The Calvinist minister who is in charge of education, culture, health, and the Roma

Until this morning we all thought that the government decree on the number of tuition-free places at Hungarian colleges and universities was final. The word came down almost two weeks ago, but yesterday we heard from Viktor Orbán that no decision had been made after all. As several observers pointed out, Orbán doesn’t remember the decision of his own government. Or, and that is more likely, he doesn’t want to remember it. Whatever “the” announcement is, we are promised that “it will be a decision that will be good for everybody.” Well, that is a worrisome prospect because we were told the same thing before the introduction of the flat tax system, that it would be advantageous to everyone. And then it turned out that it wasn’t.

One has to agree with HVG  that there is total chaos in government communication when it comes to higher education and the question of tuition fees. One blogger called Viktor Orbán’s Thursday interview in Brussels on the subject mumbo-jumbo (halandzsa). He quoted a few choice sentences from the interview: “On the one hand, the problem is already solved” while “on the other hand, there is no decision yet.” Also: “there is no significant difference between the intentions of the government and the students.” An interesting observation.  He added that “by Saturday we will solve the reform of higher education.”

At the same time Rózsa Hoffmann in Kecskemét promised that the final decision would be made only next Wednesday. By today Orbán also changed his mind and promised an answer for sometime next week.

It seems that Zoltán Balog envisaged a different scenario. He promised an announcement by Viktor Orbán tomorrow. However, the office of the prime minister didn’t confirm this announcement. So, we have no idea what’s going on. There is a very good possibility that the members of the government involved with higher education also have no clue what to do.

While the people involved are contemplating how to get out of this sticky situation let’s talk a little bit about one of the actors in this drama, Zoltán Balog, and his church.

Balog, who is an increasingly important member of Orbán’s entourage, is a Calvinist minister. Calvinism remained a vital part of the religious scene in Hungary thanks to the Turkish occupation of the central parts of the country and to the existence of the semi-independent Principality of Transylvania. So-called Royal Hungary, those parts of the country under the jurisdiction of the Habsburg kings, remained mostly Catholic. Until 1848 the Calvinists were discriminated against and therefore they usually ended up on the side of those who had a strong aversion to Vienna.

Hungarian Reformed Church with the Star of Calvin

Hungarian Reformed Church with the Star of Calvin

The Hungarian Reformed Church is exceedingly puritanical. The walls of the church are unadorned with the exception of a list of numbers designating the psalms and hymns to be sung on that day. The psalms were composed in the sixteenth century by Theodore Beza, a discipline of Calvin. There is no choir in a Hungarian Calvinist Church because “God must be praised in singing together.” Praise and Calvinist singing are an odd couple; Hungarian Calvinists have a knack for turning every piece of liturgical music into a dirge. The bulk of the hour the faithful spend in church is taken up with two readings from the Bible and a fairly lengthy sermon. The Calvinist homily is usually an exegesis of one of the readings the congregation heard earlier.

The minister is called “lelkipásztor,” a leader of souls. As Ágnes Huszár, a linguist, wrote in Galamus, the word suggests that the men who fill this position are blessed with exceptional morality, benevolence,  and a deep understanding of human nature. Calvinist ministers often greet their flock with  “Blessing and peace” (Áldás és békesség), but Huszár claims that in the mega-ministry Balog is leading there is neither blessing nor peace.

Balog, who was one of the advisers of Viktor Orbán between 1998 and 2002, made a spectacular career for himself in the past few years despite the fact that he is not a member of Fidesz. When he was appointed to head the Ministry of Human Resources Orbán explained that Balog was fit for the post because of “his deep Calvinist faith.” The ministry is supposed to supervise health care, culture, public education, and higher education. Balog knows next to nothing about any of these fields. The training of Calvinist ministers focuses on exegesis and homiletics.

The mega-ministry’s activities don’t reflect a Christian understanding of issues. Balog is quite capable of saying extremely harsh things about his fellow minister, Gábor Iványi, whose church was for political reasons not recognized by parliament. And this despite the fact that Balog is supposed to be the chief promoter of Gypsy integration and that Iványi’s church’s charitable and religious activities focus on the Roma. Balog makes occasional comments against anti-Semitism, but he always adds that “it is sinful to accuse people of racism who are not racists.” When it comes to his attitude toward the Roma, he said in one of his interviews that “poverty is common, but it has a Gypsy face. There are crimes that can be attached to this group.” With respect to Márton Gyöngyösi’s suggestion of making lists of Hungarian Jews Balog announced that “we categorically reject” all forms of discrimination, but he immediately added that “during the communist dictatorship the exclusion of certain groups–for example the peasantry–was ordered.” This is the origin of hate speech and “it is our job” to stand up against it.

I don’t think that I have to dwell on the absurdity of either this comparison or the suggestion that the communist dictatorship is somehow responsible for Gyöngyösi’s anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile Balog’s ministry shows an incredible lack of sympathy for the sick, the poor, and the homeless. As for culture and education Balog and his staff are working hard to ruin both. In brief, the Calvinist pastor is doing a mighty poor job of caring for his flock.


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onirkoe
Guest

unfortunately, the orban clique is certifiably anti-intellectual.

this is appealing to the very class of desperate ones, who have just one dream, to punish all who had privileges in the Kadar era.

like the pro-life americans, the contra-communists are hostages of their glorious leaders.

let us see if thousands of enlightened students and older citizens can overthrow the anti-communist pharaohs.

Member

“One has to agree with HVG that there is total chaos in government communication when it comes to higher education and the question of tuition fees.” I must disagree, as there is a total chaos in government and in government communication when it comes to anything they touch. THey not only rewriting laws, and constitution in the last two years but they reqriting the rewrites, and then for good measure they rewriting that too. Most of the time Fidesz MPs have no idea what are they voting for and they come up on “their own” with suggestions that they cannot explain themselves.

kormos
Guest

Re:”The minister is called “lelkipásztor,” a leader of souls.”
I am sorry Ms. Balogh, but above is a Catholic terminology.

Member
Ok. I know, I’m bad. I have this steady idea, that most of the officials of the Orban government are retarded. Many of you are not so agressive as me and would probably say they are just stupid as a fox. Sorry! Crazy as a fox. Nah. They are really morons. Trust me. Our minister extraordinaire, Zoltan Balog gave a bizarre interview two days ago to the Hungarian Royal Television. The whole surreal interview in Hungarian can be found here: http://videotar.mtv.hu/Videok/2012/12/12/22/Diakhitel_2_Balog_Zoltan_Az_Esteben.aspx A portion of it will follow below. Before I take a crack at the translation a little disclamer. Screwing up a translation and come up with something incomprehesible for a native English speaker, like Paul is easy. I’m good at that and Paul probably politely won’t comment on it. But this one will be a heroic effort. Because the original Hungarian is already totally obfuscated. So the challenge is to transate it into something well credibly stupid intentionally … Ok, here it goes. If I’m accidentally making sense, feel free to correct my translation. Brother Balog said the following: “The student loan … they will have to pay less from their monthly wages then they save on the electric… Read more »
Member

kormos :
Re:”The minister is called “lelkipásztor,” a leader of souls.”
I am sorry Ms. Balogh, but above is a Catholic terminology.

What is?

An
Guest

Sorry, OT: Index is running the Fidesz sponsored anti-Bajnai ad (“Gyurcsany-Bajnai, the destroyed the country together”). It’s running nicely on the main page, as a banner on the top of the page… now, I understand that money talks, but really, Index? I’m done with that site. Switching to Origo. Hope they won’t run it.

Member

An :
Sorry, OT: Index is running the Fidesz sponsored anti-Bajnai ad (“Gyurcsany-Bajnai, the destroyed the country together”). It’s running nicely on the main page, as a banner on the top of the page… now, I understand that money talks, but really, Index? I’m done with that site. Switching to Origo. Hope they won’t run it.

Wait, wait … I don’t think they will convert scores of index.hu readers with this ad. As I said they are stupid as hell – advertising on a liberal web site.

I think professor Balogh should offer too to show the ad on HS for a million or two and we buy her a new computer …

Ron
Guest

An :
Sorry, OT: Index is running the Fidesz sponsored anti-Bajnai ad (“Gyurcsany-Bajnai, the destroyed the country together”). It’s running nicely on the main page, as a banner on the top of the page… now, I understand that money talks, but really, Index? I’m done with that site. Switching to Origo. Hope they won’t run it.

Banners are so 2001. Why not run an ad-block and flash block and you will not see it.

Btw I have no problem index makes a little bit of extra money. Good suggestion Mutt. I like it.

LwiiH
Guest
Mutt : Ok. I know, I’m bad. I have this steady idea, that most of the officials of the Orban government are retarded. Many of you are not so agressive as me and would probably say they are just stupid as a fox. Sorry! Crazy as a fox. Nah. They are really morons. Trust me. Our minister extraordinaire, Zoltan Balog gave a bizarre interview two days ago to the Hungarian Royal Television. The whole surreal interview in Hungarian can be found here: http://videotar.mtv.hu/Videok/2012/12/12/22/Diakhitel_2_Balog_Zoltan_Az_Esteben.aspx “The student loan … they will have to pay less from their monthly wages then they save on the electric bill. A home loan, that is market, this is the state. This is an investment. The children of the upper middle class will take out this student loan, and by the way, they will pay it for their children, and invest the money they save with this – this is a good investment. A state bond is a similar investment, the state is a good borrower. In the whole loan thing you can count on the state, not so much on the banks.” Ok, you’re right, after reading it 3 times it still makes no sense… which… Read more »
Member

Parts of the Calvinist Church of Hungary have been taken over by Nazi-like elements in the last 20 years.
(Think of the activities of the (still) Rev. Loránt Hegedűs or anecdotal evidence from a friend who converted from Calvinism to Greek Catholicism, because she experienced open antisemitism at the local Calvinist Church and did not want to expose her children to that influence).

Roughly speaking, Jobbik permeated the Calvinist Church, while Fidesz-KDNP has a union with the Catholic Church.

In contrast, during and after the second world war, the Calvinist Church was considered less antisemitic than the Catholic, so this is a notable change.

Vándorló
Guest

And one musn’t forget his heartfelt understanding of the impact of poverty on education: ‘It is not usually poverty that hinders the emergence of giften children, but their parents.’ (“A tehetséges gyermekek felemelkedését legtöbbször nem a szegénység, hanem maguk a szülők akadályozzák.”)
[See: http://goo.gl/8Nmuu and http://goo.gl/TnSAq ]

Petofi1
Guest
LwiiH : Mutt : Ok. I know, I’m bad. I have this steady idea, that most of the officials of the Orban government are retarded. Many of you are not so agressive as me and would probably say they are just stupid as a fox. Sorry! Crazy as a fox. Nah. They are really morons. Trust me. Our minister extraordinaire, Zoltan Balog gave a bizarre interview two days ago to the Hungarian Royal Television. The whole surreal interview in Hungarian can be found here: http://videotar.mtv.hu/Videok/2012/12/12/22/Diakhitel_2_Balog_Zoltan_Az_Esteben.aspx “The student loan … they will have to pay less from their monthly wages then they save on the electric bill. A home loan, that is market, this is the state. This is an investment. The children of the upper middle class will take out this student loan, and by the way, they will pay it for their children, and invest the money they save with this – this is a good investment. A state bond is a similar investment, the state is a good borrower. In the whole loan thing you can count on the state, not so much on the banks.” Ok, you’re right, after reading it 3 times it still makes no… Read more »
kormos
Guest

Yes, Ms Balogh. You are right. Even Vikipadia said so. I knew the lelkész word, but lelkipásztor sounded Catholic to me.

kormos
Guest

….and I asked a Catholic person. The Catholic term is “lelki atya”

An
Guest

@Ron: My problem is not that I see the ad, my problem is that they run it.

@Mutt: It’s a slippery road.

Member

An :
@Ron: My problem is not that I see the ad, my problem is that they run it.
@Mutt: It’s a slippery road.

An, I think you are wrong. Obviously running a clear hate propaganda or similar ad would be not right under any circumstances, but expressing one’s opinion belongs to freedom of speech. I am glad that we do not expect news outlets to become legal identities on deciding if the said ad contain lies or it is just an expression. As it is in any democratic justice system Bajnai and Gyurcsany could turn to the court to put an immediate stop to the advertising content, and then go after the advertisers for damages. I think we should expect that in a democratic society everyone has the right to advertise whatever they want, wherever they want if it is legally not constrained in some ways.

An
Guest

@Some1: Everybody has the right to advertise whatever they want, but a business can decide whether they want to publish somebody’s ad or not. It has nothing to do with free speech. No privately-owned media has the obligation to publish an ad just in the name of free speech. What a privately owned paper wants to publish or not, is totally up to the paper.
Free speech means that the GOVERNMENT has no business in allowing certain content to be published or not (of course, certain content may not be allowed, like child pornography), but it doesn’t mean that a private business has to publish anything it chooses not to.

Index’s case has to do with integrity, and is a moral question, not a legal one.

Kirsten
Guest

Eva, your interpretation of Zoltan Balog’s statement is quite convincing. The investment into government bonds would be particularly useful if the interest rate goes up further because of either inflation or political risks. But what I wonder a bit about is the supposed number of well-to do students who will pay their fees from the parents’ current income eager

Kirsten
Guest

…to finance the government through a fresh loan. Also of interest would be who owns the banks providing the loans.

Kirsten
Guest

Regarding An’s criticism of index, I understand the worry. With publishing the ad, the readership cannot be fully sure anymore where they stand. And it does not even depend on whether they are doing it for the money or out of (luke-warm) support of the government. They have proved that they are either willing to or they must (because of their financial situation) cooperate. As An wrote, that is a signal.

Member

Kirsten :
…to finance the government through a fresh loan. Also of interest would be who owns the banks providing the loans.

Oh. So the bozo is telling us that high income families will like the student loan because it’s a cheap loan? These people shouldn’t be eligible for subsidized loans in the first place in a normal country. Yeah, they will re-invest it with higher yields. Trickle down economy ala brother Balog … take money from the poor and give it to the rich.

His version of the supply side economy is “Feed enough oats to the horse, then …. eat the sparrow.”

GW
Guest

The decline in the character and stature of Zoltan Balog, formerly the liberal-minded pastor of the German-speaking Reformed parish in Budapest, that came with his personal relationship to Viktor Orban and increasing political career and ambitions, is one of the real — if, ultimately, minor — tragedies of post-89 Hungary. In that parish, he was ecumenical and progressive and I frequently had the opportunity to encounter a man who was always ready to speak out against injustices; now, it appears, he has become a fig leaf for everything he had formerly abhored.

Pete H.
Guest

OT: “Adam Fischer was the speaker of the session ‘HUNGARY: ARTISTIC FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY IN THE AGE OF XENOPHOBIA’”

http://www.freemuse.org/sw49317.asp

Ron
Guest

OT Just spoke with somebody who mentioned that VO met some students in a kocma, Present was also some members of TEC.

Ron
Guest

An :
@Some1: Everybody has the right to advertise whatever they want, but a business can decide whether they want to publish somebody’s ad or not. It has nothing to do with free speech. No privately-owned media has the obligation to publish an ad just in the name of free speech. What a privately owned paper wants to publish or not, is totally up to the paper.
Free speech means that the GOVERNMENT has no business in allowing certain content to be published or not (of course, certain content may not be allowed, like child pornography), but it doesn’t mean that a private business has to publish anything it chooses not to.
Index’s case has to do with integrity, and is a moral question, not a legal one.

Journalism and management of newspaper or in this case is always separate, due to the freedom of speech. I am happy that they run this ad, and made some money to keep this website running and provide us with info.

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