Political fundamentalism in Hungary

Not much is happening in this "silly season" in Hungary and therefore I have more time to read analyses. I received from a friend a copy of a very penetrating, still unpublished study about Viktor Orbán's notions regarding parliamentary democracy. In it there was a reference to an older interview with Péter Buda, an expert on politics and religion, in 168 Óra (November 30, 2006). Péter Buda has written fairly extensively about a phenomenon he calls "political fundamentalism." I decided to read the Buda interview again.

The interviewer, Ágnes Karácsony, was curious about Orbán's penchant for quoting the Bible. In the last months of 2006 alone he quoted St. John at least three or four times. He especially liked "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free " (St. John: 8:32). It is unlikely that Orbán found this passage himself because I doubt that he had ever had any kind of religious upbringing. I would be surprised if the family even had a Bible. Orbán claims that he is a member of the Hungarian Reformed Church (Magyar Református Egyház) which follows the teachings of Calvin. However, he and his wife (who is Catholic) didn't have a church wedding, and their first children weren't even baptized until Gábor Iványi, a Methodist minister and one of the founders of SZDSZ, convinced him to do it. Well, that was a long time ago and by now the five children have different religions, depending on their father's political orientation at the time. Most likely the inspiration for using Biblical quotations came from Zoltán Balog, a Fidesz MP who is a Hungarian Reformed minister. And, believe me, a good "Hungarian református" must know his Bible. Especially if he is a minister.

Going back to St. John and the "truth." After Viktor Orbán received the tape of Ferenc Gyurcsány's speech at Balatonőszöd and realized its political value he most likely discussed the matter with his closest collaborators, including Zoltán Balog. I'm almost certain that the St. John quotation immediately popped into Balog's head. But plucking quotations out of context for political purposes is distasteful to some, including Péter Buda. As he says in this 2006 interview: "It disgusts me when someone uses the Bible as a collection of aphorisms…. It is a typical fundamentalist 'explication de texte.'" After all, he continues, Jesus himself rejected the application of religious morality to politics. When the disciples asked him to go against the Romans and establish the Kingdom of Israel and be its king, Jesus made it clear that his "kingdom is not of this world…" (St. John 18:36) As for the quotation about the truth and freedom, the meaning of the original quotation placed in context is that following Jesus's teaching will lead man out of the captivity of sin. But, of course, coming out of a politician's mouth the original quotation becomes no more than a political ploy; it is applied to a situation that has nothing to do with the original meaning.

According to Buda there is nothing terribly new in Orbán's use of "political fundamentalism." It is spreading the world over. There is an attempt to replace secular democracy with something else. Some feel that countries need a political order that "comes from above and can refer to some absolute value." These people want to have solid guidance concerning good and evil in a chaotic world. Something they can easily identify. Viktor Orbán, according to Péter Buda, understood this desire and is mining it to its fullest. The people who promote this kind of "political fundamentalism" claim that "secular democracies" lack value because the modern, secular state is "ideologically neutral." That doesn't mean that it is valueless but that it lets the individual pick his own set of values. What is worrisome in "political fundamentalism" is that a central power wants to impose a set of values considered to be the norm on a whole society.

Buda tells a story, related by Zoltán Balog himself, that in 2002 after the lost elections Orbán called Balog and asked for advice: how could he explain the electoral defeat to his people. Balog apparently offered some appropriate political explanations but Orbán wasn't interested in them. He wanted a Biblical quotation that would be suitable for the occasion.

Courting the churches began early, and Orbán and Fidesz receive considerable help from the pulpit. Churchgoers often complain that instead of a religious sermon the priest or the minister delivers a political speech. In return Orbán attends prayer sessions and displays religious items in the background.Orbán and Cross High-ranking Catholic prelates often show up at Fidesz political rallies and support Fidesz candidates in national and local elections. Antal Spányi, a Catholic bishop, delivered political speeches that were gleefully received by Jobbik. See here: http://portal.jobbik.net/index.php?q=node/28 Another bishop, András Veres, was among those who demonstrated against the government at the end of 2006. The East European Catholic churches are very conservative, and Buda calls attention to the works of George Weigel, an American Catholic theologian who has close ties to the conservatives in the Vatican. According to Weigel, the European Union must realize that it needs the support of the Church. The Vatican should rely on the East European conservatives and with their help transform the Union. it should not be a secular Belgium but should become a Poland. Weigel, by the way, has a blog: http://georgeweigel.blogspot.com/

Every time I read about "political fundamentalism" I have to think of a book I read as a teenager. I had a classmate who lived with her aunt and her husband, a former widower with two teenage boys a great deal older than we. These boys had a library that today says a lot to me about their political education. Far right nationalistic stuff. I read some of their books and one especially made an impression on me. A negative one. Unfortunately I don't remember either the author's name or the title, but it had something to do with a "superman" type who was a genius capable of fantastic inventions. This super hero invented something that if laid down on the ground was capable of stopping any invader either on the ground or in the air. Our super hero with the help of like-minded young men went around and secretly laid down this wire-like miracle at the former borders of Greater Hungary. When finished, the super hero with the flick of a switch made it functional, and Hungary was cut off and safe. I think the non-Magyars were kicked out. In this enlarged Hungary a new regime was introduced and, although I don't remember all its features, one thing I never forgot. All the churches had pews marked with individual names and it was compulsory to go to mass. If someone was missing, the "church police" came, I guess. An absolutely frightening vision.

I'm not saying that things will ever get that far, but as Péter Buda puts it: "the politics of Viktor Orbán is the ideology of a party searching for a religious identity and planning to become a party with a mission to reeducate the nation." Buda summarizes the situation: what's going on in Hungary is not simply a political fight between two parties. It is Kulturkampf.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

Eva, if memory serves, the book you are describing could be Fulgur, by Koszter Atya.

Eva S. Balogh

Sandor, It is possible because I did a bit of research in the last few minutes and I discovered another book of this Koszter Atya: “Koszter atya: Kamaszok! A serdülő fiú könyve. (Bp, Szt. István Társ. 1941.)” I believe these people also had this book. I remember reading parts of it. There was a whole chapter on sexuality. It was most interesting! Smiley, of course.