I know I’ve written about nothing else but the Hungarian Guard over the past few days, and I promise my readers that I’m not a one-trick pony. But, first, the topic is important in and of itself. And, second, it serves as (with apologies to scientists, for whom I know this is a technical term) a polarizing prism. In my singularly non-scientific use of the term, the issue of the Magyar Gárda clarifies political polarizations in Hungary with more precision than has any other recent controversy.
And so to the topic of the day: the relationship between church and state in Hungary as seen through the prism of the Magyar Gárda. Perhaps one ought to devote a whole article to the issue of church and state, but here it is enough to mention that the separation of church and state exists only on paper. The state heavily subsidizes the churches, especially the Catholic church, including their teaching activities. This arrangement was solidified when, to go back a bit in time, the Catholic church managed to get a deal that Warren Buffett might have envied when Gyula Horn went to Rome and signed an agreement with the Vatican. Horn surely thought that with this deal he would get, if not the support, at least not the active opposition of the Catholic church at the forthcoming elections. He had to be disappointed. The church was decidedly ungrateful; it actively supported the Fidesz. Individual priests in their sermons called upon the faithful to vote the "right" way. Interestingly enough, once in power, the Fidesz was not at all generous with the Catholic church, but church leaders didn’t complain. However, as soon as the Fidesz lost the elections, the church launched new demands re money received for each child in parochial schools. It was fairly difficult to decide at the time who told the truth, but the minister of education claimed that the Catholic schools already got more money per child than the public schools, while church leaders claimed the opposite.
This is not the post to decide the issue of educational funding. Instead, let’s move on to the largest minority religion, the Hungarian Reformed (Calvinist) Church. They didn’t have as strong a bargaining position, so they were by default less demanding. But that didn’t mean they were politically neutral. Some of their leading ministers/bishops were active members of the MIÉP. If possible, the Hungarian Reformed ministers were more radical in their thinking than the Catholics. The Lutheran Church is small and usually less active in politics than the other two. (Will the Lutheran reputation ever outlive Garrison Keillor? And what, to switch briefly to a frivolous note, would a Hungarian Lutheran casserole consist of?)
Well, everybody knows that church leaders in general are not flaming liberals, but it seems to me that in Eastern Europe they are far more conservative than are their counterparts in the West. Therefore, I personally wasn’t surprised when at the swearing-in ceremony of the Magyar Gárda a Catholic priest, a Calvinist minister, and a Lutheran pastor showed up and blessed the guard’s flag. Fiery speeches were not missing either. Immediately, on the swearing-in day (August 25th), the MSZP wanted to know what the "representatives" of these churches were doing at the initiation of an anti-democratic, neo-Nazi, paramilitary guard. László Német, the new secretary of the Conference of Hungarian Bishops, was called on the carpet. I heard a radio interview with him. First, he made it clear that the reporter was using the wrong word: the priest did not "consecrate" the flag, he only "blessed" it. A priest can bless anything from a dog to a car. Moreover, one doesn’t even have to be a priest to be able to bless something. And a priest is not always a representative of the church: a priest can go into a pub in a cossack but nonetheless go there as a private person. The same thing happened here: Ferenc Dévényi appeared at the ceremony as a private person. He didn’t ask for permission, he didn’t inform any of his superiors. He acted on his own. (György Gábor, an expert on the philosophy of religion, considered "the point of view of the church in this matter absurd and nonsensical." He argued that an ordained priest, when he appears at such a function, cannot be simply a private person.) When the reporter asked whether at least his superior will talk to Father Ferenc, Német muttered something about Dévény not belonging to their diocese. Since then I heard that Dévény is a "Hungarian citizen," which in most instances is code for a person who resides outside of Hungary. My hunch is that he is serving in Slovakia.
The Hungarian Reformed Church also claimed that they knew absolutely nothing about Tamás Csuka’s intentions to attend the ceremony. Same story: he was simply there as a private person. Mind you, his attire looked the same to me as I saw in the Pécs Hungarian Reformed Church as a child. He was especially popular with the crowd because he made no secret of what would happen to anyone who "dares to lift a finger against the Hungarians." As it turned out, the Reverend Csuka was no ordinary Calvinist minister. During the the Antall government, when Lajos Für, another man present at the ceremony, was the minister of defense, Csuka was the Calvinist bishop of the Hungarian army. He is retired by now, but he still holds the title of brigadier general and, I assume, also gets the pension that goes with it. I understand that according to military regulations a person can lose his rank if he becomes unworthy of it. In fact, the Mazsihisz (the Jewish umbrella organization) already asked Imre Szerekes, minister of defense, whether Csuka could lose his privileges. I wouldn’t be surprised if such proceedings would begin sometime in the near future. That might also bring into consideration the information that appeared in Stop.hu, an internet newspaper. If true, in 2002 the Hungarian Supreme Court found him guilty of "forgery of a contract" (magánokirat-hamísitás), and he received a one-year suspended sentence.
The Lutheran minister was a woman: Mrs. Bálint, Vilma Varsányi. First, the members of the media couldn’t get hold of her, but they managed to talk to her superior, János Ittzés, who told the Független Hírügynökség (Independent News Agency) that he is not planning any disciplinary action in this case. Since then, he must have changed his mind because, according to the late news on MT, the Lutherans are investigating the case and there might be consequences. As far as I can ascertain, the Lutherans are the only ones. The two other churches are adamant that they knew nothing, their clergymen acted on their own. The also expressed their total bafflement when István Hiller, minister of education and culture, during a conversation about school financing (what else?), asked for "emphatic condemnation of the Hungarian Guard." The church leaders don’t understand. They distanced themselves from the priest and the minister. What else can they do?