath the 417 (through downtown), or at-grade elsewhere.

Most importantly, construction could be carried out with minimal effect to existing traffic.

A subway that runs the length of the Queensway would connect Kanata with Orleans (with expanded and affordable park and rides at each end); intersect with several of Ottawa’s major shopping centres; facilitate connection to the central bus and train terminals; a connection to the existing O-Train or future north-south lines, and allow for integrated stations, possibly at Parkdale, Little Italy (Preston), Bronson, Bank and more if needed through the Centretown bottleneck.

Critics will undoubtedly decry the reliance on subway tunnels, which would have to be built at considerable cost. Significant work would also need to be done at sections of the highway that are at-grade (roughly including Lees Ave. to the 174 split, and Maitland to the 416 split). While it is unwise to simply downplay these concerns, it is even more detrimental to envision an approach or plan that sits for another century on a dusty shelf while Ottawa’s transportation corridors continue to choke municipal resources and local residents.

The recent widening of the 417 is a temporary solution at best and portrays a city lacking any vision to build sustainable transportation that drives growth and prosperity for many of Ottawa’s neighbourhoods.

Transportation in the future can either go up (i.e. elevated LRT, bike lane corridors, etc.) or it can go underground with subways.

There are some simple facts that we know. Subways cost billions. Subways will cost more than the planned LRT. Demolishing the Queensway would be devastating to the city. The future of public transit and infrastructure in Ottawa doesn’t have to be reliant on fancy new ideas, but rather a serious look at what makes this city move and how we can use existing infrastructure as a tool for improvement.

The best inventions are the ones that improve on something already in place. Many still believe that Ottawa was set back more than half a century by poor city planning masked in “shiny new ideas” of the past, such as removing rail tracks for roads, resulting in the loss of streetcars, a central rail terminal, and track that is now being planned where it was before.

Let’s not make those same mistakes. If the Queensway is here to stay, then let us use it—rebrand it—so it continues to serve the city and its needs. The Queensway could still be Ottawa’s way forward.

http://www.centretownbuzz.com/2014/11/16/queensway-must-be-a-part-of-ottawas-transportation-future/

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August 24, 2014

Central and Eastern Europe still haunted by Trianon

Published in the Hungarian Reporter - http://www.hungarianreporter.com/english/central-and-eastern-europe-still-haunted-by-legacy-of-trianon

Hungarians around the globe marked an ominous and despairing memorial this past June 4, 2014. Ninety-four years ago, in the turmoil and chaos of post-war Europe, the Treaty of Trianon (signed June 4, 1920) forever altered the regional ethnic structure of Central and Eastern Europe. A treaty designed for peace destabilized a continent already mired in violent historical legacies. The Treaty of Trianon truncated over two-thirds of the former Kingdom of Hungary into new nation-states placing 3.5 million ethnic Hungarians under foreign and hostile rule. Trianon created one of the largest ethnic displacements Europe has ever witnessed and ensured an enduring legacy of endemic deficiency to protect and preserve minorities.

The creation of Czechoslovakia; the annexation of Transylvania to Romania; the awarding of Burgenland to Austria; and the integration of Croatia, Bácska and the Banat into Yugoslavia from the remnants of the former Hungarian Kingdom, ensured a constant state of mistrust and conflict guided by growing greed and revenge in the anticipated decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Census data compiled in 1910 reveals a strikingly multi-ethnic kingdom balanced by the structures of privileged order and restrained nationalism. However, that polyglot empire, while extremely centralized, divulged considerable autonomy to it minorities. The rise of ethnic identities and nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – coupled with oppressive and old feudal social structures within the Habsburg lands – justified, within the principles of self-determination, a modest redrawing of borders along ethnic lines. Those principles however were abandoned as alliances, fabrications, secret treaties, hypocrisy and self-interest framed the peace negotiations. Trianon largely became a fait accompli.

World War I and the ensuing new European order would change the status quo dynamics and serve as the forbearer of instability and ethnic division in Central and Eastern Europe. The Paris Peace Conference – and its dictated peace settlements – is now widely accepted to be the root cause of World War II and the continued ethnic agitation of present day. The disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars; the splitting of the Czech and Slovak Republics; and thwarted attempts at autonomy and self-rule in Transylvania, Transcarpathia, and Vojvodina all have roots in the legacy of Trianon and the failure of peacemakers to uphold the principles of self-determination.

Memorials such as these have a tendency to reopen historical wounds. With ninety-four years now past since Trianon, Hungarian minorities have struggled to maintain their numerical consistency with just over 2 million in present-day Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. Almost a century of survival against state sponsored discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and forced assimilation has degraded a once proud unity and purpose for Hungarian minorities. However, discrimination against Hungarian minorities continues unabated and remains unchallenged by vague and often ambiguous treaties on minority rights and blatant violations by states which comprise sizable minority enclaves. Trianon may have given birth to new nations and new identities; but failed to bring the lasting peace envisioned by its creators. Then British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, noted in 1919:

“No settlement which contravenes the principles of eternal justice will be a permanent one…We must not allow any sense of revenge, any spirit of greed, and grasping desire to over-ride the fundamental principle of righteousness”

Like Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria and Austria, Hungary merits a certain level of responsibility for the war but not as much as was eventually bestowed on it. Hungarian elites and landed gentry were supportive at the outbreak of war and the possibility of extending a Hungarian sphere of influence in the Balkans, but only in so far as their duty to the Emperor and the Kingdom itself. However, proportionally, no other European state was dismembered with the ferocity and conviction as Hungary. No other nation suffered greater punishment at the hands of the victors and successor states. Few minorities, in a European context, would be left to states determined to eradicate – dare I say exterminate – their minorities as the Hungarians were.

Under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles Germany lost a mere 13 percent of its former territories and colonies. The Treaty of Neuilly severed Bulgaria’s access to the Aegean Sea but affected minimal territorial loses of approximately 8 percent. The Treaty of Sèvres, and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne, witnessed the slow disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and its sphere of influence but no ancestral lands were removed. The Treaty of Saint Germaine-en-Laye severed non-Germanic lands from the Habsburgs but awarded Burgenland, a part of Hungary, to Austria nonetheless. Hungary was to cede upwards of 72 percent of its ancestral lands and, as a result, abide by harsh and catastrophic economic constraints. Trianon, like much of the Paris negotiations, was, in the words of the eminent British economist John Maynard Keynes: a Carthaginian peace. It may indeed be a stretch to even append the term peace to the Paris conference at all.

The twenty-first century has failed to afford any relief to the legacy of Trianon. Admission to international organizations and conventions on human rights by all of the regions states has fallen short of protecting ethnic minorities or addressing past historical injustices. Although the issue of Hungarian minorities has remained non-violent in its manifestations, one need not look far to witness the enduring division caused by Trianon in the former Yugoslavia for example. The European Union’s vague and often ambiguous minority protection framework has left gaping holes in continental and international legislation governing minority protection and human rights. This has resulted in blatant violations of minority rights in states with considerable minority populations and has often jeopardized regional stability and cooperation.

Escalations in political and ethnic tensions between Hungary and its neighbouring states has been buoyed by the rise of nationalistic governments in Slovakia, instability in the Balkans, and the passing of new citizenship legislations in Hungary. With only 24 years since the states of Central and Eastern Europe threw off the chains of Soviet oppression, the process of state and identity building continues. Ethnic cohesion is seen as a threat to statehood and therefore serves as a smokescreen. That smokescreen has left not only enduring hatreds but a perplexing ethnic problem: millions of Hungarians forced to live in states with abhorrent human rights records on ancestral lands. The rationale for which may never be fully understood.

Since joining NATO and the EU divisive ethnic issues have subsided as regional states focus their attention on internal reform and meeting political and economic pressures from Brussels. However, the legacy of an inequitable peace still haunts the future; and a resurgence of nationalism – albeit a restrained variant – has marked a disturbing trend across the region. In the context of European history the legacy of Trianon, still fresh, shapes the political landscape. Although territorial revisions are distant as a solution ethnic models such as autonomy, devolution, or self-determination are viable. While the very credibility of continental and international organizations has been questioned, the “Hungarian question” only affords time to the successor states to further degrade and destroy Hungarian minority enclaves.

If, in the words of David Lloyd George, the Paris peace violated and contravened the very principles that Europe stands for then a deserved redressing of Trianon is valid. Peace was not achieved and ethnic cohesion among the ethnicities of the region has never and will never be in full harmony. Trianon may not be an isolated event but its legacy and effect have ensured that the potential for conflict will always be in place.

Propaganda and populism aside, we must recognize that the very norms for which so many lives have been lost, and so many impasses overcome, fail to protect those who live in minority status. If we continue to pay lip service to those values we risk undermining the ‘European project’ and, by effect, appeasing those nations such as Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Serbia who believe that their very future depends on suppressing their multi-ethnic character. While others will point to Hungary’s intention of keeping the issue of Trianon alive, it is the neighbouring states who live the guilt of a host of heinous crimes against basic human rights. If any lesson may be learned by states with Hungarian minorities it is that lands may be appropriated but the spirit of a people and their cultural identity can survive.

It is a shame that on this ninety-fourth year since the Treaty of Trianon we could not be collectively celebrating a just and equitious footnote. It is equally a shame that while almost a century has past the future for Hungarian minorities remains as tenuous as before. We would, as a western society, never question the validity of remembering similar twentieth century tragedies like the Armenian Genocide or the Balkan wars. The past wounds of Trianon remain open because the narrative remains unfinished. It is unfinished because justice has never been done.

Joseph Imre
English Language Editor, Hungarian Reporter

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August 20, 2014

Published in the Hungarian Reporter - http://www.hungarianreporter.com/english/russian-aggression-triggers-related-territorial-dispute-in-western-ukraine

Russian Aggression triggers related territorial dispute in Western Ukraine

The plurality of international opinion has rightly condemned Russia’s swift, aggressive and calculated annexation of Crimea from Ukraine; and for the ongoing support provided to Russian separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine. The downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, suspected to be orchestrated by Russian-backed militias, brought what was a regional conflict to the international arena. Instability in Eastern Ukraine, and elsewhere, has highlighted the frailty of a reliance on the international system of diplomacy; the sense of security associated with Western integration into political, economic and military union that was once coveted among former Soviet bloc states; and, most importantly the continuing importance of unresolved ethnic and territorial disputes in challenging the international system of peace imposed after World War I and again following World War II.

While focus has been trained on Eastern Ukraine, another festering historical wound in Transcarpathia (Zakarpatska Oblast), a region in Western Ukraine, poses important historical questions about the future of the Ukrainian state and its composite minorities. Transcarpathia is a region that has been a part of numerous territorial transfers and occupations in the 20th century, and comprises of large ethnic populations of Hungarians, Rusyns, Romanians and other minorities. Historically an integral part of the Kingdom of Hungary, Transcarpathia was annexed by Czechoslovakia in 1920 as a result of the post-WWI Treaty of Trianon which denied the principles of self-determination or a plebiscite for Hungarian minorities. The region was awarded to Hungary in 1939; and was then ultimately transferred to what was then Soviet Ukraine in 1945. Notwithstanding the regions tangled history, the ethnic composition of Transcarpathia has withstood decades of attempts at forced assimilation and discriminatory practices by governments in Prague, Moscow and Kiev; but has largely retained its 150-160,000 strong Hungarian minority in pocket communities along the Ukraine-Hungary border.

The bloody and seamlessly unending conflict in Ukraine’s Russian speaking regions has yet to reach similar proportions in Transcarpathia. However, recent actions by the Ukrainian government in terms of repealing minority language legislation, and mobilization of the military in minority regions – coupled with considerable apprehension from Hungary and neighbouring states – provides for the needed foundation for conflict to erupt. In February of 2014, shortly after the flight of Viktor Yanukovich, the Ukrainian parliament repealed the 2012 law “On the principles of the state language policy” in a means to suppress minority languages and minority groups perceived to be a threat to Ukrainian unity. The repealing of this law was distinctly felt among Hungarian minorities, who had not only originally voted in favour of Viktor Yanukovich in the 2010 presidential elections, but had been peacefully proposing cultural and educational autonomy. As a result Hungarian minorities have been increasingly isolated from Kiev.

The Hungarian government having supported Ukrainian unity and integrity during the growing unrest placed considerable diplomatic and public pressure on Ukraine to protect its minority populations. In a speech on March 4, 2014 Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – whose government has made a cornerstone of its policy the protection of Hungarian minorities – noted Hungary’s objection to the abolition of the Ukrainian language law as illegitimate and unacceptable. Subsequent policy remarks by Orban advocating autonomy as an option for Hungarian minorities aggravated Ukrainian officials who had been already hesitant towards Hungary’s liberal citizenship policy towards Hungarian minorities in neighbouring states. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s mass mobilization of the army in July – now in its third wave – brought fear and consternation from Ukraine’s minorities, who loathed being used to fight a conflict against their own citizens and Russia. Hungarian minorities have been used before as conscripts in former Yugoslavia, where soldiers who perished had their homes confiscated and given to Serbian families in a means to re-populate Hungarian dominant regions with ethnic Serbs. History’s lessons seem omnipresent and even trans-generational in Central and Eastern Europe.

The resolution of conflict in Ukraine appears far from over. The internal and external threats to Ukraine via Russia have forced a clampdown on restive regions. Minorities have borne the brunt of these new policies. Weakened Ukrainian leadership has yet to reign in some of the more extreme political parties who bare considerable responsibility for pressing the government to implement restrictive policies against minorities. Failure to provide assurances to Hungarian and other groups in Transcarpathia will only further aggravate an already unresolved territorial question. Whatever shape and form the consolidation of power takes in Ukraine, Europe will be faced with a very different Ukraine than that of a few years ago. Minority groups should be provided with the forum and opportunity to partake in a new Ukraine. If they are not included, then one would be justified to ask whether the future of Hungarians, Romanians, Rusyns and others is better within or without Ukraine.

The multi-ethnic makeup of Transcarpathia is a very public reminder of its tumultuous history. It is, more accurately, a litmus test for other Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin. Central and Eastern Europe still lives the legacy of iniquitous and illegal territorial reshuffling after both world wars. As the inheritors of this ominous legacy we must shoulder a heavy burden to ensure justice is done not only for Hungarian minorities but all minorities. There is a belief that the safety of the European Union, international legislation, or state actors in Ukraine is enough to protect minority communities. History has proven otherwise. We can only hope that new solutions to Ukraine’s woes may be found within the confines of international diplomacy and law, and that Hungarian minorities will be viewed as part of the solution and not the problem. Transcarpathia is a potent lesson and legacy of change that very much haunts the region and, until corrected in some form, the historical narrative of Central and Eastern Europe will remain unfinished.

Joseph Imre
English Language Editor, Hungarian Reporter

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August 31, 2013

Beautiful Hungary

product_thumbnail

Hungary is a place of astounding beauty, profound history, and a land of vibrant proud cultural traditions filled with tales of glorious victories, calamitous defeats, and survival amid the often unpredictable and tumultuous course of Central and Eastern European history. The story of Hungary may be seen on the faces of its people; and in the cities, villages and natural wonders that dot this small European country. The imagined boundaries of the twentieth century have done little to degrade the grandeur and influence that Hungary forged over a millenia. No event can diminish that accomplishment. A piece of Hungary remains in all of our hearts, and feeds an enduring love and passion for a connection to the homeland. In bringing these images together, I have assembled a piece of my own story and my  own connection to the land I call a second home. This collection tells the tale of beautiful Hungary.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/joseph-imre/beautiful-hungary/hardcover/product-21103494.html

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December 19, 2012

CBC completely misses the mark on Roma issues in Hungary

There are numerous media sources which are held in high esteem around the world. They derive their strength from the professional, unbiased, balanced approach that remains at the core of solid journalism. It is, after all, our common goal to provide the most accurate and authoritative information to as many as possible. 

CBC’s questionable standards 

CBC TV The National aired a special “Seeking Safety” on December 12, 2012 which spoke to the perceived degradation of Hungarian democracy and the plight of Roma minorities fleeing Hungary for the relative safety of Canada. While we acknowledge the need to find a resolution to the Roma issue, both in Hungary and Europe, it is of the utmost importance that CBC and others adhere to the highest standards and provide their viewers with the most equitable and objective information. This standard was unfortunately not met with CBC’s “Seeking Safety” documentary which outright stated that “Hungary is becoming more authoritarian and less democratic”.

Hungary’s European standards 

It is paramount that, at the outset, we emphasize that Hungary, its institutions, and its constitution represent and enshrine the most treasured European values of human rights, rule of law, and respect for the diversity that is present in Hungary and the region. Hungary is also member of the European Union, which was recently awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. As with any country, social issues permeate the fabric of the nation. 

Hungary a leader on Roma issues

While Canada tackles its historical obligations and disparities among its Aboriginal population for example; Hungary is equally determined to provide its most vulnerable individuals and groups the benefits and lifestyle accessible to all Hungarians. Since 1993 – and soon to be reinforced in related legislation – the Roma of Hungary, unlike anywhere else in Europe, are guaranteed parliamentary representation –currently four sitting members– as permanent partners within Hungary’s federal and local governments. (1) 

During the Hungarian European Union (EU) Presidency, the government proposed a far-reaching and consensus-based strategy for Roma in Europe. This ten-year strategy commits to reducing poverty levels, improving and guaranteeing access to education, opening new and rewarding employment options, and tackling social disparities between Roma and non-Roma through tangible cooperative solutions. This strategy was adopted by all members of the European Union.

CBC one-sided 

CBC failed to even make a cursory reference to this initiative or its unprecedented strategic goals for Europe’s Roma peoples. Furthermore, CBC decided to portray the Hungarian people as affable to racist, xenophobic, and tyrannical ideologies. Applying generalizations of this nature often implies a lack of proper information and unjustly victimizes a nation and its people, in this case Hungary and Hungarians. This is the message conveyed by the documentary by highlighting selective and isolated incidents. 

Aside from Hungary’s gallant and well-known stand against communism and authoritarian regimes in the twentieth century Hungarians have demonstrated many times their distastes of any discriminatory and inflammatory gestures. The Hungarian government and courts, both past and present have condemned declarations made by Jobbik – an opposition Party – and, since 2009, have banned its radical wing, the Magyar Garda – a fact recognized by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board. (2) So why did the documentary keep focusing on old footage of the Garda outlawed and banned more than three years ago?

Once again, this fact received no mention by CBC and should have featured prominently as it was verified by the Canadian government. It is telling furthermore that the Canadian government has just recently designated Hungary and 27 other countries as ‘safe’ (3) –notwithstanding the immigration lawyer’s assertion at the end of the documentary that ‘‘The situation in Hungary is anything but safe.’’

CBC’s ‘‘facts’’ questionable

Further to our belief that the duty of media is to portray a balanced approach, CBC, we believe, has greatly damaged the credibility of its reporting by employing what was referred to as Hungary “experts”. 

Neither former EU MP Mohacsi Viktoria nor Christopher Adam is foreign to controversy, and they most definitely do not represent Canadian Hungarians or the Roma peoples. Ms. Mohacsi has often been the perpetrator of inflammatory and unjustified accusations without regard for facts or consequences. She was recently indicted by a Hungarian court for making false accusations after ‘‘seeking asylum’’ in Canada. During the high-profile and tragic proceedings surrounding the murder of Romanian handball player Marian Cozma in Veszprém, Hungary, Ms. Mohacsi declared –but later retracted– that Cozma was responsible for provoking a group of Roma, thus leading to his murder. Both the courts and CCTV footage proved, beyond any doubt, that Marian Cozma was targeted and attacked without reason and was a victim of a heinous organized attack by Roma. (4) It should have been the responsibility of CBC to report these and other events which reveal a tangible and very real criminal problem among the Roma. It is however saddening that Ms. Mohacsi has experienced threatening correspondence –if in fact this was the case– and this most certainly must be condemned. But it should be equally condemned that she is the one who fled from prosecution in Hungary to seek asylum in Canada

Likewise, Christopher Adam, a contract instructor at Carleton University, neither teaches dedicated Hungarian history courses nor shares the credentials of countless Hungarian experts at universities or in lay society across Canada. Mr. Adam’s referral to an unsourced document during the documentary speaks to an alarming lack of credibility.

NAHC’s commitment

The National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada (NAHC) feels that its duty and mission is to further the cause of human rights and, in doing so, be the hub of accurate, reliable, and balanced resources accessible to all. 

The National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada condemns all racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism in all forms. We remain unaffiliated with any political party or lobby group. We believe that CBC has surrendered to generalizations and the dramatized case of isolated incidences such as that of the Balogh family. It is in our common interest that the proper organizations and individuals be consulted in the Hungarian community so that CBC and others provide the highest standard of journalism – deserving of its name.

National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada
Alliance Nationale des Hongrois au Canada
Suite 200, 246 Queen St.
Ottawa, ON
K1P 4E5

Notes:

1 “Hungarian National Social Inclusion Strategy”, Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, State Secretariat for Social Inclusion, Budapest, December 2011.
2 “Responses to Information Requests, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, September 29, 2011. http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca:8080/RIR_RDI/RIR_RDI.aspx?id=453599&l=e.
3 “Kenney names 27 countries as ‘safe’ in refugee claim dealing.” CBC, December 14, 2012.
4“Mohácsi Viktória: ‘cigányozott Cozmafeltehetöleg’”, HirCity, March 4, 2009.http://www.hircity.hu/regiok/53934.

This article was also featured in the following sources:
1. http://www.magyarkronika.com/magazin/2012/1219.html
2. http://www.erdely.ma/magyarorszag.php?id=133027&cim=kanada_nemzeti_televizioja_cbc_celt_tevesztett_adasa_a_magyarorszagi_romakrol

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November 7, 2012

US Election will produce a decade of disappointment

President Barack Obama doesn’t command a monopoly on disappointment. There is enough of it to pass around in spades. Sadly, Americans have become accustomed to underachieving politicians and repeated doses of untruth and nasty campaigns devoid of substance. What is most troubling is not a president of “masterful inactivity” (Gill, New York Times, Nov. 5, 2012) or even the ideologically bankrupt promises of hope and change that characterize both campaigns. It is the electorate’s audacity to even consider allowing a second term marred by those same disappointments. A vote for the status quo is exactly that: continuing high unemployment, crippling debt, weakened strategic leverage overseas and an even greater burden on the generation who will lead America in the future. The US has set the stage for a decade of disappointment.

Common sense would dictate that a bad teacher, an incompetent pilot, or an unqualified practicing doctor be removed from their position with haste. So too should bad presidents. The profound uncertainty that grips America jostled with a very simple equation for the plurality of voters on election night: will my bottom line change either way? The answer last night was maybe. And maybe is enough doubt for an incumbent to retain office – even if almost half the voting electorate disagrees. The pundits will declare the impact of ideological rifts, demographic voting blocks, and a measure of inner soul searching. While important, these issues are misleading and irrelevant to the average voter who neither cares nor understands the nuances of politics. Election night was decided by individuals who voted based on one-issue, bottom line, personal concerns (what I like to call a pocketbook election), and not lofty political theories or historical precedence. All elections are ultimately local.

As we reminisce of the rhetorical sludge that was swung at opposing forces these past few years, we  lament to witness how utterly stained the plain facts that Americans deserved to hear and discuss were discarded with so much ease. Few incumbents with as weak a record a President Obama would have been re-elected.  Few candidates with the business acumen to tackle the very issue regarded as the number one concern could lose against such an opponent. This dynamic speaks to the very deceitful nature of politics; where the king of the hill is the one who can better sell their lies, land pointless memorable lines, and cover undesirable facts. This election, more than any other, proved that the American people have been duped. The tears of joy may very well become tears of sorrow over America’s future. It is unfortunate – as with life – that we learn the hard way and often too late.

Neither man deserve the presidency. Voters were treated to a president skirting responsibility for an abysmal economic recovery, burgeoning deficit, and weak and dangerous foreign policy by returning to the same old tactics of blaming others or flip-flopping adversaries. A hallmark of any great president – indeed individual – is taking responsibility for failures and mistakes. It is truly saddening, for instance, that candidate Romney spewed statistics of the unemployed, impoverished, and vulnerable as points of attack and not a genuine segue to real solutions that all Americans can agree on. It is unfortunate that snippets were a measure of a good debate.

What remains disheartening is that Americans were forced to settle rather than support a vision for America’s future. Validating the status quo meant battling a prolonged and slow trudge through uncertainty rather than a head long dive or search for answers. The legacy of this election is that complacency triumphed. Headlines proclaim a “second chance” for Barack Obama – a chance that comes with great responsibility. Indeed we must accept the verdict of the American people, but we must not consign the nation to the failures of status quo politics or second chances. For if we do then the United States must reap democracy’s most vicious weapon: that you, as the electorate, get what you asked for.

Joseph Imre

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October 18, 2012

The only real loser in the presidential debate are Americans

Moments after the final words had been spoken at the critically important second presidential debate the pundits, journalists, and political foes and allies lined up to unleash their scripted glorification or vitriol towards the candidate of their choice. Few would be blamed for wondering whether the debates are a forum for discussion or a boxing ring or circus act wired for entertainment. We have been trained to watch the debates not for substance, authenticity or vision; but slip-ups, facial expressions, and sound-bite zingers. The absolute obsession with a definitive winner or loser is a shameful detraction from reality because the only real loser on Tuesday evening was the American people.

The very nature of US elections focuses celebrity on the presidential race removing the need for evidence or truth as a casualty of flashy yet vague and ill-defined plans. Looking presidential is often more highly regarded than being presidential. Incumbent President Obama, while certainly justified to point to a number of successes, failed to explain the many shortcomings and deficiencies accredited to his administration. Voters were treated to a skirting of responsibility for an abysmal economic recovery, burgeoning deficit, and weak foreign policy by returning to the same old tactics of blaming others or flip-flopping adversaries. A hallmark of any great president – indeed individual – is taking responsibility for failures and mistakes. Neither candidate did so. Instead, we were left devoid of answers substituted by marks for showmanship but none for accomplishment. The Nobel committee in Sweden might want to reconsider some of their previous nominations.

Mitt Romney too is at blame for insufficiently capitalizing on his chance to present his case to America and dispel misconceptions and labels associated with the GOP and himself. It is truly saddening that the statistics of unemployed, impoverished, and vulnerable are used as points of attack and not a segue to real solutions that all Americans can agree on. It is not candidate Romney’s trouble answering, or his use of awkward terminology (think Big Bird and binders of women) that become viral in cyberspace, but the act of make-believe – of making untruths appear truthful – that is more appropriate for Shakespearean theatre than the race for the Whitehouse. Every word is scrutinized for blunders, and voters are alone to decide which candidate would be less awful for them and the country. In other words, a race to the bottom. If we must choose between whom can better pull the wool over the sheep’s eyes then I choose neither.

The coming days will be punctuated by scorecards, copious polls, charts, and maps – all under the slow and silent decay of a better America. Our reality is presented in black and white: winners and losers, snapshot moments, and rankings of those who lied less often than others in a guise to celebrate the better man. It is insulting that the urgent – dare I say historically defining issues – that face the United States at home and abroad will disgracefully be whittled down by candidates, pundit panels, and party attack dogs. Mitt Romney was right about one thing: the US deserves better. It is unfortunate for the American voter that neither will be the savior they believe them to be. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Joseph Imre

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January 11, 2012

Escalation by Iran a simple ruse

The heightened tension between Iran and the US over, among others, the Strait of Hormuz comes at a rather interesting juncture in the evolving geopolitical dynamics of the Persian Gulf. The recent withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, formally on December 18, 2011, signaled less an expedient strategic or political move than a clarification of the true state of uncertainty over spheres of influence. Iranian desire to undermine the tide of progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which lie on its western and eastern border respectively, have placed the religious, economic, and political elements of US and Iranian interests at loggerheads. The escalation of verbal spats exemplifies the regional tug-of-war over long term strategic and security concerns and reveals some startling patterns for the future of US influence in the region. The events surrounding the Straits of Hormuz serve as a convenient smokescreen to much larger regional implications.

Iran’s Shia dominated society and political leadership has long maintained links with the growing Shia majority in Iraq (estimated to be 60-65% of the population). Iranian support for insurgent activity during the years of Saddam Hussein has only strengthened since the arrival of US forces and the consolidation of power by pro-Iranian political groups. The assurance of Shiite predominance in government within a US administered political process adheres to covert Iranian attempts to influence the political development of Iraq. This trend purports to confirm growing concern over the emergence of an Iraq firmly in-line with Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, and an uncomfortable supremacy over Iraqi affairs. Indeed, while Iran could never successfully challenge US hard power in the region, the battle over the hearts and minds of Iraqi’s and Afghans is Iran’s end game.

The same is true in Afghanistan, where confirmed reports of Iranian “bags of money” being handed over to Afghan political figures is regular occurrence. The continued Afghan refugee crisis has weakened an already porous border and left upwards of 1 million Afghans in Iran who are often fed, housed, trained and returned to Afghanistan to carry out attacks against US, NATO, and civilian targets. Indeed, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has already raised the flag over Iranian arms shipments to insurgents and Taliban authorities, highlighting the prospect of losing what tenuous political capital and capacity building has been achieved thus far.

While the western media concentrate on impossible Iranian threats over the Straits of Hormuz (threats which have been levelled before, circa 2008), the real issue lies in Iran testing US resolve and willingness to use hard power where it has lost its much needed control and influence over the emergence of civil society and stable and friendly political structures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Strait of Hormuz remains a vital link and economic engine for a struggling Iranian economy. Verbal threats by Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi reveal Tehran’s insecurity, yet, more importantly, demonstrate an affront to US gains in Iraq and Afghanistan. Creeping Iranian influence may still derail longer term US strategic interests including the isolation of Iran and the building of pro-American governments as catalysts for change in the Greater Middle East.

There is a common adage that notes: see the wind, turn the rudder. Let us hope that the winds of change, so hard-fought by US and allied men and women in uniform, will serve not only our collective interests but those of Iraq and Afghanistan. The end to combat is not an end to the mission. We must not lose sight of the real battle or be misled by distractions. The Strait of Hormuz may lead to worsened relations, but let it not be the beginning of the end of the prolonged struggle to rebuild torn nations. We must examine the escalation of tension not in isolation but within a greater more cogent context. The battle of ideas, the desire for progress, and the stability of democracy must be strong enough in both Iraq and Afghanistan to ward off those who wish to destroy it. We have seen the wind, perhaps it is now time to turn the rudder back in our favour.

Joseph Imre

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September 11, 2011

Reflections on September 11

September 11, 2001 signalled an end to the lives we all knew. Gone was the innocence and complacency in the belief in our own collective invincibility. Gone were the days of taking for granted our way of life. The magnitude of personal loss and tragedy, intended to weaken and destroy, instead united a people, a nation, a world in common purpose. The horrendous scenes of that day, forever burned into our memory, served as the catalyst for reflection and change. We promised to never forget the heroes that were lost that morning. We promised justice both swift and manifest. A decade has now past and the echoes of 9/11 have been felt well beyond New York, Washington DC, or Shanksville Pennsylvania. Former President George W. Bush’s declaration that the “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon” assumed a profound reality.

September 11 has become more than a memory or mere footnote. We now live the aftermath  and remain transfixed by its legacy. The horrors of that day have become as potent as the reminder of its transformation of the world we knew and the lives we lived. Our heroic men and women in uniform crossed the oceans to bring justice to the guilty and safety to millions of oppressed. Our mobility and freedom became part of a burgeoning intelligence and law enforcement apparatus that divided opinion but kept us safe. Our challenged belief in the moral good emerged as a unifying component of our mission to defeat terrorism even in the face of great sacrifice. The true extent of that atrocious day remains so strong in our minds because its effects continue. Our lives are still governed by its consequences, and the destruction of murderous ideologies are assured only by the convictions we hold for our values and beliefs.

Like so many others, I can scarcely forget where I was when the events of September 11 unfolded. It changed my life in ways incomprehensible to me at the time. I did not lose a family member or friend that day, but I shared the combined loss of all those who perished. I felt a profound duty to stand in solidarity with the United States and use what modest abilities I have to contribute and to remember. While I reflect on the events of 9/11 I recall an intuitive feeling of a world on the brink of change. I recall, if not for a brief and fleeting moment, how we all stood united. A decade later we can still be reduced to awe by the images and stories of 9/11. We must never forget, yet we must also realize that struggle and strife are far from over. Our respectful and contemplative moments of silence for the lives lost must be tempered by a raising of our voices against murderous ideas intent on threatening that unity.

I am reminded of President Abraham Lincoln’s noted Gettysburg Address in November 1863, in which he exhorted the urgency of remembering not merely a calamitous national tragedy but the need to move forward as a nation to protect the fundamental elements of unity.

“…We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Joseph Imre

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July 6, 2011

Hungarian EU Presidency a success despite international criticism

International media coverage of Hungary of late has left a lot to be desired in terms of unbiased balanced analysis. Hungary has received the brunt of worldwide criticism for its media law, revamped constitution, and its bold stand against the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the eccentric style of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban may ruffle a few feathers amongst the more tame and cynical European ideologues, the results of the Fidesz-led government tell a very different story. The Hungarian term at the helm of the EU rotating presidency – considered a failure by international media – brought tangible and sustainable results to Central Europe and, in the words of George Schöpflin, allowed Hungary to play a role out of all proportion to its size.

Since the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007 the EU rotating presidency has lost much of its former prestige and diplomatic weight. However, for the newer member states of the EU, still battling western European stigma, the chance to shape European policy and display credibility and efficiency is much coveted and highly important. Hungary ascended to the presidency in January of this year during an increasingly volatile economic situation in Europe. Further unrest in the Middle East; an allied-led intervention in Libya by February; hesitant EU enlargement; and an intransigent European approach to the extension of the Schengen zone to Romania and Bulgaria burdened the Hungarian presidency throughout.

Under those extenuating circumstances, coupled with unsubstantiated media pressure over Hungarian domestic political affairs, Hungary was able to achieve marked success. Under the Hungarian EU presidency, a consensus was achieved concerning the financial stabilization mechanism aimed at supporting the troubled economies of Greece and Ireland. Moreover, an agreement on the “European semester”, a six-month review of member states draft budgets to determine potential problems, strengthened European economic stability and further protected the volatile Euro. Hungarian efforts to ensure European recovery and consolidate continental division were almost entirely ignored by media outside of Hungary.

Furthermore, Hungary introduced several unprecedented EU strategy initiatives, notably the European Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies which, for the first time, brought a European-wide framework to address and respond to the issue of Roma across the EU zone. The highlighted targets of raising employment to seventy-five percent, improving access to education, healthcare, and improved infrastructure; and the establishment of sustained monitoring and implementation of common goals towards Roma integration illustrate the efforts of a truly functional democratic state with well-established liberal democratic principles. It is within this unprecedented attempt by Hungary that Amnesty International regretfully noted in its April 2011 press release without any context or accuracy that:

Hungary has itself been in the limelight for various attacks on human rights. These include constitutional reforms hostile to homosexual people, the harassment of Roma communities by extremists, and a new media law which threatens freedom of expression. Hungary has scarcely been a model of EU human rights observance.

Hungary’s Strategy for the Danube Region serves as another example of the formulation of a comprehensive framework endorsed not only by Danube states but Europe as a whole. The Danube Strategy will tackle a number of thorny issues including environmental threats, the liberalization of shipping restrictions along the Danube, energy convergence and cooperation, and joint safety and security along one of Europe’s most important rivers. Again, overall media coverage of Hungarian achievement was obscured by a fixation on distorting internal factors.

Both the Danube and Roma Strategies brought a focus to Central Europe that has few antecedents. A statement by Deputy German Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer that “Hungary’s understanding of basic rights is hardly compatible with that of the European Union” simply smacks of not only hypocrisy but is the language of hostility at the root cause of regional divergence. For a nation of 10 million to confront increasingly inflexible European structures demands recognition and appreciation. Hungary has and will continue to be an example of a state dedicated to the cause of human rights, the rule of law, and the building of a strong Europe united in common purpose.

The EU rotating presidency offered Hungary the opportunity to punch above its weight. Hungary rose to that cause and demonstrated the capabilities of a worthy European member. International media compelled to misrepresent and mislead by labelling Hungary as a pariah is journalism of the most shameful kind. The Hungarian government and its people showed a willingness and devotion to the European project only to receive contemptible response. When media, governments, and individuals could have united to support a nation’s accomplishments and aspirations, they instead resorted to base ideological bickering mired in wrongful facts. The Hungarian EU presidency was a success because in the face of sustained media pressure Hungary remained focused on its European goals. The Hungarian government showed skilful diplomacy, tactful administration, and an imperviousness to baseless accusations.

Regrettably, it is not uncommon for smaller states to be a scapegoat for larger more influential states. It is no different with international organizations. It is similarly unfortunate that the Hungarian presidency was overshadowed by more pressing global concerns. In spite of all this, the Hungarian nation is represented by a democratically elected government of which no other state or organization has a right to interfere. Hungary is protected by a strong constitution based upon the principles of equality, morality, and long-established principles and values. Hungary has powerful checks and balances in its parliament, judiciary, and republican institutions. The disgraceful distortion of those facts proves the degradation within media and a general lack of basic knowledge of Hungary. Where has the duty of journalism to portray the parallels of truth and facts gone? The way of preference it would seem.

Hungarians are a proud people and nation. If the very fundamental notion of truthfulness cannot be achieved by the media, then it becomes the responsibility of individuals to make those truths known. The Hungarian EU presidency was a proud moment for Hungary filled with countless successes by a government of the people. No one can diminish that. It is my sincere hope that the negativity demonstrated by the international media towards Hungary will be measured by a return to the accuracy and candour once so characteristic of journalism. The media must not exist free from accountability or criticism. Media freedom must not be jeopardized by a core beginning to rot away.

Joseph Imre

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June 15, 2011

Legacy of Trianon still haunts Central and Eastern Europe

Politics.hu

http://www.politics.hu/20110615/legacy-of-trianon-still-haunts-central-and-eastern-europe/

Hungarians around the globe marked an ominous and despairing memorial this June 4. Ninety-one years ago, in the turmoil and chaos of post-war Europe, the Treaty of Trianon (signed June 4, 1920) forever altered the regional ethnic structure of Central and Eastern Europe. A treaty designed for peace destabilized a continent already mired in violent historical legacies. The Treaty of Trianon truncated over two-thirds of the former Kingdom of Hungary into new nation-states placing 3.5 million ethnic Hungarians under foreign and hostile rule. Trianon created one of the largest ethnic displacements Europe has ever witnessed and ensured an enduring legacy of endemic deficiency to protect and preserve minorities.

The creation of Czechoslovakia; the annexation of Transylvania to Romania; the awarding of Burgenland to Austria; and the integration of Croatia, Bácska and the Banat into Yugoslavia from the remnants of the former Hungarian Kingdom, ensured a constant state of mistrust and conflict guided by growing greed and revenge in the anticipated decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Census data compiled in 1910 reveals a strikingly multi-ethnic kingdom balanced by the structures of privileged order and restrained nationalism. However, that polyglot empire, while extremely centralized, divulged considerable autonomy to it minorities. The rise of ethnic identities and nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – coupled with oppressive and old feudal social structures within the Habsburg lands – justified, within the principles of self-determination, a modest redrawing of borders along ethnic lines. Those principles however were abandoned as alliances, fabrications, secret treaties, hypocrisy and self-interest framed the peace negotiations. Trianon largely became a fait accompli.

World War I and the ensuing new European order would change the status quo dynamics and serve as the forbearer of instability and ethnic division in Central and Eastern Europe. The Paris Peace Conference – and its dictated peace settlements – is now widely accepted to be the root cause of World War II and the continued ethnic agitation of present day. The disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars; the splitting of the Czech and Slovak Republics; and thwarted attempts at autonomy and self-rule in Transylvania, Transcarpathia, and Vojvodina all have roots in the legacy of Trianon and the failure of peacemakers to uphold the principles of self-determination.

Memorials such as these have a tendency to reopen historical wounds. With ninety-one years now past since Trianon, Hungarian minorities have struggled to maintain their numerical consistency with just over 2 million in present-day Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. Almost a century of survival against state sponsored discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and forced assimilation has degraded a once proud unity and purpose for Hungarian minorities. However, discrimination against Hungarian minorities continues unabated and remains unchallenged by vague and often ambiguous treaties on minority rights and blatant violations by states which comprise sizable minority enclaves. Trianon may have given birth to new nations and new identities; but failed to bring the lasting peace envisioned by its creators. Then British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, noted in 1919:

No settlement which contravenes the principles of eternal justice will be a permanent one…We must not allow any sense of revenge, any spirit of greed, and grasping desire to over-ride the fundamental principle of righteousness

Like Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria and Austria, Hungary merits a certain level of responsibility for the war but not as much as was eventually bestowed on it. Hungarian elites and landed gentry were supportive at the outbreak of war and the possibility of extending a Hungarian sphere of influence in the Balkans, but only in so far as their duty to the Emperor and the Kingdom itself. However, proportionally, no other European state was dismembered with the ferocity and conviction as Hungary. No other nation suffered greater punishment at the hands of the victors and successor states. Few minorities, in a European context, would be left to states determined to eradicate – dare I say exterminate – their minorities as the Hungarians were.

Under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles Germany lost a mere 13 percent of its former territories and colonies. The Treaty of Neuilly severed Bulgaria’s access to the Aegean Sea but affected minimal territorial loses of approximately 8 percent. The Treaty of Sèvres, and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne, witnessed the slow disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and its sphere of influence but no ancestral lands were removed. The Treaty of Saint Germaine-en-Laye severed non-Germanic lands from the Habsburgs but awarded Burgenland, a part of Hungary, to Austria nonetheless. Hungary was to cede upwards of 72 percent of its ancestral lands and, as a result, abide by harsh and catastrophic economic constraints. Trianon, like much of the Paris negotiations, was, in the words of the eminent British economist John Maynard Keynes: a Carthaginian peace. It may indeed be a stretch to even append the term peace to the Paris conference at all.

The twenty-first century has failed to afford any relief to the legacy of Trianon. Admission to international organizations and conventions on human rights by all of the regions states has fallen short of protecting ethnic minorities or addressing past historical injustices. Although the issue of Hungarian minorities has remained non-violent in its manifestations, one need not look far to witness the enduring division caused by Trianon in the former Yugoslavia for example. The European Union’s vague and often ambiguous minority protection framework has left gaping holes in continental and international legislation governing minority protection and human rights. This has resulted in blatant violations of minority rights in states with considerable minority populations and has often jeopardized regional stability and cooperation.

Escalations in political and ethnic tensions between Hungary and its neighbouring states has been buoyed by the rise of nationalistic governments in Slovakia, instability in the Balkans, and the passing of new citizenship legislations in Hungary. With only 21 years since the states of Central and Eastern Europe threw off the chains of Soviet oppression, the process of state and identity building continues. Ethnic cohesion is seen as a threat to statehood and therefore serves as a smokescreen. That smokescreen has left not only enduring hatreds but a perplexing ethnic problem: millions of Hungarians forced to live in states with abhorrent human rights records on ancestral lands. The rationale for which may never be fully understood.

Since joining NATO and the EU divisive ethnic issues have subsided as regional states focus their attention on internal reform and meeting political and economic pressures from Brussels. However, the legacy of an inequitable peace still haunts the future; and a resurgence of nationalism – albeit a restrained variant – has marked a disturbing trend across the region. In the context of European history the legacy of Trianon, still fresh, shapes the political landscape. Although territorial revisions are distant as a solution ethnic models such as autonomy, devolution, or self-determination are viable. While the very credibility of continental and international organizations has been questioned, the “Hungarian question” only affords time to the successor states to further degrade and destroy Hungarian minority enclaves.

If, in the words of David Lloyd George, the Paris peace violated and contravened the very principles that Europe stands for then a deserved redressing of Trianon is valid. Peace was not achieved and ethnic cohesion among the ethnicities of the region has never and will never be in full harmony. Trianon may not be an isolated event but its legacy and effect have ensured that the potential for conflict will always be in place.

Propaganda and populism aside, we must recognize that the very norms for which so many lives have been lost, and so many impasses overcome, fail to protect those who live in minority status. If we continue to pay lip service to those values we risk undermining the ‘European project’ and, by effect, appeasing those nations such as Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Serbia who believe that their very future depends on suppressing their multi-ethnic character. While others will point to Hungary’s intention of keeping the issue of Trianon alive, it is the neighbouring states who live the guilt of a host of heinous crimes against basic human rights. If any lesson may be learned by states with Hungarian minorities it is that lands may be appropriated but the spirit of a people and their cultural identity can survive.

As the inheritors of this ominous legacy we must shoulder a heavy burden to ensure justice is done not only for Hungarian minorities but all minorities. There is a belief that the safety of the European Union or international legislation is enough to protect minority communities. History has proven otherwise. Trianon has and will continue to symbolize not only a gross violation of human rights but a case of our own collective failures. As a new generation re-learns the “Hungarian question” we can only hope that new solutions may be found within the confines of international diplomacy and law. The legacy of Trianon haunts the region and, until corrected in some form, the historical narrative of Central and Eastern Europe will remain unfinished.

Joseph Imre

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June 4, 2011

True errors of Trianon lie in misinformation

Re: The past isn’t past in Hungary

Andrew Cohen’s “The past isn’t past in Hungary” attempts to place the context of Trianon within a modern Hungary embittered, filled with hatred, and entrenched in a narrative long forgotten by the world. Mr. Cohen, as many of his colleagues, have seemingly forgotten some very basic and decisive facts about Trianon and its legacy. While the true tragedy of Trianon lies in its utter failure, the continued dissemination of misinformation and an exhausted invective against ‘conservative’ elements degrades a truthful discussion of “Hungary’s tragedy”.

Let us begin with a very basic fact: the Treaty of Trianon was an injustice. World War I, and the ensuing peace negotiations, teaches us some very important lessons about our humanity and our collective failures. An injustice forgotten is one repeated. An injustice degraded to mere chicanery among politicians smacks of hypocrisy.

No other nation was dismembered as viciously and vindictively as Hungary was. Over seventy-percent of ancestral Hungarian land and 3 million Magyars were handed over to successors states determined to destroy – dare I say exterminate – any trace and identity of its newly acquired minority groups. The very principles of self-determination, minority protection, and basic human rights were forfeited and abandoned by a conference scarcely interested in peace. Those same principles continue to be violated by the states who still comprise of Hungarian minority enclaves.

The legacy of Trianon can be seen in the villages and families torn apart. It can be seen in the continued discrimination of Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia most prominently. It can be seen in the closing of schools, universities, and cultural institutions that serve as the only elements of identity for a segregated people. The issue of Trianon is not kept alive by opportunistic politicians in Hungary; but by the neighbouring states who live the guilt of an unjust peace. Trianon may be forgotten, but the principles of human rights we so cherish and allowed to be violated is where the true blame lies.

It is a shame that on this ninety-first year since the Treaty of Trianon we could not be collectively celebrating a just and equitious footnote. It is equally a shame that while almost a century has past the future for Hungarian minorities remains as tenuous as before. We would, as a western society, never question the validity of remembering similar twentieth century tragedies like the the Armenian Genocide or the Balkan wars. The past wounds of Trianon remain open because the narrative remains unfinished. It is unfinished because justice has never been done.

Joseph Imre

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March 29, 2011

Federal disconnect brings election

Election fever has gripped (or shall we say burdened) Canadians once again – now the fourth in seven years. No wonder voter apathy has become so well entrenched. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff commenced the electoral rhetoric this past week by declaring the Conservatives had lost the confidence of the people. If the polls are correct, the Liberal leader has yet to garner any confidence from those same Canadians. While the election issues will undoubtedly centre on political accountability, the economy, and the ever present health care dilemma; the confidence surrounding the personalities of the federal leaders is the de facto issue at hand.

Mired in a legacy of corruption and weakened leadership, the Liberal party has, relatively speaking, put all their eggs in one basket in bringing down the government. The legitimacy of any federal party is measured by its electoral success. Electoral gains bring needed time, but victory is the only end game in politics. Another lost election for the Liberals would most certainly raise questions of Ignatieff’s leadership – if not all of the federal leaders. For the Bloc and NDP any election is an opportunistic one in which one or the other may play the role of king pin in a volatile minority government situation. The real test in this election is the electability of Mr. Ignatieff and the durability of Mr. Harper.

What remains most distasteful about elections in Canada of late are there inclination to be less about democratic process than the conceited personal scores that infect political discourse at the national level. Few Canadians want an election, but political opportunity nonetheless won the day. Canadians will be forced to go to the polls in May with the prospect of an identical government and a month long deluge of character attacks, soundbites, and good old fashion husting – all for the tidy sum of $300 million.

An unwarranted and unwanted election illustrates the growing and often underestimated disconnect between political parties and the people. Federal parties, and their leaders, are more interested in personal victories than the fight for a better Canada. Ottawa politics can be a rough game, but it is nonetheless a game of winners and losers. We must ask ourselves: which one are we in this game?

Joseph Imre

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February 4, 2011

Dreams deferred in the Middle East

Stirrings of democracy and liberty in the greater Middle East have tended to receive mere lip service in the wake of pressure. Modern manifestations of democracy in the region have been referred to as a ‘mirage’. The state apparatus of fear and oppression has long served to suppress a growing tide of desire for change among the peoples of the greater Middle East. The West, oft to speak of inherent rights to liberty, has largely excused and accommodated the status quo. If time is what the world sought in placating Arab dictatorships then the events of this past month have tested western foreign policy and regional intransigence more than ever before.

Prior to the breakout of public discord and disillusionment with the established order in Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and most severely in Egypt, an appreciable decline in peace efforts in the region threatened the stability of an already fragile truce and western credibility among Arab and neighbouring states. The principles that underpin western foreign policy in the Middle East were thrown into question as results went unfulfilled and good will waned. Traditionally backed regimes in the region found legitimacy in a careless world more concerned with cheap oil and empty promises than a struggling desire to bring individual rights to a long oppressed people. Western foot-dragging fuelled the growing expanse between the state and civil society. Arab regimes capitalized in a world more interested in products than process.

The longing for change in the Middle East is most certainly a mixed bag. While American presidents, both past and present, speak of a universal right to freedom and liberty, the lines are somewhat more blurred in the Arab world. Many in the Middle East are often satisfied to opt for a lesser evil. If the revolts spreading across the region are attempting to legitimately implant democratic governments and not simply a change of analogous regimes or fundamentalist elements, then we must stand with the people of the greater Middle East and offer more than words, more than hollow promises. If the Arab world dares to dream we must stand with them. The call to defend liberty has emboldened a people but left its greatest defender, the United States, all but silent. We must recognize that we too have a vested interest in a Middle East free from tyranny, open, democratic, and stable. We must however, in turn, recognize the potential for dangerous and threatening political and religious elements bent on hijacking that dream.

Recent events have demonstrated that the people of the greater Middle East are no longer afraid of their governments. Democracy may indeed be the rallying cry for change; but for it to truly take root in a region not accustomed to it we must not remain complacent. Support for the people of the Middle East must not be offered when it is convenient but when the aspirations and dreams of a people long suppressed by autocratic regimes yearn for change. Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and Egypt may be a stepping stone to larger unrest in the Middle East. They may however be a foundation stone for something much greater.

Joseph Imre

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December 1, 2010

The loss of Transylvania celebrated in Budapest?

The twentieth century has not been kind to Hungary. Among the centuries most catastrophic to the national psyche was the Treaty of Trianon signed June 4, 1920 in Paris. Trianon truncated over seventy-percent of the former Kingdom of Hungary placing almost 3 million Hungarians under hostile and oppressive foreign rule. No nation suffered greater territorial loses after WWI. The largest segment of truncated territory was Transylvania which formed a part of Hungary for a millennia before its disputable annexation into Romania in 1918 and affirmed by the Treaty of Trianon of 1920.

While Trianon is celebrated among its beneficiaries, its legacy remains omnipresent in regional politics and has strained bilateral relations between Hungary and its neighbours with varying degrees of severity. Evidence of abhorrent and endemic ethnic discrimination towards Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia most commonly, threaten the continuity and sustainability of Hungarian ancestral enclaves. A general resurgence of nationalistic elements in central and eastern Europe has made the topic of Trianon a delicate issue and once again highlighted unresolved historical legacies.

The wounds of Trianon still reveal its scars from time to time. To the surprise of many, the National Theatre of Hungary in Budapest recently accepted a proposal by the Romanian Cultural Institute to host a commemorative event celebrating Transylvania’s annexation from Hungary on December 1, a Romanian national holiday. The National Theatre’s director, Robert Alföldi, felt an event of this nature held in Budapest would contribute to more amicable relations between Romania and Hungary. His calculation was met by a backlash that may now cost him his job. The event was subsequently cancelled due to public protest.

The very thought of a celebratory event in Budapest glorifying a past historical injustice is rightfully repugnant to many Hungarians. Better relations with Hungary’s neighbours should naturally be a cornerstone of regional policy, yet a proposal to celebrate the loss of Transylvania would be tantamount to Japan requesting a celebration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii; or Russia looking to toast the old days of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. The idea would be perverse. The ruling Fidesz party quickly remarked that: “the loss of Transylvania constitutes a deep trauma to the present day for the majority of the Hungarian nation. While we acknowledge that this historical event tragic for Hungarians is a national holiday for Romania, we do not expect it to be held in a symbolic space of our national culture.”

Although any discussion of revanchist ambition in Transylvania is mute in contemporary Europe, the very essence of the Romanian Cultural Institute’s attempt to downplay 90 years of ethnic discrimination towards Hungarians by reopening the wounds of Trianon is deeply hypocritical and insensitive at best. The true legacy of Trianon may be witnessed in the struggle of Hungarian minorities to maintain their cultural, historical, and linguistic links to their ethnic kin while enduring continued institutional discrimination. A legacy not worthy of celebration. Hope now rests in a desire to properly redress the errors of Trianon and heal the wounds sown so long ago. Perhaps then we may be able to celebrate.

Joseph Imre

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October 27, 2012

Clean sweep at City Hall gives Ottawa new energy

Ottawa Citizen

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/letters/must+energized/3731471/story.html#ixzz13by8mtEb

Ottawa is a hard city to energize. The traditionally conservative and tempered government town beamed with unprecedented levels of civic involvement and interest in the latest municipal election.

Not since the amalgamation of Ottawa in 2000 has city council been so drastically changed. We only hope as citizens that a clean sweep at city hall will give Ottawa the needed energy to move forward.

Municipal politics and elections have traditionally suffered from pronounced voter apathy. Although Ottawa municipal politics is largely shaped by localized ward-based issues, the city now begs for a skipper at the helm who will bring urgent, transparent, and principled results to an electorate well acquainted with disappointment.

The new mayor will face a plethora of unresolved issues and concerns across Ottawa ranging from poor infrastructure, declining city services, to an inadequate public transportation system rife with poor vision. The old promises and old techniques of previous years will not be enough to answer or solve those problems. Ottawa has called for change and a new council will need to capitalize on the energy and desire for that change. Status quo politics will only further entrench Ottawa’s troubles.

Defeated mayor Larry O’Brien referred in his concession speech to Ottawa being at the cusp of becoming a 21st century city. For a new council to achieve any marked success, it must act as a cohesive and united unit with the city’s best interest as its leading force. The impotence of previous councils rested on its divisive and regressive nature mired in the chronic battling of fiscal conservatives and social democrats fiercely protective and immovable.

Ottawa requires leadership that transcends ideological allegiances and views the future of this city as an opportunity for Ottawans to unite in common purpose.

It is time we shake outdated perceptions and challenge the stagnation of years past. Our very future now depends on second chances.

Joseph Imre

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August 24, 2010

OC Transpo service in decline since the strike of 2008-09

If time affords us any relief it is the ability to review the past. Since the infamous winter strike of 2008-09, OC Transpo has made diminutive and lackluster attempts at correcting past mistakes and preparing Ottawa’s public transit network for future concerns. The chaos of this month’s construction and communication delays on Slater Street and the downtown transit corridor illustrate that OC Transpo and City Hall have not been listening at all.

Transit users will naturally remember our only form of public transit leaving its users out in the cold during a particularly bitter December and January winter. In the post-strike spring month’s buses did not return to full service until April. Consolation for transit users came in the shape of one day free service, extension of monthly passes, and a few token days of reduced fares. By July 2010 bus fares were raised to $3.25 for regular routes while other routes were removed all together. Moreover, OC Transpo’s obstinate approach to monthly university student pass rates smacked with further contempt towards transit users. Good feelings soon faded.

Controversy over a stop announcement system last year gave way to bus drivers failing to announce stops – even after several fines from the Canadian Transportation Agency. That failure continues to leave transit user with substandard service and a transit system unable to cope with possible setbacks and delays from road construction, protests, weather, and mechanical issues. Again, transit users take the back seat.

Having travelled and lived around the world and within Canada I feel secure in noting Ottawa’s inefficient, overpriced, and unreliable public transit network. Fall elections offer little hope of transforming our ailing transit network and lofty and ambitious multi-billion dollar projects are mired in disarray. Ottawa has fallen behind and claims by OC Transpo leadership that user numbers are at all time highs only reflect the absolute necessity of relying on a limited and decaying transit service by users.

It is hard to imagine that multi-billion dollar projects, untested mechanical gadgetry, or bulk deals on old buses will somehow ease the many internal problems OC Transpo faces. Stretching an already strained network will only leave Ottawans with more costs, delays, and frustration. Images of transit users crawling out of immobilized buses on Slater are far from isolated events. OC Transpo used to proclaim that Ottawa had the best bus network in the world. The past and present now reveal that OC Transpo missed that stop long ago.

Joseph Imre

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August 18, 2012

What Duceppe has done for Canada

Ottawa Citizen
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/letters/What+Duceppe+done+Canada/3412069/story.html#ixzz0wxmRN8V4

Last week marked a milestone for Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe: 20 years as Quebec’s official separatist voice in Ottawa.

Duceppe has steered his party to five election victories in Quebec and played the role of power broker; potential governing coalition partner; and a denier of majority governments to the Conservatives and Liberals alike. Regardless of our sentiments towards Duceppe, his leadership of Canada’s only federal separatist party has shaped the political landscape and served as a litmus test to the effectiveness of Canada’s federalist model.

However repugnant to some the notion of having a separatist party sit in Parliament, we must remain cognizant of the underlining indicators such an arrangement affords our young democracy. Although separatist support has stagnated since the failed referendum of 1995, Quebec voters remain convinced that the Bloc Québécois should be their political voice in Ottawa. This reflects an enduring and uncertain relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada. However, to allow a separatist party into our most hallowed democratic forum speaks volumes to the federalist model.

An unforeseen result of the Bloc’s presence in Ottawa has been a gradual willingness to engage with issues at the centre of the political spectrum. This has forced the Bloc to broaden its traditional platform to issues pertinent to Canada’s federalist social-democratic values. The Bloc’s contribution to parliamentary deliberation on a wide-array of issues has limited its ability to advocate for a separate Quebec and established a checks-and-balance system where secessionist debate is largely relegated to legislation and discussion within the confines of Parliament.

Duceppe has played a major role in creating a party that is a permanent fixture on the Canadian political landscape. The history and legitimacy of the Bloc Québécois is now inseparable from the federalist model it so decries. Federalism has given Quebecers their voice in Ottawa, and ensured, for now, that Quebec remains a part of Canada.

In that context, we must now ask ourselves whether Duceppe and the Bloc’s celebratory anniversary is truly one for the separatists or the federalists.

Joseph Imre

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June 4, 2010

Tension reopens historical wounds between Hungary and Slovakia

Politics.hu
http://www.politics.hu/20100604/tension-reopens-historical-wounds-between-hungary-and-slovakia

Serious and potentially damaging escalations in Hungarian-Slovak relations in recent weeks reveal a striking reality about historical legacies in Central Europe. Ninety years ago this June, the Treaty of Trianon of 1920 dismembered the Hungarian Kingdom truncating more than seventy percent of its former territory and leaving more than 3.5 million Hungarians stateless in their ancestral lands. The ensuing decades following Trianon ushered in a continuation of state sponsored ethnic discrimination and institutional oppression towards Hungarian minorities with the intention of dwindling Hungarian enclaves and removing evidence of over 1000 years of Hungarian ancestry in the Carpathian Basin. Evidence of these transgressions is well documented and is sadly common place even in the twenty-first century.

Slovakia serves as a regional litmus test for the condition of Hungarian minorities. Recent Hungarian parliamentary legislation extending citizenship access to ethnic kin in neighbouring states has been met by unbridled anger and contempt in Slovakia. This acrimony stems from historical suspicions of Hungarian territorial and revisionist ambitions but is more accurately based in the fragile state of the Slovak Republic. An estimated 500-600,000 Hungarians still reside in Slovakia – largely along enclaves close to the Hungarian border. These minorities are viewed by Slovakia as a threat to their young statehood and serve as a reminder of historical animosity and dominance of the former Kingdom of Hungary. An independent republic only since 1993 after a ‘velvet divorce’ from the former Czechoslovakia, Slovakia’s territorial makeup is a patchwork of ethnic minorities of which Hungarians comprise the largest segment. Those demographic considerations are seen as elements that weaken and imperil that integrity.

Slovakian politics also provides the kindling for anti-Hungarian rhetoric and legislation. Any attempts by Hungary to improve the condition of is ethnic kin is met by hysteria and scaremongering that further alienates and isolates Hungarian minorities. Several political parties in the Slovak parliament have garnered electoral success on the heels of anti-Hungarian statements that threaten a resurgence of nationalism in the region. Slovakia’s firebrand prime minister Robert Fico, and his coalition partner Jan Slota, have responded to Hungary’s new citizenship legislation with threats of revoking Slovak citizenship of those who apply for Hungarian passports. This act draws on painful parallels to the Benes Decrees of 1945. Aside from the blatant violation of basic EU principles – in addition to Slovakia’s own constitutional safeguards that permit dual citizenship – Slovakia has revealed itself as a nation willing to disregard the democratic and tolerant principles it declares to adhere to.

Slovakia’s recent aggression remains one of several inflammatory gestures towards Hungary. The alarming trend of bold and unsolicited violations of European and international norms has, surprisingly, not attracted much attention from Brussels. In 2009, Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom was refused entry into Slovakia, as a European Union citizen, on the grounds of celebrating a Hungarian holiday with a minority community in Komárno (Komárom) in Slovakia. Furthermore, efforts by the Slovak parliament in late 2009 to enact a language law that punishes the use of any language other than Slovak in business and civil society in minority areas further aggravated ethnic and bilateral relations. Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, stated during the diplomatic spat that: “…we cannot know whether someone will try to use the visit of the president in Komárno in some sensitive questions.” It is the refusal by Slovakia to address those sensitive questions that may stall reconciliation indefinitely.

The issue of dual citizenship is seen by many Diaspora communities, and especially Hungarian minorities, as an opportunity to better their lives under discriminatory and often repressive governments. The opportunity to rekindle a needed link to their cultural and ancestral homeland is seen as crucial to the survival and sustainability of these communities. Great stake is seen in the equality and security offered by the European Union but these remain insufficient to tackle dwindling populations, poor access to native language instruction, and institutional discrimination that finds support among the national governments of neighbouring states. Hungarians have been present in the Carpathian Basin for over a millennia and the future of that presence is contingent on formal and legal links to Hungary itself. Legal and rightful protection of Hungarian minorities is the solemn duty of the Hungarian government and Slovakia’s opposition to those efforts smack with hypocrisy and quilt.

The history of Hungarians in Slovakia is one of survival in the face of almost a century of ethnic division and hatred. Although several news sources have dubbed the recent escalation as simple electoral rhetoric; what we are witnessing is in fact a slow and gradual redressing of historical wrongdoing in Central Europe. Regional divisions were sown in World War I but felt most potently among those who lost everything. The years of Hungarians being declared stateless in their ancestral land is the raison d’etre for Hungary’s recent move to extend citizenship to their ethnic kin. It was, as we remember, ninety years ago that that birthright was stripped away. The ghosts of history are re-emerging and the truth behind that history may now find needed footing to spurn a redress and re-questioning of years of neglect and ignorance. It is never too late to right a wrong; and it is never too late for Slovakia and Hungary to approach this issue with the civility and grace demanded by the nations of Europe.

Joseph Imre

[Editor’s Note: The following is an op-ed piece by Joseph Imre, a historian, civil servant, and active member of the Hungarian community based in Ottawa, Canada, who has written extensively on central and eastern European history and presently works at the National Research Council of Canada. Politics.hu welcomes submissions for op-ed pieces pertaining to Hungary.]

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May 21, 2012

Tensions rise amid call for dual citizenship

Hungarian relations with its neighbouring states has always hinged upon the condition of the 2.5 million ethnic Hungarians living in minority status in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. A vestige of the former Kingdom of Hungary, truncated and dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, tense ethnic divisions have shaped bilateral relations and fomented historical mistrust and suspicion. The dismemberment of historical Hungary ripped millions of Hungarians of a birthright – their Hungarian citizenship. Although recent and escalating tension threatens to reopen those historical wounds, the newly elected Hungarian government is determined to right an historical wrongdoing.

Recent parliamentary elections in Hungary swept the right-of-centre Fidesz Hungarian Civic Party to a two-thirds majority. A political windfall of that nature has reignited talk of granting Hungarian citizenship to all Hungarians abroad. For the Hungarian government, extending dual citizenship is one small step to redressing the perceived wrongs of the Treaty of Trianon ninety-years ago. It is also a strategic move that could potentially allow millions of Hungarians to not only vote in future parliamentary elections but receive state benefits.

For Hungary’s neighbours meanwhile, the issue of dual citizenship remains a major bone of contention. Cases of ethnic discrimination towards Hungarian minorities are well documented and have, at times, been part of state sponsored attempts to diminish ethnic rights. Bilateral treaties in the 1990’s closed the door on any territorial revisions but did little to ensure the fundamental rights of Hungarian minorities. Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia – states with the largest Hungarian enclaves – have been quick to condemn any attempts at symbolically reuniting Hungarians with their ancestral homeland. Slovakia’s firebrand Prime Minister, Robert Fico, has called the granting of dual Hungarian citizenship a “security risk” to the Slovak nation. Fico’s coalition partner, Jan Slota, who has found electoral success on the heels of anti-Hungarian rhetoric and a racially motivated political platform, also declared that “it’s fine that we’ve recalled our ambassador from Budapest to Bratislava, but . . . we should also terminate the agreement on good neighbourly relations.” Forthcoming elections in Slovakia may explain some of the rhetoric, but illustrate a growing state of intolerance and disunity.

Hungarian governments, both past and present, have been bound to address the issue of Hungarian minorities out of necessity. The issue has become a part of the national fabric and with renewed focus is feeding a call for action and redress. There is however great division among Hungarian ethnic communities as well. Dual citizenship is seen by many Diaspora communities as an opportunity to better their lives under discriminatory and often repressive governments. The opportunity to rekindle a needed link to their cultural and ancestral homeland is seen as crucial to the survival and sustainability of these communities. Great stake is seen in the equality and security offered by the European Union but these remain insufficient to tackle dwindling populations, poor access to native language instruction, and institutional discrimination. Hungarians have been present in the Carpathian Basin for over a millennia and the future of that presence is contingent on formal and legal links to Hungary itself.

A failed referendum in Hungary in 2004 which similarly called for granting dual citizenship revealed an interesting dichotomy between Hungary and its ethnic kin. Many in Hungary were concerned that the demands on the Hungarian welfare state from potentially millions of new claimants would be too much to sustain. The frailty of on an already taxed health and pension system was enough to disqualify the referendum as less than the required 25 percent turned out to vote. Some Hungarians also believe that European Union membership for Slovakia (2004) and Romania (2007) and the prospect of Croatia and Serbia in the near future would suffice to ensure individual rights under law. The disconnect between Hungarians and their ethnic kin may however be the result of time and relevance. The disintegration of Hungary ninety years ago is distant for many Hungarians and the relevance of redress of that event is linked to memories of war and destruction. In historical terms, ninety-years is a mere drop in the proverbial bucket; but for the collective memory of the nation it is long enough for apathy to settle and congeal.

The momentum, energy, and mandate behind Hungary’s new government will all but ensure the passing of any citizenship legislation. Whether it takes the shape of unilateral action or negotiation with neighbouring states depends heavily on the political will in Hungary and pressure from European partners. The nation state is very much alive and the desire of the European project to diminish the role of borders and historical claims will do nothing to dampen growing disillusionment. For Hungarian minorities, citizenship is a matter of rights not vengeance or revisionist agendas. The days of Hungarians being declared stateless persons in their ancestral lands serves as a defining part of the character of these communities and a striking reminder of the resilience of ethnic bonds through time. To survive means fighting the odds; and to overcome means unity in purpose and harmony in cause. For the first time, Hungary may have found the unity it needs to secure those bonds for another millennia.

Joseph Imre

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May 18, 2010

Seat allocation in the House could change the face of politics

The Conservative Government’s plan to increase representation of Western provinces in the House of Commons has irked Quebec. With 23 percent of the population, and 75 seats in the House, Quebec is facing a diminished weight in Canadian politics. Population increases in western Canada have justifiably opened the debate on commons representation and the regions growing influence. Under the Conservative plan, Ontario would be allocated 18 new seats, British Columbia 7 new seats, and Alberta an additional 5. Quebec would remain at 75. That would bring the House of Commons from the current 308 seats to 338.

Although Canada’s complicated constitutional assurances of provincial and territorial representation (such as Prince Edward Island’s guarantee of 4 seats) have kept our federation together; the changing face of demographics in Canada and the politicized nature of Quebec’s place in that Canada could rock the shape of political dynamics in this country. An attempt over a year ago by the Bloc Québécois to cap the provinces seats at 75 in the face of projected population decline revealed an unsettled and nervous Quebec. The long and often tortured relationship between English and French speaking Canada has molded and shaped the face of Canadian politics. Any attempt to alter that balance is seen by many to deny the historical nature of that relationship. Conversely, changes to commons representation is also seen to increase and strengthen our democratic institutions by proportionally allocating seats based on demographic shifts. At present, western Canada and Ontario are leading that shift.

Few could deny the electoral benefit of increased western representation to the traditionally western-supported Conservatives. Failed inroads into Quebec for the Conservatives during the past elections have left no love lost between the party and the province. Quebec has – whether intentionally or not – maintained a tenuous relationship with the rest of Canada. Few political parties have been able to rest the province from the Bloc but as seat allocations in the House seem assured to change, political parties in Canada may one day no longer need Quebec to form a majority in parliament. This would signal a major shift in dynamics.

The future of the Canadian federation and its democratic traditions must be viewed as a whole and not necessarily through its constituent entities. We must all be equal partners. The preservation of those democratic practices must apply to all and must equally be applied to everyone. Although Quebec has challenged its relationship with Canada before; if it wants to be a part of the federalist project, it must recognize and acknowledge that its traditional political weight will be challenged and that the historical status quo cannot stand still as democracy moves forward.

Joseph Imre

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March 29, 2010

Religious tolerance defined in Canada

As recent debates over religious tolerance rage in Europe, Quebec has taken first steps at enshrining the use of religious symbols in public – and their respective boundaries – in law. Recently tabled legislation would forbid government services to any woman veiled in a niqab unless she agrees to remove it for the purpose of identification and equality. While critics decry the tightening of religious freedoms, many see Quebec’s precedent setting motion a model for the rest of Canada. As demographics shift in our urban centres debates over the rights and freedoms of minorities will very much shape discourse in the years to come. The very values and ethics we believe define this nation will also face challenges and will demand engagement.

While critics and proponents of this legislation will, at times, descend into distortive and misleading argument, the national debate on religious tolerance should be focused on the secular nature of Canada and its laws. The separation of church and state serves as the basis of our civil laws and therefore eliminates discrimination on the basis of or by religion. A secular state also means a system of fundamental equality above religious accommodation. The freedom to practice one’s religion is never hindered in the private sphere; but once those beliefs are placed in the public realm they become subject to the laws, requirements, and boundaries of civil and democratic society. These boundaries exist for the purpose of the common good.

The niqab is viewed as contrary to our value system not because of the tenants of Islam or some notion of xenophobia. It is a belief in the individual freedom and equality of all that defines this nation, and the clear separation of church and state is what allows equality to benefit its recipients. Any forceful restrictions or accommodations along religious, gender based, or racial grounds would render those freedoms iniquitous and ineffective. Religious tolerance must also mean integration; and accommodation, of any sort, should be respectful of not only culture but the laws that enshrine our values and beliefs as a people and a nation.

Joseph Imre

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January 25, 2010

Memories of the Skateway

Ottawa Citizen Special Edition
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Memories+Skateway/2482429/story.html

OTTAWA — What is it about skating on the Rideau Canal that seems to make us all children again? Images of couples holding hands, sipping hot chocolate, bundled up as they glide down the canal are, for some, the purest memories of Ottawa’s infamous winters. Although long winters test local patience, one tradition can put on a smile on the most apprehensive face: skating on the Rideau Canal. Ottawa is blessed with many admirable qualities and, while some will not agree, a pretension for protecting its natural and historical heritage with zest and zeal. From family outings, to romantic embraces, to anxious passers by, the canal becomes very much a part of your life and that of the city itself. It is a constant emblem of the city’s past, present, and future.

Learning to appreciate your surroundings is a tough sell for those of us who live and work in Ottawa. It is not that we don’t care; but as creatures of habit we settle into routines and responsibilities that sometimes remove us from fully enjoying our surroundings. As one of those individuals, it took a good old fashion love story to ground me and to appreciate a local gem like the canal.

Frantically searching for dating ideas the canal seemed like a great way to break the ice so to speak. Having met a most wonderful woman, I was willing to hit the ice after a 10 year hiatus without much thought. Love can do some strange things to you they say. So, after renting some skates from a jolly old man, we set out from the National Arts Centre on a round tour to Dows Lake and back. The city looks very different from the canal. The packed buses of rush hour, bumper to bumper traffic on the highway, all give way to a quiet serenity and peace as one skates down the canal. It is almost as if you can’t hear the city around you at all: only the skates as they chafe against the rugged ice.

My date was going so smoothly – with only an occasional slip and fall – that we began to reminisce about our childhood memories of the canal. I recall as a very young tot my grandfather pulling me in a small sleigh down the canal, slipping me a piece of chocolate now and then, against the wishes of my father. I first learned to skate on the canal and never forgot how almost everyone I know had fond memories of a similar childhood joy. We looked back on the canal as an important part of our youth and how visiting so many years later made us feel young again.

The Rideau Canal, unlike us, never seems to age or whither. It is very much the beating heart and artery of this city. Ottawa is blessed with rivers, streams, parks, and nature. However, it is a man-made channel that ushered Ottawa into the modern age and keeps it there still. At times, the canal suffers from obscurity and apathy. At others, it reminds the city of its heritage and culture. It serves as a microcosm of Canadian society; people from all over the world, of all ages, can be seen strapping on their skates and taking a stride down a part of Ottawa’s living history. Those scenes alone will keep us all forever young. Happy 40 years to the Rideau Canal Skateway!

Joseph Imre

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January 8, 2010

Travel woes a result of poor focus and priorities

The realities of air travel have become shockingly clear these past weeks. Prompted by Nigerian born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempted terrorist act on a Detroit bound flight on Christmas Day, we are all subject to a further litany of new procedures and renewed paranoia. From hidden fees, reduced customer service, delays, to spontaneous alterations under the guise of security, the wary traveler is in for turbulence long before they board their flight.

A recent security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport, one of the America’s busiest, stranded thousands of passengers for over six hours while security officials cleared the situation. Some of the most advanced security in the world could not stop an absent-minded guard from allowing a major lapse in security that could have cost lives. Moreover, all the intelligence gathering and perceived security did not stop Abdulmutallab on his quest. A set of brave and determined passengers performed that deed. We are only as safe as our weakest link.

The airline industry, TSA, and CATSA are focused on tightening and minimizing risk associated with all possible passenger-based scenarios. These priorities, although warranted, do not address the shortcomings of poorly trained airport security personnel, airline staff, and contracted work in baggage handling, catering, and associated services. Industry must also look within as well as without. Full body scans, pat-downs at boarding, and more stringent observation cannot justify an individual waltzing through security checks without once being stopped. Travelers demand safety and security; and pay a hefty and ever increasing amount to ensure that right. Disdain towards the traveler reverberates with hypocrisy given recent security breaches. If we all must pay more for the privilege of being safe, then a major revamp of the airline industry and its authoritative organizations must follow in short order. Relying on luck is simply not good enough. We, as taxpayers and citizens, deserve to know that at our most vulnerable we are being safeguarded by competent professionals, a coordinated industry, and a government focused on providing security and not burdening the public with ‘catch-up’ technology and short-sighted vision.

The relative comfort and ease of air travel will never again be the same as it once was. September 11, 2001 ensured that. However, the public must demand that the allocation of more resources, and the collection of more public monies, be followed by policies and priorities that tackle and solve the root of our security concerns. If one careless security personnel can potentially cost thousands of lives, then little solace or sympathy can be afforded for internal industry-wide shortcomings. In providing a service, industry must reset its priorities. Our lives are at stake.

Joseph Imre

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December 15, 2009

Ottawa residents not amused with transit changes

News of OC Transpo’s proposed changes to routes, fares, and services in the New Year serve to further alienate a public transportation system already held in low esteem. A fare hike of almost 7.5 percent, in addition to cuts and changes to almost 50 routes across the city, has Ottawa residents fuming at city hall and its continued failure to address true regional transportation needs and desires. The City of Ottawa must prioritize its responsibilities to the tax paying public and put a stop to wasteful pet projects and focus on what this city needs now and well into the future.

OC Transpo’s General Manager, Alain Mercier, has indicated that alterations to the city’s bus routes, frequency, and service levels will save the city in excess of $3 million in 2010. Curiously, residents now find themselves burdened with a proposed tax hike of 3.9 percent – apparently to fund the city’s poor use of funds in 2008-2009. The citizens of Ottawa were assured that amalgamation, the streamlining of services, and wiser and more efficient use of public funds would ensure the preservation of what was once called the best bus service in North America. As Ottawa expands into its burgeoning suburbs, greater demands will be placed on a region reliant on one sole form of public transit. This is unacceptable in a nation’s capital; and tax payers will once again shoulder the cost of mismanagement and cuts to essential services.

Little confidence has been instilled in public transit users who, since 2008, have been subjected to a 53 day bus strike in the depths of winter; bus operators refusing to call out stops; wasteful technological gadgets for city buses; and, most recently, OC Transpo management telling its operators to arrive at assigned stops late rather than early. How about arriving on time! The continued corporate mind set at OC Transpo of contempt towards the transit user and communication breakdowns with city officials leave only one segment of the population to suffer. Demanding better is a must, but in a city so overly reliant on its ageing transportation system Ottawa will remain hostage to that system as long as we fuel the status quo.

Joseph Imre

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November 5, 2009

Relevancy of monarchy questions during royal visit

The Globe and Mail

Oliver Moore’s recent article: “A Royal Welcome Born of History and Sacrifice” on November 2, 2009 touched a few nerves if the posted comments are any indication. The article also raises some pertinent and timely questions. Discussion of the Royal family and its role in Canada has, at times, met with feverish displays of monarchist pride and, conversely, fervent denial or pure apathy of its constitutional relevancy and historical place. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall’s visit this month, and the Queen next year, provides us all an opportunity to soberly look at our constitutional monarchy in the 21st century.

Although talk of a republic has yet to hold a solid audience in Canada as it does in Australia, New Zealand, and India; it is important to note that changing values and beliefs in democracy, government, and history among Canadians has put the monarchy under a more stringent microscope. As good citizens, we must challenge our institutions and question the course of nation building we envision. However, we must recognize the role that our history and tradition must also play. Abandoning one’s roots is as foolish as not preparing for one’s future.

A mere 142 years old Canada cannot afford to relinquish an ancestral linkage with the British people spanning more than 500 years. The monarchy is a measure of Canadian identity itself; and represents one of the three founding peoples of Canada. Nations and peoples are built on identity and a strong connection to the roots that bind them together in common cause. A young nation we must forge our own identity with respect to the history that brought us to where we are. The monarchy is not a vestige but a link. A royal visit must be seen to strengthen the Canada we have become and serve as a reminder of the rich heritage we share. As a representation of that bond we must take great care to preserve and appreciate the role of monarchy as well as respectfully challenge and question its changing role.

The relevancy of the monarchy is now more important than ever before. Canada has done well to distinguish itself from its colonial origins and a powerful southern neighbour, but we may not be so adept at quelling growing republicanism. We must fear the slow and silent call for the inhibition of our traditions and heritage in the name of progress. If we decide to put a stop to these traditions, there will be precious little left to cherish and celebrate.

Joseph Imre

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October 11, 2009

Nobel Prize lost meaning with political awards

Ottawa Citizen

President Barack Obama was awakened during the early morning hours Friday to the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Undoubtedly humbled by his nomination and subsequent award, Obama joins the ranks of Yasser Arafat, Henry Kissinger, Al Gore and Kofi Annan to name but a few.

The very honour that comes with such an award is based on the father of the prize: Alfred Nobel. In an excerpt from Nobel’s will and testament, he notes that one award should go “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Whether we say they are great statesmen or not, we have all been told that we are judged not by what we start but by what we finish. Obama, merely 10 months into his presidency, remains relatively untested and has, thus far, produced very little in tangible results.

The very design of the Nobel Prize was to recognize great achievement. Hope and good intentions are not achievements. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, tasked with selecting the recipient, has noted Obama’s “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples.” Unfortunately, the president has done neither particularly well.

International diplomacy has been seriously tested by Iran and North Korea’s growing disdain for co-operation and compromise; while globalization, poverty, and political instability around the globe has placed greater divisions between peoples, cultures, and nations. The clash of civilizations has become ever more apparent and diplomacy has been plagued by endemic underachievement.

The Obama administration has been given a most difficult task to repair its finances and economy, turn the tables in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seek solutions to world problems. We must not belittle that mission, but we must recognize that an award for greatness and achievement must be based on exactly that. Otherwise, we threaten a most noble award with relegation to meaningless value and worth. Obama may indeed deserve such an award several decades from now; but his awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize now smells of political favour.

Joseph Imre

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October 2, 2009

OC Transpo users don’t get a fair deal

Ottawa Citizen

A recent Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) report compared the cost of public transit in select cities around the globe. Although Ottawa did not make the list, our city would have nearly topped the chart in single-ticket transit journeys. Stockholm clocked in at $4.88 (the most expensive) followed closely by Sydney and London near the $4 mark. With single-ticket rides in Ottawa at $3 for regular routes and $4 for express routes, Ottawa’s public transit is more expensive than Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, New York or Hong Kong. Needless to say, these cities have vastly more efficient and effective mass transit networks. So, are we getting a fair deal with public transit?

Few regular transit users need to be reminded of the rising cost of public transit and the apparent reduction in frequency and quality of service. Most would be content with marginal cost increases if service reflected that increase. OC Transpo has done little to instil confidence in its loyal customers of late by failing to call out stops on routes. A $5,000 fine against OC Transpo — paid for by your fares — did little to remedy the situation. This month, city council opted for a $17-million SmartBus technology package to call out stops. Local companies, including Bell, offered the same smart technology for $6.7 million. I am inclined to suggest that we simply hire extra staff to call out the stops.

Ottawa’s ambitious $4-billion transit plan, now already $100 million over budget even before a single shovel has broken ground, is leaving Ottawans with a weary feeling of what may be in store. Fare increases? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Cancellation of “non-profitable” routes? Likely.

Value for public transit must be comparable to service levels. Cost increases must be justified only by a transit system that is feasible and proportional to Ottawa’s needs. I reckon most transit goers would forgo new buses and new gadgetry, or even accept a reduced LRT line for increased frequency and reduced fares. OC Transpo and the city must focus their efforts on bringing more people to transit and away from cars. Fancy or wasteful plans don’t do the trick.

It is tempting to call upon the old cliché that things were better back in the day. Buses were more frequent, service was more courteous, and Ottawa even had streetcars that zipped weekenders out to Britannia Bay. Those days are long gone but we all must still ask ourselves if we are getting a fair deal for our money. Painfully, the answer is no. Future transit plans are designed around catching up to years of neglect and under-funding. Urban sprawl, lack of densification, and poor vision has left Ottawa with the need for urgent remedies and no money to fund it. For all the merits of our public transit system, we, as citizens, should demand better.

Joseph Imre

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