Strasbourg verdict on disenfranchised churches: the Hungarian government dithers

The Hungarian government has had an awful lot of bad news lately coming from various institutions of the European Union. Yesterday I wrote about the veto by Euratom and the European Commission of certain parts of the Russian-Hungarian agreement concerning Rosatom’s supply of nuclear fuel for the two new reactors of the Paks power plant. Today I will look into an older decision of the European Court of Human Rights that the Hungarian government has yet to act on, despite a March 8 deadline. What I have in mind is the infamous law on churches.

The law that Zsolt Semjén called a masterpiece has had some rough sledding. The law stipulated that only churches approved by the Hungarian parliament could partake of the benefits churches usually enjoy in democratic countries. Smaller, less traditional churches or congregations, including some following reformed Judaism, were stripped of their church status. In February 2013 the Constitutional Court, which at that time wasn’t yet packed with Fidesz loyalists, found the law to be discriminative and therefore unconstitutional. The Orbán government’s answer was to change the constitution and to leave the objectionable law unaltered.

Since all remedies at home had been exhausted, sixteen small churches decided to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to seek justice. Nine churches were represented by TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, while Dániel Karsai represented another six. Csaba Tordai represented perhaps the most important church, which was most likely the victim of Viktor Orbán’s personal vendetta: the Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség (MET) led by Gábor Iványi, basically a Methodist church.

Dániel Karsai, who frequently appeared on ATV during 2013, was certain already in late May of that year that their case was so strong that the Hungarian government would suffer another setback in Strasbourg. It took a year, but in April 2014 the verdict was announced. It was in favor of the small churches. The Hungarian government and the churches will have to agree on a financial settlement. If they cannot reach an equitable arrangement, the Strasbourg court will decide on the amount of compensation these churches deserve for the financial loss they suffered as a result of being deprived of their church status. Moreover, the law on churches doesn’t conform to European law and hence must be changed.

It all started rather small

This church started off rather small, after all

Dániel Karsai, the lawyer for some of the churches, was elated. He expressed his hope that “after this great victory the first business of the new government will be to put in order the question of religious freedom.” Well, a year went by and nothing happened. No settlement was reached. Instead of writing a new law, the government decided to appeal the case. I should note that it was the Ministry of Justice and Administration under the leadership of Tibor Navracsics that handled the case in Strasbourg on behalf of the Hungarian government. The same Navracsics who today is desperately trying to distance himself from the Orbán administration and attempting to portray himself as a moderate liberal in his new capacity as a member of the European Commission.

Another five months went by. On September 9, 2014, the Court of Human Rights rejected the appeal of the Hungarian government. The law would have to be changed and the churches in question compensated. The court gave the Hungarian government six months, until March 8, to settle the question of compensation. Well, I just read in Magyar Nemzet that “the government heeds the Strasbourg verdict but does not want to be overhasty.” What an understatement. The government wants to be fair, but at the same time “it doesn’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money” and the sum in question is rather large. According to some estimates, the churches claimed damages amounting to about 20 billion forints. The Magyar Nemzet article indicated that the government finds some of the claims unacceptable. On the other hand, Csaba Tordai, the lawyer for Gábor Iványi’s Methodist church, is optimistic that there will be an agreement within a few weeks. The Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség (MET) originally asked for 1.4 billion forints, but that was in 2012. I assume the current claim is at least double that amount.

As far as the law itself is concerned, the government is again in no hurry. Dániel Karsai might have hoped that the new government would immediately take care of the problem, but today Miklós Soltész, undersecretary in charge of social policy in the ministry of human resources, announced that the government is not planning to write a new law because, after all, they already revised the original law once, in 2013. So, there will be only changes in certain points. And, he continued,”we must guard those values [in the law] that assist the spiritual work of the churches in all facets of their activities,” whatever that means. I have the feeling that this is not the end of the story.

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Geza Kmetty
Guest

The inmates are running the asylum! Orbania is skating on thin ice…toward an embarrassing rejection and membership revocation from EU if they continue this “Anti West-Pro Russia” political ploy. It could lead to a National Tragedy…bigger than Trianon: “The Second Enslavement of Hungary by Russia”

Anna Bayer
Guest

Other Topic:

March 15 events in New York tomorrow:

5 p.m. Kossuth Monument
Riverside Dr and W113rd St
Uj Magyar Koztarsasagot!
https://www.facebook.com/events/651563278281406/

9 p.m. Tooker Alley
493 Washington Avenue @ Lincoln Brooklyn, NY 11238
Beer & Dumplings to Celebrate the 1848 Revolutions
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152738032566406&set=gm.223579581145654&type=1

petofi
Guest

You can take Hungarians out of the country, but you can’t take the stupidity out of Hungarians.
Celebrate 1848?
What about the 20th century? Anything to celebrate there? Perhaps you want to beat your Hungarico breasts about how Hungary sent 500,000 jews to Auscwitz when the nazis only asked for 100,000? Try and reconcile THAT with the idiotic statue in Szabadsag Ter…

To Hungaricos everywhere:
THERE IS NOTHING TO CELEBRATE.

Try mourning for a state, a society, and a people who have long forgotten to distinguish between RIGHT and WRONG; between DIGNITY and SHAME.

What will Hungarians tell their children and grandchildren when the history of this period is told?

Member

I loved to see on the various news portals the flags of the “Uj Magyar Koztarsasag” (New Hungarian Republic). Totally reverberate what circle of Petofi was marching for, and not a ‘bit what Orban was talking about.
Your explanation on Facebook is great. It should also be posted in English, so if there is some interest from the press in the USA, they would understand what is it for. “A Fidesz ellopta a köztársaságot még a hazánk nevéből is,” Fidesz stole the republic from our country’s name also”. True!

Member

Good for you Anna Bayer. I applaud those who will attend, Do not let Orban take away all that is important in Hungarian History. I hope others will bother to click on the link provided and do some research to understand what this events are there for. Great idea to have this event at the time when Orban is delivering his speech almost at the same time.

petofi
Guest

So tell me, Ms ten-foot-pole-person, why is it necessary to remember history in a country that has outlawed the use of precedent in legal reasoning?

Geza Kmetty
Guest

Dear Mr.Arrogant! Orban-Fidesz will go to hell just like Hitler and Stalin did. Hungarians in the Danube Basin will survive, in spite of hatemongers like you..
Hajra Magyarok-Isten ald meg a Magyart! 1848 Marcius 15 -1956 October 23 lelke orokke elni fog….Terj eszhez!!!! vagy kopj le!!!

Albrecht Neumerker
Guest

@Geza Kmetty

I don’t think that the Union would expel Hungary, because it would open an empty space in the hart of Europe, which the russians could immediately fill up. So the Union is continuing to tolerate Mr Orbán’s exercises.

petofi
Guest

I got news for you, A.N., the Russians have long ago ‘filled up’ Hungary…

LwiiH
Guest

So, this is now a negotiation about how much with one party that has no interest in negotiating They know the victims will have go back to the EU to get help to get the negotiations started and that will take more time and the longer the delay the more likely that some of these churches will just simply have to give up. As for changing the law, doesn’t this fall into one of those 2/3rd needed votes? My my, how convenient that Fidesz no longer has 2/3rds. They can simply write a bill that is objectionable enough that the opposition won’t vote for it. Now, it’s the oppositions fault that they can’t change the law. Oh what a web we weave….

clive75mercer
Guest

Where does the Roman Catholic Church stand in this matter, is it expressing support for the smaller Christian communities, or standing on the side lines, following the washing of hands gesture, or is it supporting the “Orban” regime ?? I also wonder where the RC Church stands on other questionable “Orban” issues ?

petofi
Guest

The R.C. church is the reason that Orban won power. They’re fully in support of Orban and have, in the past, asked parishioners to vote for him, to pray for him etc. The church was compromised during the communist era and Fidesz and state security holds the documents on them.

The only power in Hungary that could rid the country of Orban in 24 hours is the Catholic Church if they turned on him….but don’t hold your breath.

PeterH
Guest

“Navracsics who today is desperately trying to distance himself from the Orbán administration and attempting to portray himself as a moderate liberal in his new capacity as a member of the European Commission.”

I had to lough hard. Navracsics as moderate or liberal? I bet he is trying to reshape his image.

Tibor Navracsics was one of the chief architects and a reliable enforcer of Orban’s regime, supporting the new Basis Law, the packing of the constitutional court, the rearrangement of the judiciary, the total overtaking of the prosecution, the gerrymandering of the election districts, the corrupt public procurement system in which every deal is decided politically and so on and on.

What more could Navracsics possibly do to serve Orban??

I hope those sedated EU bureaucrats don’t believe that Navracsics is a moderate, let alone liberal just because he can use a knife and a fork and doesn’t fart at formal dinners.

István
Guest

I think petofi is correct about the Catholic Church in relation to Orban. If you look at http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/ungheria-hungary-hungria-chiesa-church-iglesia-13440/ you can see how the church supported the Fidesz constitution because of its support of Catholic doctrine on aboriton. At the highest levels of the Vatican all other undemocratic aspects of the Constitution were ignored because the Fidesz institutionalized Christianity into that document.

Even though the discussion in the Vatican insider is from before the instillation of the current Pope I can see no change in the position of the church on its support for Orban on legal/religous matters. At St Stephen King of Hungary Church in Chicago I see significant support for Orban and his conservative social retoric in particular. But the eastern orintation of Orban could raise Catholic concerns since Putin has so closely associated himself with the Orthodox Church, but for now that is really a rather abstract issue as it relates to Hungary.

tereh
Guest
Wrong. Vatican supported the Basic Law and everything Orban did because a new Vatican treaty (the original Vatican treaty was concluded under Socialist premier Gyula Horn who though this way he could purchase or pacify the Catholics or at leas the national church network — as usual he was the naive, apologetic leftist in the regard too) was underway (it’s been since concluded) which gave even bigger rights to the Catholic Church. I would go so far as to say that no other EU country except for Italy gives as much rights to the Catholic Church (and backed up by an international treaty with a force equivalent to the Basic Law itself) as Hungary does. Actually the regulation of abortion did not change after the promulgation of the Basic Law and anyway the number of abortions have been steadily decreasing (partly because there are less young women of course as society ages), it’s a non issue politically. Orban promised billions and more power to the church which since 2010 acquired literally several hundreds of schools, kinderagardens etc. and saw its budget (paid for by non-believer, non-Catholic taxpayers) increased radically. Or in short: Vatican supports the conservatives, the right-wing and doesn’t… Read more »
Tappanch
Guest

“Europe, do not give money to the tyrant “, sign in the anti_Fidesz demonstration.

Geza Kmetty
Guest

Hungary will spiral downward until it finds it’s Own 20th Century-Modern Identity, between the Ultra Conservative “Arpadkori” Catholic Nationalism and Western Liberal Democracy, and stop calling everything “left of Fidesz’ as Bolshevik, Communist, Leftist, Blood sucking Liberal, etc…
There is no public awareness of anything between Communism and Fascism. Sad fact…

István
Guest

Terth I am not going to argue whether the amendment to the Vatican treaty or language of the Fidesz Basic Law drove the consistently strong support for Orban amongst the clergy and devoted Catholics. The amendments to the treaty were passed by Parliament in December 2013, but well before that in September 2013 Eva was noting on this blog the increasing power of the Catholic Church (see http://hungarianspectrum.org/2013/09/01/the-growing-influence-of-the-catholic-church-in-hungary/). The relevant sections of the Basic Law relating to Christianity were completed prior to December 2011.

Fidesz has had a strong orientation to the Catholic Church now for years, as I noted almost two years ago when Orban visited Chicago in May of 2012 he was treated as a Christian hero by most members of our church.The Homily delivered on the occasion of his visit was about God’s commandments and the elements of an ethical state supported by- vezetői igazak. Clearly a reference to our esteemed guest that day.

petofi
Guest

Putin has been missing for 10 days. The most nervous party? Viktor the O.
If Putin is gone how long could Viktor have?

Vaud
Guest

I agree that Orban could be nervous now. But Putin will be returning soon, otherwise we would have seen signs of a potential power takeover (whether because he was sick or killed or whatever), but we haven’t. Putin will return and Orban will calm down too, his best friend and protector is alive.

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