Viktor Orbán’s speech on Friday has been widely commented on in the domestic and foreign press because of his fleeting but important remarks on the possible connection between a planned “transportation” of Muslims to Europe and the ideas of liberal thinkers about the future of Europe.
But that part of the speech was only a very small portion of the whole. The bulk of his 40-minute speech consisted of his reminiscences of those days when he began thinking in terms of approaching some of the Catholic bishops for political support. All three of the organizations present at the gathering–the Association of Christian Intelligentsia, the Association of Hungarian Civic Cooperation, and the Batthyány Circle of Professors–are formally or informally connected in one way or the other with churches, mostly the Catholic Church, although the Association of Hungarian Civic Cooperation is currently headed by Zoltán Balogh, who is a Hungarian Reformed minister.
It is not easy to paste together Fidesz’s move from the liberal camp to “Christian Democratic values.” But if we can trust Orbán’s memory, he was already trying to form some kind of an alliance with the Christian Democrats and MDF, the governing party between 1990 and 1994, as well as with the Catholic Church. After “the communists returned,” as Orbán labelled the electoral victory of the socialists in 1994, he began thinking about forging a relationship with right-wing parties. According to journalistic accounts, “the Christian line” within Fidesz became more visible after the 1994 election when Fidesz, alongside the Christian Democrats and MDF, were in opposition again. Preliminary steps toward an “alliance” of right-wing parties began already during the summer of 1994. By October serious negotiations among the parties were in progress under the watchful eye of Archbishop István Seregély of Eger. Orbán tried to hammer together a united front of all right-wing parties to run on the same ticket at the upcoming municipal elections. As it turned out, nothing came of this cooperation, mostly because MDF couldn’t quite believe Fidesz’s change of heart. But Archbishop Seregély, according to Orbán’s recollection, made clear to the politicians that “there is a kind of expectation [of the church] that parties that accept civic, national and Christian values should cooperate in the interest of the fatherland.”
Two years later, in 1996, Orbán called on another bishop, Endre Gyulay, bishop of Szeged-Csanád, who was described by a contemporary article as a man who could always come up with some ridiculous turn of phrase that delighted the less than reverent journalists present. Thanks to his efforts, a year later the Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a circular on behalf of Fidesz which was read in every church of the country. That was a first in the history of the Hungarian Catholic Church. In brief, the Church, this time openly, stood behind a political party, most likely in order to prevent the reelection of the socialists.
As it was, Fidesz needed all the help it could get in 1998 because its popularity was not as great as Orbán thought. The party received only 34.7% of the votes and was forced to form a coalition with the Smallholders’ Party. Mind you, by the end of the term Orbán made sure that his coalition partner disappeared from the face of the political earth, never to return again.
In 2002 the Batthyányi Circle of Professors came up with an “action plan” because, according to Orbán, the professors thought that “it is not enough to gather the troops under the flag.” Perhaps some kind of a program was in order. They put together a document called “The Saint Stephen Plan.” Orbán sadly admitted that, although he believes that the 150-page booklet was “a very important document, it received less attention than it deserved.” If my memory serves me right, the document was received with hilarity because of its meaningless clichés. But in retrospect, Orbán thinks that the Hungarian people weren’t concerned in 2010 that Fidesz had no campaign platform because the professors’ St. Stephen Plan showed the way. People knew what they could expect. Of course, this is the figment of Orbán’s imagination. The booklet appeared in 2005 and was forgotten within a few months.
In Orbán’s opinion this new action plan, called “Signs of the Times” (Idők jelei), will serve as a compass for the next ten years, naturally under right-wing governments. Unfortunately, the document is not online. When I was looking for it, I did find a publication called Idők jelei, pillantás a jövőbe (Signs of the times, glimpse into the future) but that is a strange religious publication. Fidesz’s action plan may not be prophetic, but its title is biblical. It comes from Matthew 16:3, where Jesus, in response to the Pharisees and Saducees who wanted to test him by having him show them a sign from heaven, said: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
This Orbán speech allowed us to hear about the very close political alliance between the Catholic Church and Fidesz from the man himself. The Church’s support has been paid back many times over by the Orbán governments. The Church receives a generous sum of money from the government, which grows every year.
I personally find this relationship between church and state disturbingly close and thus troubling. I think it is an unholy alliance that doesn’t serve the interests of the country and its citizens. Moreover, given the reactionary nature of the Hungary Catholic Church, I find its influence over all facets of life, including the education of the young, unacceptable.