Peter Czink Receives the Queen Elizabeth II
Diamond Jubilee Medal
A new commemorative medal was
created to mark the 2012 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Her
Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the Throne as Queen of Canada,
and is awarded to Canadians who have made a significant contribution to
a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada, or
an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada.
Peter Czink is considered one of the hardest working
volunteers in the Hungarian-Canadian community, serving both the old and
new generations alike. He devotes all of his spare time and considerable
expertise, not only working for the Hungarian culture and community, but
also raising international awareness of the history and traditions of
the people of Hungary and of Hungarian immigrants.
He is the founder and editor of the New Hungarian
Voice, Canada's only English language Hungarian cultural publication, as
well as the Magyar Front the English language Hungarian military
history journal with subscribers worldwide. A passionate and outspoken
Canadian, Peter uses his experience with his own ethnic community to
help others embrace and promote our diversity, continuously illustrating
how getting to know the traditions and customs of all peoples
immeasurably enrich us all.
His tireless work, which includes both popularly and
academically acclaimed writing, publishing, research, and historical
exhibitions, ensures that the Canadian offspring of Hungarian immigrants
(and all English speaking peoples) have access to their culture in their
own language. He also skilfully uses Hungary's thousand-year-old history
to promote peace and tolerance, and raises awareness of the
contributions of Jewish-Hungarian veterans to ensure the restoration of
the rights and dignity of their families (in Canada and abroad) who
suffered during the first half of the 20th Century.
There is no end to Peter's plans for promoting his
beloved culture and heritage and it's his highest hope to make sure
that the Hungarian-Canadian experience will always have a place in the
precious multicultural mosaic of Canada.
My Exploration of Traditional
I fell in love with Hungarian woodcarving while traveling through
Hungary from 1995 to 1999. Initially, I found two things that were
particularly inspirational the first was in the city of Miskolc.
Hungarian veterans who fought along the Don River during the Second
World War had recently erected a traditional Hungarian totem (or
kopjafa as they are known in Hungarian) to commemorate their fallen
comrades. The mystical designs, carved into the heavy timber, were
patiently explained to me with emotion-filled reminiscences and animated
gestures. Woodcarving is rather ubiquitous in that country, however, a
later visit to a small village cemetery in Southeastern Hungary revealed
similar decorative wooden grave markers that continued to intrigue and
In 1999, while planning the Vancouver Hungarian Millennium Festival, I
met with local Hungarian master woodcarver Laszlo Jozsa. His passion and skill, coupled with his eagerness to
teach his craft, encouraged me to expand my artistic repertoire to
include woodcarving. I began researching Hungarian carving and quickly
found it difficult to access the needed information - especially in
English. I didn't give up, and with the help of some patient Hungarian
friends, I managed to acquire a good deal of reference material.
First, I learned basic chip-carving techniques, using a knife on
basswood, and created a Hungarian decorative paddle. Next, I was
introduced to what is known as a parting tool - a gouge with a
V-shaped blade. I continued studying elements of Hungarian motifs, and
chose yellow pine as my next canvas. In traditional Hungarian folk
carving, symmetry is important - a well drawn design is also essential.
The specialized tools I became acquainted with
included the Japanese dozuki saw (which cuts only on the
backstroke), the flush saw, assorted chisels and gouges, ceramic
sharpening stones, and the unusual shot-filled rubber mallet.
After several weeks of working on my own, I joined Laszlo Jozsa at his studio.
There I started work on a five foot kopjafa. The wood stock was
a 5 inch square, by 5 foot long piece of ponderosa pine, slightly
tapered towards the top. We first discussed the basic elements of the
traditional kopjafa: the sphere, the tulip, the plates (which act as dividers) and their variations.
I began by drawing these motifs on all four sides of the blank
pine. Traditionally, the bottom third of the piece is usually left
plain, however, sometimes an inscription or other decorative designs are
I found woodcarving to be quite mesmerizing. Working in harmony
with the wood grain, the aroma of freshly cut pine, the flying chips
that blanket the ground were - new artistic experiences for me. This
medium brought me intimately closer to a rich and ancient tradition, and
as an artist used to painting on canvas, it allowed me to express myself
in new dimensions.
ON THE HUNGARIAN LANGUAGE
NHV editor Peter Czink answers questions for Monika Csiszar's paper on the preservation of Hungarian culture, cultural
artefacts and Hungarian language by first and second generation Canadians;
looking to understand the personal meanings associated with the "imported"
Hungarian Culture in Vancouver, its significance to individual Hungarians
and the reasons various cultural aspects have been maintained (and why
some aspects of Hungarian culture have been lost).
MC: If you can, please explain the importance of the preservation of
the Hungarian language in context of preserving the Hungarian culture
PC: The Hungarian language is a very important part of the
Hungarian culture. If we are to preserve Hungarian culture outside of
the homeland, however, I believe that attempting to preserve the language
is a loosing battle. By preserving the language I mean using it
practically and on a high level. First of all, I encourage everyone to
learn the language, and I endeavour to improve my Hungarian language
skills constantly. But each consecutive generation will use it less, since
among the descendants of any culture, the people who actively use the
second language are in the minority.
I believe that teaching our children that the only way
for them to be Hungarian, or the only way to preserve the culture is by
speaking the language, will only set them up for failure, and will be the
cause of future self-esteem issues. Most descendants of immigrants I know
are very self-conscious about their Hungarian language skills, and I think
our community lack of young leaders can be directly attributed to that.
To sum up my opinion, the preservation of the Hungarian
language is of paramount importance to cultural preservation in Hungary.
Here, outside of Hungary, I feel that it is something that should be
encouraged and nurtured, but is certainly not essential.
MC: When you speak Hungarian how often and with whom do you speak?
PC: I speak, read and write Hungarian daily. I work with several
people and organizations in Hungary, and do business there too.
MC: Can you foresee a thriving Hungarian culture within Vancouver if
future generations of Hungarian diaspora continue to loose access to the
PC: Of course! But I also think it quite possible for the
community to disappear eventually. There will always be people who take
more interest in learning languages, and there will always be families
that particularly nurture this. The post-WWII and post-1956 immigrants
created the myth that we are the last bastion of Hungarian-ness, and that
it and the culture can easily wither
away because of this. Immigrant parents saw how their children didn't speak the language perfectly, and viewed them as second-class Hungarians
(I am often told that I am not a Hungarian). Many kids were
taught through the Scouting movement to be ready to smash communism, and
to dance for their parents social events, however, leadership and
initiative was not really nurtured.
The people of Hungary have moved on, and speaking
English or German is common. For Hungary to really be understood, or
included in a global consciousness, the Hungarian language alone is
MC: Any other thoughts/statements regarding the use of or importance of
the Hungarian language?
PC: I think that most of Hungary problems stem from the nation
being misunderstood. I am a strong believer that people are kinder and
more empathetic to things they are not ignorant about. Hungarians, while
preserving their wonderful language, should reach out and share their
cultural experience with other peoples.
MC: Do you need to speak Hungarian to be considered Hungarian? Do you
need to be knowledgeable of the Hungarian culture/history to be considered
PC: I think that if you feel yourself to be Hungarian, you are
ON CULTURAL OBJECTS IN THE HOME
MC: What type of Hungarian cultural objects are displayed in your home
(plates on walls, maps of Hungary etc...)?
PC: We have many things displayed in our home that are Hungarian.
Although my main interest is Hungarian military history, we love to
display all sorts of Hungarian things throughout our home: photographs,
documents, military memorabilia, Hungarian antiques, objects of folk and
fine art, textiles, porcelain, etc. We also like to collect pre-1900
English language books on Hungary and 19th and 20th century Hungarian folk
MC: Out of the objects you identified, what is the personal
significance of these objects to you? (Do they have geographical or
PC: The military objects and information I have gathered have the
most personal significance, since my main work in the Hungarian community
is the preservation of Hungarian military history. The main aspect of that
is to do so in a somewhat unprecedented way (since most people equate such
study with extreme nationalism). My focus is to use the study of Hungarian
military history for the education English speaking people and for the
promotion of peace and tolerance. And yes, they all have very clear
historical and geographical significance.
MC: What makes these objects specifically Hungarian or specifically
important to Hungarian culture?
PC: I do my best to specifically search out objects that are
missing from public collections in Hungary, and information and
documentation that has been lost or forgotten. I donate artefacts to
public collection in Hungary as often as I can, and work on research
projects with academic institutions. As you know, a lot of historically
significant material was lost after the Second World War, and much of it
was spread around the world since then.
ON HUNGARIAN TRAVEL AND THE FEELING OF HOME
MC: How often do you travel to Hungary?
PC: I have been there three times as an adult, and once as a kid.
MC: Do you feel more at home there or here? Is it possible to feel at
home in both places or perhaps never totally at home in either?
PC: I feel at home in both places I am often homesick for
Hungary, and when I'm there I miss Vancouver.
MC: Would you ever consider moving to Hungary?
PC: I often think about that.
MC: To be and feel Hungarian, do you need to be in Hungary (or outside
the Hungarian border in your Hungarian village) to be Hungarian? Is being
or feeling Hungarian geographical? Biological? Cultural?
PC: I think I love Hungary because I have learned so much about the
place. The more I know, the more I love it. For me, learning about
something in depth creates the emotional feelings. If someone shares such
a treasure with you, you feel privileged you become enriched. Anyone who
embraces a cultural treasure has the power to enlighten others with it
and to make them feel (in our case) a little Hungarian.
ON HUNGARIAN CUISINE
MC: Are typical Hungarian dishes cooked in your house? What are they?
Where did you learn to cook them?
PC: I couldn't boil an egg if my life depended on it. Lorraine is
always learning new Hungarian dishes, and when we invite Hungarians to
dinner, they take seconds and thirds. Her talent in the kitchen has
surpassed anything I got used to as a kid and I ate nothing but
Hungarian food until I was a teenager. I love most Hungarian dishes except kocsonya, not so much.
MC: Why is it important to maintain Hungarian cuisine?
PC: Because it's delicious! Things like csirke paprika almost bring tears to my eyes but so do some Persian, or Greek, and Italian dishes. I think that food is the great equalizer and if you feel
a love for a particular people or culture, it tastes that much better.
MC: Are there ingredients, and if so what are they, that cannot be
PC: We are always on the look-out for Hungarian products. Vancouver
has come a long way in the last couple of decades, and more and more
international stuff is available here.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HUNGARIAN CULTURE FOR FUTURE
MC: Are there aspects of Hungarian culture which you do not maintain?
PC: Hungarian culture has everything, and it is becoming more
accessible for people who don't speak the language. Any interest can be
satisfied literature, the arts, music, folk culture, and there a
thousand years of history to look into. Hungary is a vibrant and
contemporary country as well, and as we shed our parents attitude that
their homeland was forever ruined by the communists, we can really get to
know the Hungary of today, too.
The only part of Hungarian culture that I do my best to
rid myself of, are aspects of political and racial misconceptions I was
exposed to in my childhood.
MC: Explain how you came to this country and how else you might work to
maintain various aspects of Hungarian culture in your everyday life.
PC: I was born in Vancouver. To me, my cultural heritage is a great
treasure, and when you possess a treasure, you can either hide it away or
share it. To truly maintain one culture it must be out in the open it
must be kept alive and shared not a musty urn full of ashes, but a
constantly burning fire.
People who are dedicated to cultural preservation are a
tiny minority, and if nothing else, I hope that my work will inspire
others to roll up their shirtsleeves and work a little for the Hungarian