Éva and Géza Kisvarsányi discuss the history and activities of the Kossuth Club in Sarasota in their home during our evening interview with some well-deserved pride. The Club is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt educational and cultural organization registered in the State of Florida founded in 1984 to serve the cultural needs and interests of Americans of Hungarian descent in southwest Florida.
Éva enthusiastically talks about the club’s memorable moments and milestones of the organization, while Géza points out some of the practical features regarding Hungarians living in southwest Florida. The club’s mission is to promote understanding of Hungarian history and culture through lectures, informative programs and concerts.
They reiterate that the club is not a political entity, rather it fosters interest and appreciation in Florida for the history, education, and culture of Hungary, including its literature, music, arts, and scientific achievements; to encourage cultural and educational interaction between the people of Florida and Hungary; to protect the human and minority rights and cultural heritage of Hungarians throughout the world; and to support the development of well-established democratic institutions in Hungary.
The Kossuth Club’s activities include monthly meetings from September through May. Past programs featured music, literature, art exhibits, and a fashion show. Topics of lectures by guest speakers included history, medicine, music history, archaeology, mineral exploration, and travel. Special Programs entail benefit concerts for the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Millennial Days, and Hungarian Christmas Bazaar.
An Executive Board elected by the membership governs The Club, plans the programs, and designates the recipients of donations. Members of the Board serve as volunteers without compensation.
The Education Fund provides Kossuth Club scholarships to college-bound seniors of Hungarian descent in Sarasota and Manatee Counties and to Hungarian minority students in Central Europe. Members receive the monthly newsletter “Hírmondó” (Messenger) diligently put together by Éva with news and information about upcoming events. Donations to the Education Fund are tax deductible.
How many Hungarians live in this area? Éva and Géza estimate that there may be some 50-to-60 thousand scattered over an elongated stretch of coastal areas from Tampa to Naples. But Sarasota is the cultural capital! There is an Opera House here, as well as museums, art galleries, performing arts centers, music halls, libraries and universities. Hungarians love the European style cafes, restaurants, festivals and community events. Ottilia Varga organized a successful children folk dance ensemble – Napraforgók – a few years back and has been devoting her life to promoting Hungarian folk dancing in the area. Husband László runs a well-known restaurant in downtown Sarasota frequented by local Hungarians and Sarasota residents alike. Great food is always a perfect motive for the local Hungarians to congregate on a sizzling hot weekend in April or May in the air-conditioned Petőfi Club in Venice.
Most Hungarians who have moved here (including Hungarians who live in Bradenton outside of Sarasota and in Venice just south of here) have solid patriotic feelings and tend to be supportive of Hungary’s current political course. There are exceptions, of course. Unfortunately, some of the antagonists have managed to carve out some political clout as they skillfully maneuver themselves close to the inner circuit. Graciously, the Hungarian foreign ministry or the Hungarian Embassy in Washington do not sanction their negative communications gigs as these naysayers frequent Hungarian events and spread their ill-conceived ideas.
Famous Hungarian writer Albert Wass lived his last years in exile in central Florida in a town called Astor. All nation-loving Hungarians are proud of his legacy and his magical writings about Transylvania and the Hungarian spirit. Béla Bartók’s son Péter Bartók also lived here and ran a recording company.
It would be so comforting if all Hungarians could cooperate and smile at one another like Americans and many Hungarians in southwest Florida do. Maybe it’s the sunshine, maybe it is the balmy seas of the west coast of Florida with the beautiful sunsets. Who knows? Éva, Géza, Emőke, Kata, Gyuszi, Dazsi, Kati, Ottilia, Ivan, László, Andi, Lily and many others offer gentleness and warmth emanating from their heart as they embrace newcomers. Monika Seles lives not too far from here. She and other well-known Hungarians, along with lesser-known everyday Hungarians love their serene and balanced life here. They preserve and disseminate the culture they have brought with themselves. They also host visitors with a smile from Naples to Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale to Miami.
The Hungarian patriots in Sarasota are open-minded and tolerant people. They are not the type who delete an acquaintance from their Facebook, Viber or Skype accounts just because that person may have different views from theirs. When they run into adversaries, the fair Hungarians simply take notice and move on. Those who blacklist, delete and/or ex-communicate their compatriots are typically autocrats with a lack of democratic spirit. They cry “fascism” and “kleptocracy” every time their favorite socialist or liberal party candidates are not elected to office. Remember the ole’ saying in school when we were taunted by our classmates? “All of that is you, but what am I? (az mind Te vagy, de én mi vagyok?) – we used to say. These scoffers need to be educated on how real democrats behave. The people of Hungary have spoken and we need to trust the voters’ instincts.
However, as long as we have people like Éva and Géza Kisvarsányi and Szilágyi Noémi who runs the Petőfi club in Venice – we have nothing to worry about. Go Hungary! Hajrá Magyarország! Take notice: the Hungarians of Sarasota, Venice and the entire southwest stand behind our compatriots in the Carpathian basin who possess a vision (látó emberek) and try to advance the Hungarian cause. Conversely, the gatherers (gyűjtő emberek) and the spoilers (rontó emberek) have no legitimacy here under the Sun or elsewhere in the western hemisphere.