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Exploring Liberty from Budapest to Washington, D.C., with Anna Smith Lacey


What role does cultural exchange play in creating balanced perspectives? This week, host Roger Ream is joined by Anna Smith Lacey ’07, ’08, PPF ’12, executive director at the Hungary Foundation and three-time alumna of TFAS summer programs in Prague and Washington, D.C., to explore her remarkable leadership journey from Budapest to Washington, D.C. Anna reflects on her upbringing in post-communist Hungary and its influence on her understanding of liberty, highlighting the transformative impact of TFAS programs in shaping her views on socialism and freedom. Through nuanced discussions, Anna provides insight into the intricacies of cultural exchange, offering a distinct perspective on the pursuit of liberty by both Americans and Hungarians across generations.

Anna Smith Lacey serves as executive director of the Hungary Foundation, an organization dedicated to strengthening the connections between the United States and Hungary. Prior to this role, she served in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry as U.S. Desk officer and as political attaché at the Hungarian Embassy. She was a contributor to the Hungarian Weekly Magazine, Heti Válasz, where she covered American politics. Anna was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, and earned her Master’s degree in International Relations at Corvinus University.

Episode Transcript

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.

Roger Ream [00:00:02] Welcome to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, faculty, and friends who are making an impact today. I’m your host, Roger Ream. Today, I’m excited to welcome Anna Smith Lacey to the podcast. Anna is an alumna of the TFAS Summer Institutes in Prague and Washington, D.C., and of the Hungarian American Coalition’s internship program. She serves as executive director of the Hungary Foundation, an organization dedicated to strengthening the connections between the United States and Hungary. Prior to this role, she served in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry as U.S. Desk Officer and also as a political attaché at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C. She was a contributor to the Hungarian weekly magazine Heti Válasz, where she covered American politics. Anna was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, and earned her master’s degree in international relations at Corvinus University. She is also a licensed tour guide in Budapest. Welcome, Anna, and thank you for joining me today.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:01:16] Thank you, Roger. Thanks for the invitation.

Roger Ream [00:01:17] Well, I’d like to begin by having you talk about the mission and the programs of the Hungary Foundation.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:01:24] Well, the Hungary Foundation was established in 2013, so I took over in 2016, to lead it. I’m very humbled by the task where a endowment based, primarily grantmaking organization, and what we do is basically bolster the exchange of knowledge, and professional skills and students and researchers between Hungary and the United States. What I like to say is that we’re helping to train bridge builders between the two countries. The goal is to increase traffic on that bridge. So, we sponsor fellowship programs, for BA, MA students and also for mid-career professionals and postgraduate Hungarians. Recently we started a fellowship for Americans as well, because we realize that there’s a ton of coverage about Hungary out there, which lacks some clarity, prudence and understanding. And for that, you really do need to understand the country’s history, the country’s language, to a certain degree, the geography of Hungary and its very particular position. So, we started, the Budapest Fellowship program four years ago, and that’s a new addition to our portfolio. We also dabble in digital programs. We launched an app three years ago called Hugo. Hugo is the Hungarian digital hussar. If you download it to your to your phone, it shows you all things Hungarian in the United States. We have over 1005 hundred points of interest now. Anything from Hungarian bakeries to Hungarian scouts to folk dance, classes, to service providers who are Hungarian. So, if you’re listening to this podcast from Chicago or the West Coast or Ohio and you download the app, you’ll be able to see the incredible Hungarian footsteps all around America.

Roger Ream [00:03:41] It may have been on your website that I read that the U.S. has the largest Hungarian diaspora.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:03:47] Absolutely.

Roger Ream [00:03:48] So, that would be a good reason for this app, I guess.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:03:51] Yes. Well, you know, Hungarians have been sort of present at the beginning, of the United States. There’s a famous Hungarian Hussar Michael Kovats de Fabriczy, who has a statue in Washington, D.C., up in Northwest, who was commissioned by George Washington to found and lead the cavalry units with Pulaski and the Revolutionary War, and he fought in the Revolutionary War, in the southern theater and died defending Charleston from the British. So, he has actually, a field on the grounds of the Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina, named after him. So, we’ve been there from the beginning and I think that that thread of Hungarians love for freedom and Americans love for freedom that has been there from the beginning is something that we continue to work with.

Roger Ream [00:04:53] You mentioned a new fellowship program for Americans. Yes. What type of American are you looking for to fill that fellowship?

Anna Smith Lacey [00:05:01] We’re looking for an American who is curious, who is open minded, and who has the humility to learn what Hungary has to offer in terms of historical lessons about human nature, about the way certain kinds of political systems, like the communist system that we had for almost 50 years works, and has the hunger to communicate those lessons to a wider audience. So, we recruit for our Junior Budapest fellowship program, recent graduates who are somewhere in their mid 20s and for our more senior fellowships and as part of the Budapest fellowship program, mid-career professionals and they bring their own interests, whether it’s energy policy or history or national security or NATO, and we place them at host institutions in Hungary, where they research full-time. But we also have crafted a very, very robust framework program for them where they learn several times a week Hungarian, because it’s a very difficult language, but once you understand some of the basics of the language, you really start to understand how the Hungarian mindset works. It gives you a level of humility as well. And then we teach them Hungarian films, Hungarian literature, Hungarian history from the beginning. So, from the state founding of Hungary and 1000 until recent history, the NATO accession, EU accession and transatlantic relations. And we take them all around, Hungary to the smallest of the northeastern villages, to the second capital of Hungary, Debrecen. We give them walking tours. You mentioned I was a tour guide myself. I think there’s a lot that you can learn just by walking around in Budapest and just being completely immersed in the history, because you have ruins going all the way back to the Roman times. Medieval times. You have churches that were used during the Ottoman invasion, Hungarian Catholic churches that were converted into mosques and then were converted back to Catholic churches. You have Protestant churches, Lutheran churches, Calvinist churches. You have a tremendous presence of the Jewish community in the heart of Budapest. And, some of the synagogues that have been recently renovated are a real testimony to Hungary’s multicultural and diverse, ethnically and religiously, diverse background. You really only understand that if you’re there physically. So, it’s a ten month program. It’s fully funded. We also take them right outside of Hungary to the Hungarian pockets that are no longer, under a part of Hungary. It’s one of the great legacies of, Woodrow Wilson, that one third of our population is outside of Hungary.

Roger Ream [00:08:11] That is in Romania and Slovakia.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:08:14] Yes. So, you mentioned that America has the largest diaspora living outside of Hungary, but right outside of the border of Hungary, the largest Hungarian community lives in Transylvania, in Romania. Then you have 120,000 Hungarians living in the southern part of Ukraine, and in Slovakia and Serbia, even in Austria, and some of those commute, for work, but some of those are historic Hungarian populations. It’s really important for an American to understand that when we talk about minorities and minority rights, we mean a very different kind of minority rights, and those are indigenous minorities who have always lived there, but the border moved above their heads, sometimes within the span of a lifetime several times.

Roger Ream [00:09:10] Very arbitrary.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:09:12] Very arbitrary, but history is history, and geography has geography. As much as America’s fate, I believe, is defined by the fact that you’re a continent wide nation now, and you’re protected by two oceans and two relatively friendly powers on both sides in the north and the south. We haven’t had that luxury for centuries, and that creates a very different kind of mindset. It comes with a strong fighter mentality, a strong stand your ground, don’t tread on me mentality, and it comes with a lot of lessons that Hungarians have learned about sovereignty and what’s important in terms of your own national identity.

Roger Ream [00:09:55] Well, that sounds like a great opportunity, that fellowship and something we should promote to our alumni.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:10:00] Absolutely. Thank you.

Roger Ream [00:10:02] We started a program in Central and Eastern Europe, in Prague, in the early 90s, and in those early years, I remember we were having lots of Hungarian students and still have students from Hungary. You came in 2007, to your the program we sponsor there in Prague. How did you hear about us? Do you remember? What was the experience like?

Anna Smith Lacey [00:10:24] Yes, I think I heard about the Prague program through your in-person, recruiting at Corvinus, I think. thing. This is way before Instagram, before a lot of the media, the online social media was big. So, part of it might have been some early Facebook promotion, but it was it was an in-person recruiting that you’ve done. I actually originally was interested in the D.C. Programs, but then I was advised to do Prague first, and I’m so glad I did, because it was a wonderful three week experience. I was chosen as the graduation speaker, and that was a tremendous opportunity in my life. I never had to speak in English, to a wide audience before. I was extremely nervous. I don’t think I even remember that five minutes speech, but so many people came up to me afterwards and encouraged me and reassured me and were just so friendly and positive in terms of the feedback. I learned a lot about the principles of the free market and the American political system at that summer university.

Roger Ream [00:11:44] We selected you to speak at our 50th anniversary dinner at the National Building Museum here in front of 500 or 600 people. Just a marvelous remarks you made there.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:11:55] Thank you. Well, it was the moment in American politics when there was a lot of self-inflicted shame and guilt and just negative perceptions about America’s role in the world. And some of that is justified, but I think there was a lack of self-confidence for a lot of people, especially on the right. I think it was important for Americans to hear it from a foreigner, that you do have a role to play, a positive role to play in the world, and that was the vision of the American founders. And of course, it always came with caveats that you’re trying to have friendships towards all nations, but first and foremost, you need to guard your own security and no entangling in alliances and such. But America’s mission was never just America, and the founders thought about this country as an exemplary experiment.  I think America has a lot to teach the world based on its own experiment. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to be disrespectful towards other nations and not respect their own version of history and their own national identities and their own struggles, but I think there’s room for a healthy exchange. I think there’s room for America to play a leading role in foreign policy, in global affairs, because if America does not, then others will: China, Russia and other less democratic and less friendly nations towards our country.

Roger Ream [00:13:33] Well, in today too. That was, 2017, I believe, and today it’s just such a turbulent time in our politics, intellectually as well as in the day to day politics. It’s a fight going on over aid to Ukraine now, for instance, in Congress that’s cutting across party lines, and it’s going to be interesting to see how that turns out. I don’t want to get too deeply into it, but maybe I’ll just ask you to what extent is the war in Ukraine impacting Hungary?

Anna Smith Lacey [00:14:02] It’s important for, I think, Americans to understand that when Americans fight wars far from its shores, whatever happens in that particular theater, will always affect Americans, less than the nations who are around that particular country. So, at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, it really, really was visible, through some of the refugees that were flowing out of Ukraine, families, women with children, no males because they were recruited and drafted to fight. It was very palpable in Hungary that there is a brotherly movement to help our neighbors, because these were legitimate refugees from a legitimate war. I saw the entire Hungarian society completely independently of party lines, and who thought what about the war itself helping, and that included, of course, government help, a tremendous amount of government help, but also Hungarian citizens welcoming to their homes for God knows how long, Ukrainian refugees. Some spoke Hungarian, some did not. That included my family. I know a lot of other families who have chosen to house Ukrainian refugees in their own homes and didn’t know of that particular family will stay for a month and then go off to Germany or Sweden or neighboring Austria, or stay for several months, because at the beginning of the war, we didn’t know if this is going to be a blitzkrieg or this is going to be an extended hybrid war, which I believe, right now is, and will probably be for God knows how long. We were at John Winthrop’s, a Christian charity, at the Liberty Fund Seminary that I had a pleasure of participating as one of your alumni programs. That spirit of true Christian charity was very, very visible at the beginning of the war, and it lasted for a long time. Now, at the same time, I wanted to mention to you this that one of the most formation intellectual experiences I had at the D.C. Program that I participated in, which was then called ICPES, is the Role of Foreign Aid. First of all, in Hungary, the economics education is very, very Keynesian, very state centered. So, Hayek was news to me. A lot of the libertarians were absolutely new to me. And this particular reading on foreign aid, and at the time, I was already preparing to do a role in diplomacy, was a libertarian reading on foreign aid, and it really made me think twice about why nations should give, how nations should give, for how long and with what limitations. So, I think when you mentioned the debate that’s going on in the United States about foreign aid to Ukraine, I think that’s a very, very legitimate debate to have. How? For how long? Under what circumstances? What are the stipulations for the government itself in terms of transparency, in terms of spending? Is it more of a land lease type of agreement that the United States has a history of doing, or is it, an unconditional love and support, no matter how you deal with the money, and whether it is accounted for or not? And then you have to ask the question, does that help ultimately, peace or does it continue to fuel a war? I think those are very, very complex questions. Those are very legitimate questions to ask. It affects Hungarians lives very deeply, because, if Putin decides to drop, nuclear bomb on Ukraine, that will affect neighboring Hungary for sure. You know, the effects of Chernobyl were reverberated all around the region. So, that’s a very, I think, serious thing to consider for the United States and to hear what the the nation surrounding Ukraine think is a useful exercise.

Roger Ream [00:18:54] Are you still doing fair amount of writing? I know you’ve done some.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:19:00] I do a fair amount of editing and helping others to write well. That’s s that I have done. I love writing, I love communicating to both countries about both countries. I think there’s a lot to learn. Both, for Hungarians that Americans can teach them and vice versa, but I’m at a stage in my life right now where parenting is taking center stage, and it’s more difficult to come up with your own long, coherent thoughts. It’s easier to help others.

Roger Ream [00:19:44] Your focus has to be on the strategy and the programs and the mission with the Foundation, running those smoothly.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:19:49] Right.

Roger Ream [00:19:53] So, after Prague, you came to D.C. In 2008. You talked a little bit about that, but your internship was at the American Enterprise Institute, which sounds like a great opportunity. You took two courses: Economics and Foreign Policy courses?

Anna Smith Lacey [00:20:07] Yes, and again, the foreign policy courses on some of the more critical aspects of how America does foreign policy or should do foreign policy was really eye opening. AEI was a fantastic place to enter in, not just because of the free white tablecloth lunches that were really the main draw that for the intern community to intern, but to me, it was the debates we had with all the interns at that those lunch time breaks about the role of government, about the role of the free market, about the self-regulating or lack of self regulating aspects of the free market. I never really had exposure to radical libertarian ideas at that point, and I’m not considering radical in the sense negative, but it was a good thought exercise for me. I ended up meeting a friend there, who is to this day one of my closest friends, and we raise of children together now. So, a lot of very meaningful friendships have also developed out of that experience and I’m very grateful for that.

Roger Ream [00:21:26] And then you’ve had other opportunities with us, I know. The Public Policy Fellowship in 2012, a couple of our co-partner programs with Liberty Fund, including very recently in Philadelphia, which you mentioned. Did you have value in those opportunities for continuing education through TFAS?

Anna Smith Lacey [00:21:46] Absolutely. One of the things that TFAS does remarkably well is the continuing education aspect is that you’re not dropped after the program. I think you have a very well thought out alumni, mobilizing system in which you draw alumni back as mentors. You draw them back, as hosts that they’re at host institutions for the internship programs, but also make sure that you continue to engage the alumni intellectually. Whether it’s having the alumni speak at professional panels or train them or continue to provoke thoughts, I think, a really important aspect of TFAS and organizations that do this for a long period of time some sometimes struggle with this, and it really speaks to your leadership, Roger, and the fact that you have been able to retain some of your senior staff for so long, people like Michelle Le. Michelle has been there for almost two decades now, and that knowledge and that experiences is really unique, and very, very few organizations are able to do that. The Public Policy Fellowship, I really appreciated some of the financial coaching that we have received, which was, I think, very unique and very timely at that stage of our lives. How to invest, how to save, why to invest, why to save. I remember very clearly our discussions that we had at our Gettysburg trip, and it’s very humbling and and extremely interesting for me to understand how this nation was able to come together after Gettysburg. When you still go to Gettysburg, it’s one of the very few places still where you see union flags and the gift shop and Confederate flags and the gift shop and you see both sides well and respectfully represented, because it really is a tribute to the fact that you can overcome, a very deep division in this country, which, I have I have had doubts about whether that is still possible when the BLM riots were starting. I was very disenchanted by seeing what radical socialist ideas did to this country, in the matter of a couple months, and when I saw the statues being torn down of American heroes that I have seen, honestly, during Soviet times done by the Soviets, I told American friends: “Look what you’re doing to this, your own country’s history is self-mutilation. This this is the level of destruction that only Soviet tanks were able to do in Hungary, and you’re doing it to yourself.” It’s not right, it’s not true, and it’s not sensitive to the overcoming process that was hard for this country. That was real in this country. And so, for me, Gettysburg was a very uplifting place to be a sober and a very, very sad place in one sense, but also very uplifting that we can put this behind us and we as Americans can overcome division. The two Liberty Fund seminars that I was able to participate as an alum, one, the one on charity, was very useful for me because we’re an endowment based, grantmaking organization. So, I have to think about it all the time. When we give, how do we give in a way that it inspires excellence, not dependency. How do we equip, students and fellows and other organizations with skills so that they can then become, themselves agents of change and then give that skill over to people? I see that in all of our programs. When we are able to train people in a way that maximizes their own human potential, they will want to give that back to others. And now they themselves are teaching others in Hungary. And that’s what ultimately want to do. We would like to train Hungarians and Americans who can create the change around them that we would like to see that is open minded about critical questions, that speaks in a sophisticated, and prudent way about matters that are, that are complex and that are respectful of history and geography and the realities of our times.

Roger Ream [00:26:53] That was all just wonderfully sad and sad as, I think, perhaps only someone who is not a native born American can put it in your comments about the post Civil War, and coming together as a nation. I do want to talk about this, the Széll Kálmán Fellowship program that the Hungary Foundation runs. You send just really outstanding young people from Hungary to our programs in the summer, sometimes in the semester, I think, we’ll have for this summer as I recall, and they are bright young people, fluent in multiple languages, typically. Talk a little bit about that program and then I want to talk a little bit more about some things about Hungary.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:27:32] So, we started the Széll Kálmán fellowship I think five years ago and it really came out of our strive for excellence, and we wanted to provide the best available opportunity for Hungarians, where they, in a short amount of time, can learn as much as possible, both intellectually and professionally in the United States, and take that home with them and use it in Hungary, for whatever project or nonprofit or government role that they end up in. Our business role and TFAS programs were really the best crafted and most intense and most well-rounded, because they get the professional skills through their internship, they get the intellectual input through the courses that they take, and they get the networking aspect that I think very, very few programs can match. And in D.C., because at this point, having run these programs for decades and decades, you have senators, the members of Congress, who are TFAS alums, but also many in the business area. And we wanted them to have peer to peer networking experience, but also, high level mentorship as well, which you all provide. So, even if I wanted to create this program in house, I could not have, because you’ve done it for so long and you have fine tuned it for so long, and what we do with the Széll Kálmán fellowship is pick for outstanding Hungarians, and it’s not difficult because there are a lot of outstanding Hungarians and who are well traveled to might have been to China already at state sponsored Chinese scholarships, and then they come to us and want to see the other side of the world, and that always is something that inspires me. Speak multiple languages because we have the Erasmus programs in Europe that are a free exchange program, basically for European Union member states, and a lot of people have spent already a semester abroad so they know how to manage their time. They know how to hit the ground running. And the students that we pick are very motivated to learn more about America, specifically to learn from Americans, but they’re also committed to building the future of Hungary. So, we’re not into the idea of training global citizens who are rootless and don’t know where they had or why they do what they do. We’re in the business of training the best of the best Hungarians and making sure that they understand what America has to offer to this world, including Hungary. Because I truly believe that what Thomas Paine wrote in common sense that the cause of America to a great measure is the cause of all mankind, and that’s why we founded after my two experiences, the Common Sense Society in Budapest, which now has chapters in the United States, the Netherlands and the UK. I really do believe that when Hungarians come here, if, they understand some of the founding principles and some of the debates, the very legitimate debates that this country had about federalism and a more centralized government or a more localized government, they will understand something about the general nature of government that is very useful for their own life and what we provide to the Széll Kálmán fellows outside of their TFAS programs, is bridging some of the gap of understanding between what the American system is and how that translates into the Hungarian system. So, we sit down and read through a series of reading seminars just with the Hungarians, Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” and we focus on chapters that are on the role of civic associations in political life and the role of churches and the separation of church and state and the vibrant, Christian culture that, American democracy had. And that’s some of the things that Tocqueville observed as one of the key distinctive features of American democracy, and it’s really important, I think, and we have heated debates with the Hungarians of especially atheists about this: “It’s just it’s enough to have morals,” but when you dig down: “okay, well, where do those morals come from? How do I know his moral is actually something that is worth following?” That’s where the heart of real citizen debates are, and what they take away from these readings and from their summer experiences is a can do mentality. They really are encouraged as human beings, because Americans are on average and still, by and large, extremely helpful, very friendly, kind. A lot of Hungarians are shocked by the fact that 35, 55-year-old professionals would speak to them and want to help them. Why would they want to help them? Well, because you’re a human being worthy of helping because you’re ambitious, you’re young and you put in all the work, and that is incredibly encouraging for Hungarian young professionals and students.

Roger Ream [00:33:07] Well, you’ve talked about the value of our program for these fellows, but they offer so much to our students too. They have these students from Hungary in the program. When I talk to the American students during the program, and toward the end of the program, what are the highlights of the program, often they cite the chance to interact with students from other countries, and we have we have a small contingent from the Netherlands. We usually have a Polish student, Estonian and smattering of other countries, but the Hungarians are just outstanding that you bring to our program. So, we thank you for that.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:33:39] Thank you.

Roger Ream [00:33:40] It’s a mutual advantage.

[00:33:42] I think it is because Hungarians have something important to tell, and we don’t tell them what that is, and they come from various backgrounds, various walks of life, but for them to find their own voice and just the courage to voice, what’s in their hands is a major step. There’s this inferiority complex that most Eastern Europeans come to and bring with them to the United States. One of the most important jobs that we have at the foundation is to kind of do away with that and make them understand that you have something worthy to say, because for an average American kid from kindergarten on, they’re told that: “Speak up, organize, do it. You’ll be fine. It’s okay if you fail.” In Hungary, it’s not that okay if you fail. If you fail, it’s kind of awkward. You really don’t speak because the teacher is the only one who knows the true stuff. So, all of that is a it’s a huge difference. It’s something that they need to overcome, but once they overcome, they excel. That’s why I’m so encouraged whenever they pick for some kind of academic excellence award or something in the pool of 300 Americans and internationals as Hungarians, because that means that they at a very basic, competitive environment, they’re able to excel and as Hungarians against Americans and that includes a tremendous amount of work on their part that is invisible for a lot of their peers.

Roger Ream [00:35:18] Well, the 20th century was a very tragic century for Central Europe and for Europe. There was a reference earlier to 1956, of course, and I think Budapest has one of the best museums of communism built, as I know, located in that. What was the headquarters for the Nazis and then for the Communist Party, jails in the basement, but the students you’re bringing now, of course, don’t have any kind of firsthand experience. You’re a first generation after the fall of communism. So those events of 1956 or following until 1989, how does that impact the mentality of young people today in Hungary, or does it? They hear about it, they learn about it in school, I assume.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:36:06] Right, but they also hear about it from their own families, and that’s important. And they know what happened to grandpa and grandma, and they know that there was a hush hush period in the country, or there was a period when they lost family members, because of their political views or because of their Jewish origins. And those are very real stories. I always encourage Americans to talk to their own grandparents and great grandparents, if they have some, because those experiences would be useful for Americans to have. But also, in Hungary, I think, the past is so visible still renovation and restoration, we’ve done in the castle area and all around Budapest, which is marvelous. You still have some if you walk in downtown Budapest, you still have some old dilapidated buildings that have bullet holes in the wall. And those are a 1956 memories. So, it’s very real. It’s very, very real, and it’s hard to deny. You don’t necessarily have to go to the Museum of the House of terror museum to understand those stories. Now, it’s useful if you do, but at a gut level. At a personal level, these stories are very much alive in young people’s history. I was born in 85, so right before the regime change, but I grew up in freedom, but I remember not having too many options in the grocery store. I remember not having too many options when it came to clothing and one of the biggest culture shocks that I had and when I first came to this country was Walmart. I think when we were talking about the said the Liberty Foot Conference, Walmart is kind of the worst and the best of American capitalism, because you have the range of options, but you also have tremendous excess that people end up buying into. So, life was life was much simpler in the 90s for me, and the fact that we didn’t grow up with social media, we didn’t grow up with the internet and had a real childhood where we climb trees and threw rocks and had real human relationships that you had to mend and repair and build up. Is was kind of a protected period for a generation. This current generation doesn’t have that. So, because they were really they were born into freedom. They were born into welfare, relative welfare. And, they were born into a very highly saturated social media environment. And what helps, I think, counter all of this is real human bonding. And that starts, I think, in the family. And that starts with real human histories. And, when I started, in a more concerted fashion, interviewing literally my parents and grandparents about certain periods of history, so that I can put things together. That really made me a more humble person, because once you realize is a 20 year old or 30 year old, what people had to overcome, just to live, you really do live your life differently. And I think most of the Hungarians that we bring over in that, we help through our fellowship and scholarship programs have gone through that exercise, and it makes them a more humble Hungarian, but I think they make it makes them more effective, advocates for all the right things. But I have to tell you this because it it’s some of the things that was one of the most striking experiences in the U.S. that I had. I haven’t met a living, breathing Marxist, an actual outspoken, you know, hardcore communist who was proud of his or her beliefs until I came.

Roger Ream [00:40:06] To the U.S.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:40:07] To Bard College in upstate New York, through, different scholarship that was not TFAS. And it was shocking to me that you have people here in torn Gucci jeans, with parents editors at the New York based newspapers, I’m not going to specify, and they’re trying to convince me that socialism is a great idea. It’s just never been implemented in the right way. And when I said: “Well, it’s been implemented in almost 40, 50 countries, all around the world, through various ethnic and religious, contexts, and it has caused death and destruction everywhere it was tried and implemented,” how much more trial and implementation do you want to go through? The largest country in the world, China is a communist country. It’s a one party system, even today. We have more people living under communism today than we had during the Cold War because of the Chinese population, and those responses were just brushed off. And that kind of lack of reality check for hardcore left wing American students at the time was really scary for me. I always wondered: “Okay, well, these kids are living in a bubble, reality is never hitting them.” What do they do after they leave campus? And then I went and worked in New York and went to Brooklyn, and I realized where they go. But, in this in a serious way, I think, students on campuses these days have a lot of reality to face and to be shielded from that is not great for anyone.


Roger Ream [00:42:10] No, those examples are just so real. I mean, we used to have East and West Germany, the same people divided by a line. One side will try communism, socialist economic system, the other side will try freedom, and the differences are so real. North and South Korea, I mean, the people in South Korea are several inches taller now than people in North Korea. Just from a dividing line being put up and trying two different systems. You’re right. What’s happened in Venezuela and in so many other countries is just tragic. You mentioned the lack of choices in the grocery store when you were a young girl and lack of clothing. I have to just end since we’re running out of time by saying you have a beautiful jacket on today. Is that a Hungarian jacket?


Anna Smith Lacey [00:42:53] Yes. So, March 15,1848, was when the Hungarian Revolution against the Habsburg Empire broke out, and we celebrated that last Friday and throughout the weekend. And it’s actually a revolution that America was cheering on. Not officially, not through government foreign aid, but through a lot of private aid, through a lot of personal contributions to help the cause of the Hungarians, and then one of the revolutionary leaders, Lajos Kossuth, who actually came over to the United States on a USS Mississippi. So, a U.S government commissioned carrier and gave a speech, the second foreigner, Marquis de Lafayette, to give a speech to the joint session of Congress. He gave a speech to Congress, when he came over in the early 1850s and advocated for the cause of Hungarian liberty and respectful as he was, because 1850s were not far from the Civil War. So, the debate that a very real debate and division between the North and South about abolition and slavery was raging. He was smart enough not to go into that and to leave that up to the Americans and not to take side. He was smart enough to read the Federalist Papers before coming here, read the U.S. Constitution, read the Declaration of Independence, and then advocate for the cause of Hungarian liberty against tyranny based on that. So, he really appealed to American principles when he was here, and he was wildly popular when he came over, and touched ground in New York. You couldn’t fit a single more person on Broadway. There were so many people. There were kosher flags everywhere. There were thousands and thousands of people. He was a huge hero. He was like the Benjamin Franklin of the day for the Hungarians. Children being born were named after him. Hundreds of poems were craft written for him. Counties were named Kossuth, in America. And these were not by Hungarian Americans, these were by Americans. The American Museum there at the time had Hungarian flags everywhere. This was a huge moment for Hungarians to show that we are connected: Hungarians and Americans by our love of freedom. What we try to do with the Hungary Foundation is to continue that dialog and look at ways how we can benefit from that dialog.

Roger Ream [00:45:42] Perfect note for ending this podcast. Thank you so much for being with me today. It’s been a pleasure to chat.

Anna Smith Lacey [00:45:48] Thank you Roger. My pleasure.

Roger Ream [00:45:51] Thank you for listening to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast. If you have a comment or question, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org and be sure to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five-star review. Liberty + Leadership is produced at Podville Media. I’m your host, Roger Ream, and until next time, show courage in things large and small.



TFAS has reached more than 49,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.

Liberty + Leadership is a conversation with TFAS alumni, faculty and friends who are making a real impact. Hosted by TFAS President Roger Ream ’76, the podcast covers guests’ experiences, career stories and leadership journeys. 

If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.

View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.


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