Tag Archives: Hungarian Catholic Church

The Hungarian government chips away at the abortion law

Thursday afternoon, during his regular press conference, János Lázár announced the latest government decision. Two hospitals–the Budai Irgalmasrendi Kórház, managed by the Hungarian Catholic Church, and the Bethesda Gyermekkórház, maintained by the Hungarian Reformed Church–will receive a generous grant of 7.8 billion forints so they can offer obstetric services. In return, they will not perform abortions and will refuse to accept gratuities, which, as we all know, are steep. Obstetricians can become quite wealthy from money happy new parents pass to them under the table.

The immediate reaction in the liberal press was negative. Journalists remember only too well earlier attempts to restrict abortions. The sanctity of life issue is at the core of the Christian Democratic People’s Party’s ideology. During the debate on the constitution in 2010 KDNP politicians were adamant about the issue. Eventually the following sentence made its way into the final text of Orbán’s constitution: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. Every human being shall have the right to life and human dignity; the life of the fetus shall be protected from the moment of conception.” Subsequently, KDNP tried several times to convince Viktor Orbán to follow the Polish example, which makes abortion illegal except in cases of rape, when the woman’s life is in jeopardy, or if the fetus is irreparably damaged. The Polish government recently tried to enact a total ban on abortions, but it had to retreat in the face of huge demonstrations. Orbán knows that the introduction of a sweeping abortion law in Hungary would be political suicide.

Társaság a Szabadságjogokért (TASZ), the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, objected to the terms of the grants. Judit Zeller, who works on patients’ rights cases, took the position that although individual doctors may refuse to perform surgical interventions in pregnancy cases, institutions as such can’t. If the condition of the government’s financial assistance depends on the hospitals refusing to perform abortions, the arrangement between the hospitals and the government is illegal.

As is often the case in the chaos within the Orbán government, there was a discrepancy between Lázár’s statement and the official government text. In its announcement Magyar Közlöny, the official gazette of government edicts and laws, said not a word about the special understanding between the hospitals and the central government concerning the prohibition of abortions.

The two hospitals will actually share one new obstetric department, which will be housed in Bethesda. People familiar with the medical facilities in Budapest claim there is no need for an additional facility. They suspect that the arrangement is a kind of unholy alliance between the two so-called historic churches, on the one hand, and the Hungarian government, which is eager to have the churches’ full support, on the other.

KDNP, the “political arm of the Catholic Church,” has been unhappy ever since 2010 when it failed to have a total ban on abortions included in the new constitution. The party therefore periodically makes attempts to smuggle in restrictive laws. In 2012 there was a huge debate on the “abortion pill,” in which KDNP successfully led the opposition to its availability in Hungary. The World Health Organization approved the pill in 2005 and the Hungarian “college of gynecologists and obstetricians” also endorsed its use. But KDNP’s “expert” described the horrors that follow the procedure, which in his opinion was even more dangerous than the surgical technique. He also claimed that “WHO suggested the use of the abortion pill for overpopulated countries,” not for countries with a low birthrate like Hungary. As a result of KDNP’s fierce opposition, the pill is not available in Hungary to this day.

A year later, in 2013, KDNP introduced yet another bill to restrict women’s gynecological rights. This time is was Bence Rétvári, undersecretary in the department of justice, who introduced the bill. KDNP wanted to put an end to voluntary sterilization. Prior to 2005 Hungarian laws had restricted voluntary sterilization. The Constitutional Court found them unconstitutional because they violated women’s rights. Therefore, after 2006 such operations could be freely performed at the patient’s expense. It was this liberal law that KDNP wanted to change in such a way that only those women who were over 40 years old and already had three children could be sterilized. This bill was never enacted into law.

Medián took a survey at that time on Hungarian attitudes toward the abortion issue, and it turned out that even supporters of Fidesz-KDNP didn’t back further legal restrictions. The poll showed that 72% of churchgoers thought that in cases of financial stress abortion was an acceptable alternative. The same group of people believed that the abortion pill that KDNP torpedoed a year before was an acceptable, maybe even preferable, method of birth control.

A year ago Index got hold of a study by a hobby demographer whose remedy for the low birthrate in Hungary is to forbid all abortions on childless women between the ages of 35 and 45. This hobby demographer has close ties to KDNP. In fact, his study was at least partially financed by KDNP’s Barankovics Foundation.

In brief, KDNP has been relentlessly trying to overturn the current law on abortion. Yet the top politicians of the party now claim that they had absolutely nothing to do with the deal between the two hospitals and the government. I doubt that this is the case. I can hardly imagine that Miklós Soltész (KDNP), the secretary for churches, minorities and civil affairs, had nothing to do with the 7.8 billion forints given to the two church-run hospitals.

This first step toward “abortion free hospitals” might seem innocuous. It simply reduces the number of hospitals where women can have abortions. Perhaps this way KDNP’s drive for a ban on abortions might be less noticeable, especially if the process takes several years. Népszava’s headline to its article on the subject read: “Did the future begin?” A lot of people think so.

February 10, 2017

How not to pick a constitutional judge: LMP’s choices I

Parties of the democratic opposition are up in arms. They are outraged at the assistance LMP extended to Fidesz to score an important parliamentary victory, the approval of four new judges for the Constitutional Court.

MSZP in the last minute tried to delay the inevitable by instructing its representative on the nominating committee to resign ahead of the vote. With his resignation the committee, which according to house rules must have at least nine members, no longer had a quorum. The MSZP tactic might have been clever, but the socialists didn’t count on Fidesz’s total disregard for rules and regulations. The majority party could have opted to get another member to replace MSZP’s representative and, let’s say a week later, finalize the nominations. No, they simply went ahead. This time not even Gergely Gulyás, Fidesz’s legal magician, could give a half-believable explanation for the vote’s alleged legality. Because of the decision to go ahead with the nominations despite the lack of a quorum, the opposition parties consider the entire procedure by which these four people were appointed illegitimate.

The Károly Eötvös Intézet, the liberal legal think tank, hasn’t changed its opinion in the last year. Just as in January, the legal scholars working there consider LMP’s decision the worst possible move. Their position is that the Constitutional Court ever since its enlargement with four Fidesz-appointed judges has not been an independent court but an arm of Fidesz’s political will. It no longer fulfills its function. As it stands, there are seven judges who will always vote in favor of the government while four on occasion will express a contrary opinion. The four new judges, considered to be “conservative,” will make the situation even worse. And no judge will have to retire from the court before 2023.

That leads me to the problem of vetting nominees. It has happened in the past, when all parties participated in the nominating process, that the socialist-liberal nominee turned out to be much more conservative than anticipated. One reason for these “mistakes” is the lack of a body of legal work on the basis of which the candidate’s legal philosophy could be judged. A good example of this was the choice of Mihály Bihari by MSZP and SZDSZ. Although he had a law degree, he had worked as a political scientist. There was no reliable way to assess his legal views. A somewhat similar situation occurred when Fidesz nominated István Stumpf, again a political scientist, to the court in 2010. Judging by his past, he should have been an absolutely safe choice from Viktor Orbán’s point of view. After all, Stumpf served as Orbán’s chief of staff between 1998 and 2002. But he turned out to be much less reliable than expected. The same problem exists with people who have been practicing judges and have no published work on the basis of which one could assess their legal thinking. Among the new appointees Ildikó Marosi falls into this category. She has been working as a judge, dealing with administrative and labor cases.

Although all opposition parties are highly critical of LMP’s role in this affair, the Demokratikus Koalíció is the most outspoken in its condemnation of the party. Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of DK, tore into Ákos Hadházy on ATV’s “Szabad szemmel” (Open eyes). It quickly became apparent that Hadházy had not the foggiest idea about the legal views of the nominees his predecessor, András Schiffer, had picked.


Csaba Molnár and Ákos Hadházy on ATV’s “Szabad szemmel”

A lot of people, including me, hoped that under the leadership of Hadházy LMP would be more willing to cooperate with the other opposition parties. I remember vividly when he announced that any kind of a deal or coalition with Fidesz is absolutely out of the question as long as he is the co-chairman of LMP. Hadházy normally makes a very good impression on people. He comes across as a modest, earnest, idealistic man who isn’t quite at home in the world of politics. Unfortunately, he is also naïve. He doesn’t seem to understand how differences in legal philosophy shape how judges interpret the constitution. When Molnár tried to explain to him that at least three of the nominees come from the conservative legal camp, which would further strengthen the pro-Fidesz majority, Hadházy naively shot back: “And conservative people cannot be honest?”

In any case, poor Hadházy was demolished under the weight of the facts DK gathered on the legal and political past of the nominees. Hadházy could only mumble: “Well, I didn’t know that, I will have to check on this.” This was Hadházy’s answer to Molnár’s claim that Bálint Schanda’s views on abortion are so extreme that, if it depended on him, he would forbid pharmacists to fill valid prescriptions signed by a physician for the morning-after pill.

The fact is that Schanda writes almost exclusively on legal questions concerning religion. The list of his publications is a mile long, and some of them are available online. If it depended on Schanda, stores would be closed on Sundays because believers (Christians) should have the opportunity to follow the Scripture, which forbids any kind of work on the Sabbath. This is part of the freedom of religion in his opinion.

He can be critical of the government, but his criticism comes from his religious convictions and his special interest in the defense of the family. For example, he didn’t like the idea of keeping children in school all day long, which he considers to be a “left-wing notion” popular in Western Europe. That’s why he was surprised to learn that the conservative Fidesz government had decided to introduce such schools. He finds the idea of the state’s taking over the “nurturing” of children from the family unacceptable. Church schools, however, are different because the parents expressly grant the church the task of educating their children.

Schanda also liked the idea of “family electoral law.” That is, that parents, depending on the number of children they had, could have multiple votes. Admittedly, he doesn’t want Hungary to rush into being the first country in the world to introduce such a law, but “this question cannot be a taboo; it would be foolish simply to discard it without seriously considering it.” In the article he practically suggests starting preparatory work for such a piece of legislation to be introduced later. Perhaps if Ákos Hadházy took the time to read a couple of Shanda’s articles he would better understand the impact of legal philosophy on people’s daily lives.

Finally, Csaba Molnár brought up an article by Schanda that he published in Magyar Kurir, which is the official newspaper of the Conference of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops. The short article’s title was “Pope Francis and zero tolerance.” It was about the vexing question of pedophilia. Schanda explains that there is nothing new in Pope Francis’s announcement because the church has had strict laws concerned pedophilia since 2001. Zero tolerance in this case simply means that a priest accused of this particular crime is immediately suspended, which he approves of. He cautions, however, about exaggerating the problem “because according to American studies pedophilia among Catholic priests in comparison to lay teachers is infinitesimal.”

The only study on pedophilia among Catholic priests I found was from 2004. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice published a comprehensive study in which it was claimed that 4% of Catholic priests in the U.S. had sexually victimized minors in the past half century. This seems to be somewhat lower than school teachers during the same time frame. Well, “somewhat lower” is not “infinitesimally” less. Moreover, it is very possible that victims of priests are less willing to confront church authorities than victims of teachers are to go to civil authorities. But this is a small point and not an important one. What, on the other hand, I found disingenuous was his claim that “in the former socialist countries the proportion of such acts in comparison to western countries is much lower.” At this point I had to laugh. What makes Polish, Hungarian or Slovak priests less prone to committing such crimes? Their countries’ socialist past? Or, perhaps something else, like a lower rate of reporting and a higher rate of covering up cases. Schanda even tries to cast doubt on the seriousness of the very few stories that emerged in the last few years in Hungary by saying that the media used these cases to incite anti-church sentiment in the population. Moreover, he claims that these cases were exploited by political parties. Obviously, the socialist-liberal parties.

In the summer of 2011 I devoted four posts to the four Fidesz-picked judges, asking “how qualified will the new judges in the Hungarian Constitutional Court be?” I’m planning to do the same this time.

November 23, 2016

European solidarity and Orbán’s Hungary

It would be far juicier to write about György Matolcsy’s fascination with Buddhist ten-million multiplier days, which seem to direct the work of the Hungarian National Bank, and his new girlfriend’s fabulous pay of 1.7 million forints a month that she receives from four different foundations of the bank and as a researcher of Indian culture and philosophy. But I think I should return, even if briefly, to the affairs of the European Union, especially since Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his State of the Union Message to the European Parliament today.

Juncker’s speech was almost an hour long, and its primary aim was to pour oil on troubled waters, caused mostly by Viktor Orbán’s assiduous efforts to turn the countries of the Visegrád 4 against the European Union. In fact, Orbán spent the day in Bulgaria, working hard to convince Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to support his cause. I would be surprised if Borissov would oblige since he has been working closely with the European Commission on the defense of the Bulgarian-Turkish border, as we learned from Juncker’s speech.


In comparison to some of Juncker’s past speeches, this one was beseeching rather than strident. He tried to convince those countries that throw seeds of discord into the soil of the Union to be more constructive. He appealed to them, saying: “Europe can only work if speeches supporting our common project are not only delivered in this honorable House, but also in the parliaments of all our member states.” In plain language, don’t foment ill feelings against the common cause at home, as European politicians often do.

Juncker pretty much admitted that the European Union is broken at the moment. As he put it, “I believe the next twelve months are decisive if we want to reunite our Union. If we want to overcome the tragic divisions between east and west which have opened up in recent months.” He went on to say that he has never seen “so little common ground between our member states…. Never before have I heard so many leaders speak only of their domestic problems, with Europe mentioned only in passing, if at all…. Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralyzed by the risk of defeat in the next elections. Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our Union.”

Juncker also announced that since Great Britain is on its way out of the European Union, a common European army can finally be established, as he had proposed at least a year ago. This announcement should please Viktor Orbán who, to everybody’s surprise, announced his desire to set up a common army in his speech at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad, Romania, on July 23. It was strange to hear Orbán’s insistence on an EU army when he is so keen on national sovereignty. I suspect that this announcement was designed to give Orbán a way out of the corner into which he painted himself with his constant opposition to everything coming from Brussels–with the exception of EU funds. He knew full well about the plan for a common army and decided to throw his weight behind it, acting as if it was his own idea. That way, when Juncker announces the decision to go ahead with the plan, he can proclaim victory, which his domestic supporters will believe and applaud. After all, “Brussels” had to accept his demand for a strong border defense. This way, after the Bratislava meeting he can justify his adherence to other common decisions by pointing out that, after all, his main demand, a common army and border defense, was satisfied. Very cagey fellow. As for the future, let’s not be at all optimistic about Orbán’s behavior. No matter how European politicians emphasize the need for cooperation, he will continue his fight against Brussels, the West, and liberal democracy.

But let’s return briefly to the part of Juncker’s speech that addressed the refugee crisis. He asked for more solidarity, “but I also know that solidarity must be given voluntarily. It must come from the heart. It cannot be forced.” Well, let’s peek into some Hungarian hearts.

Orbán sent out all Fidesz politicians, from the highest to the lowest, on a three-week campaign for the referendum. One Fidesz MP who was campaigning with László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, cracked a joke about refugees at a town meeting in Jászberény. The “joke” went something like this. Three beggars are hard at work in Budapest. After the day is over they compare notes. The first one says that he got 2,000 forints because he wrote on a piece of paper that he was hungry. The second announced that he got 3,000 forints because he wrote on a poster that he had three hungry children. Finally, the third told them he did very well. He got 10,000 forints because he told the people that he needs the money to go home. Apparently they thought “the joke” was hilarious.

Kövér was no better. He accused the bureaucrats in Brussels of wanting to change the cultural, religious, and ethnic composition of Europe. The migrants are only the instruments of their evil plans. “This is a war in which they don’t use weapons.” The mayor of the town urged the Gypsies who were present to vote “no” in the referendum because otherwise they might lose their government assistance since the Hungarian state’s resources are finite. Kövér also accused the refugees of being rich. In his opinion, ten people in the audience don’t have as much money in the bank together as these “migrants” have alone. And it went on and on for two and a half hours.

But I left the “best” to last. A Hungarian Reformed minister, László Károly Bikádi of Hajmáskér, a small town about 14 km from Lake Balaton, delivered a sermon last Sunday, offered to the soldiers and policemen defending Hungary’s borders against the refugees. The text for his sermon was Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In his exegesis he said: “You just have to take a look at the story of the Samaritan. Jesus asks who the brethren of this man are. Everybody? Are we all brethren of each other? It is true that we are all children of God. But who are the brethren? Those who are merciful to us.” Then the merciful reverend launched into a muddled story about “us as white men who didn’t treat the colored people, be they Arabs, Negroes, Africans, Asians, as our brethren and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t look upon us as their brethren. And they are coming like locusts, coming because we chased them away from their lands. … Allow me to say that they are like ants, like the feral of the wilderness” and because the white men pushed them out from their natural habitat “they come like ants. They move into our houses. What happens with mice, voles, and other creatures of the field? They come and beset us.” He finished his sermon by asserting that although it might be our fault that these people are on the run, “we shouldn’t make the mistake of throwing out our values just because people arrived among us who don’t consider us their brethren.”

As far as I know, the Hungarian Reformed Church has issued no statement, despite the appearance of at least two articles on the disgraceful performance of one of their own.

On a positive note, I should report that two Catholic parish priests recently stood up against the Hungarian Catholic Church’s indifference toward the refugees. Alas, their leaders, the bishops, are either quiet or outright antagonistic. One of the worst is Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém, who believes that what Europeans are facing is “the yoke of Mohamed.” Today, in an interview, he went so far as to claim that what “we consider sin [the Muslims] consider virtue.” Even Miklós Beér, bishop of Vác, who occasionally says a few nice words about the downtrodden, announced the other day that he will vote “no” at the government-inspired referendum. As he put it at a recent international conference on “Reconquering Europe” held in Vác, every time Europe has abandoned its Judaeo-Christian moral heritage, Europeans were led astray. Thus, any dilution of that Christian heritage is dangerous and must be avoided.

September 14, 2016

Pope Francis and his Hungarian critics

Traditionally, the Hungarian Catholic Church has been led by extremely conservative prelates known for their symbiotic relationship with the state. This conservatism solidified during the communist period, when the church was cut off from all the modernizing trends that were taking place in the West.

After the return of parliamentary democracy in 1990, the Catholic Church allied itself with the governing right-of-center MDF, a Christian Democratic party. On the other side were the former communists who now called themselves socialists and the liberals with their unacceptable ideas of a secular state and their insistence on limiting the church’s role to spiritual matters. The left was obviously no place for the conservative church hierarchy. So, after the demise of MDF the Catholic Church became a steadfast supporter of Fidesz. Priests delivered propaganda sermons on Sundays before the 1998 election, urging their flock to vote for the right party. When Fidesz lost the election in 2002, they worked on the party’s behalf throughout the party’s eight lean years. In 2010 the Catholic Church became one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Orbán government’s largess.

Pope Francis

Their support for Fidesz is unwavering, even (or especially) when it comes to the refugee question. While Christian teachings would call for charity toward those in need, the Church’s humanitarian activities were minimal when thousands of refugees were stuck in Hungary for a while without any government help. Moreover, the two largest denominations, the Catholic and the Hungarian Reformed, have not criticized the hate campaign being waged against the refugees. On the contrary, some of the prelates have spread the most incredible theories about the people who are fleeing civil war and Islamic terrorism.

There are quite a few arch-conservatives in the Conference of Bishops, but perhaps the most extreme when it comes to the refugee question is Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém. In his opinion, these men, women, and children are not refugees. They come to Europe as conquerors. Millions of Muslims realize that Europe abandoned its Christian faith or, as Márfi puts it, “Europe removed the gentle yoke of Christ” and thus became a target for the yoke of Mohamed. He doesn’t care what Pope Francis says about Christian love and charity. Francis comes from Argentina and therefore knows very little about Europe.

This was Márfi’s opinion in October 2015, and with time he has become increasingly confident that he was correct in his appraisal of the situation. He even added that “migration doesn’t have causes but only purposes.” Anyone who denies this is either lying or gravely mistaken. For many of us this kind of language sounds crazy, but we mustn’t forget that Viktor Orbán himself often talked about the possibly organized nature of the refugee flow.

Not all Catholic bishops are as outspoken as Márfi, but he was not the only one who criticized Pope Francis for his welcoming attitude toward the refugees. László Kiss-Rigó, another conservative or right-wing bishop, told a journalist of The Washington Post that “they’re not refugees. This is an invasion.” He added that he was in total agreement with the prime minister. The pope, by contrast, “doesn’t know the situation.” Later, Kiss-Rigó tried to blame The Washington Post for distorting his words.

Gyula Márfi, Archbishop of Vác

Gyula Márfi, Archbishop of Vác

The relationship between the Hungarian Catholic Church and Pope Francis is strained. Most of the Hungarian church leaders think that he is naïve or, worse, perhaps even a liberal-socialist misfit within the body of the universal Catholic Church. And then came a conversation between the pope and journalists on the plane between Krakow and Rome after he spent five days in Poland at the end of July, which seems to have further upset the Hungarian clerics as well as the Hungarian political right. The conversation took place after the murder of an 85-year-old priest in western France. The pope said: “I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy—someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptized Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.”

The first reaction in the Hungarian media came from Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed journalist who works for the far-right Magyar Hírlap but also writes a blog in which this article appeared. Bayer was one of the founders of the youth organization out of which Fidesz emerged. In fact, he is the proud owner of the #5 membership card. I believe Kövér’s is #1 and Orbán’s #2. In this article Bayer tore into the pope, who in his opinion is “either a senile old fool who is totally unsuitable to be the pope or a scoundrel. Momentarily, I can’t think of a third possibility.”

A day after Bayer’s post the pro-government Magyar Idők published an article about the pope’s controversial statement but opted not to express any opinion of its own. The journalist simply quoted two English-language publications, The American Conservative and The Catholic Herald. 888.hu was less circumspect when it made fun of the pope, who thinks that “Christ might live in one of the rejected migrants.” 888.hu quoted Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, according to whom a war of religion is being waged at the moment. Islam, he claims, calls “for our destruction.” Graham argues that “what’s sin in Europe, is virtue” in the Islamic world. So, the war is on. The pope is wrong.

György Stoffán, a far-right journalist with a dubious biography in Wikipedia, went so far as to demand the pope’s resignation. According to Stoffán, Pope Francis is “not a bad man, just not a European and not a Catholic.” The pope is not only being manipulated by Jews but is a Jew himself, a son of Jewish refugees from Italy. Yes, Stoffán belongs to the lunatic fringe, but it is enough to do a quick internet search to discover that he has company: “Pope Francis is a Jewish impostor,” “biblical prophecy from book of Obadiah reveals pope’s shocking Jewish agenda.” These stories are most likely inspired by Pope Francis’s renunciation of Jewish conversion at the end of 2015. Fundamentalists immediately protested, saying that the Vatican is wrong because Jews do need Jesus. Some of these fundamentalists even said that his teachings are heretical and that he is an anti-pope.

Given Pope Francis’s views, I’m not surprised that many conservatives inside and outside of the Church find him unacceptable and would love to see him disappear as soon as possible. And once he is gone, the Church should forget about his heretical social liberalism. As for the Hungarian people, given their attitude to the alien culture of the refugees, I’m sure that they wholeheartedly agree with the critics of Pope Francis.

August 13, 2016

Intellectual fraud in Hungary

Today I will cover two topics. First, the industry that has developed to write essays and research papers, without which a Hungarian student cannot receive his diploma. Using other people’s work and passing it off as your own is plagiarism. In legal terms, it is a fraud, which is a punishable act. Second, a historical fraud: the history of the pilgrimage of Csíksomlyó/Şumuleu Ciuc.

Researchers for hire

The other day I found a fascinating article in Magyar Nemzet about a service for those who, after four years of higher education, are still unable to write a senior essay, as it is known here. In Hungary it is called “szakdolgozat.” In both cases the student is supposed to demonstrate that he/she is capable of independent and original research. It seems that many Hungarian students are either too lazy or are actually incapable of producing a research paper of about 40-50 pages. These are the people who turn to professional “manufacturers” of senior papers.

After reading the article, I managed to locate an internet site that offers a wide range of help for university students. Students can purchase not only “outlines” of topics but also complete essays to fulfill part of their course requirements. As the site explains, “during the course of college or university studies a student may have to write dozens of essays. In case you don’t have time or have difficulties with some of them, get in touch with us and we will help.” The enterprising businessmen of szakdolgozatiras.hu described the final research paper as “the greatest obstacle to receiving one’s diploma.” They claim to have supplied more than 1,600 senior papers over a ten-year period, and the testimonials coming from satisfied customers are super.

In addition to the professional senior paper factories there are those Magyar Nemzet calls the lone wolves. One freelancer admitted that he has been writing papers for others for the last eight years and up to now has “helped out about 250 people.” Some of these freelancers come cheap. The journalists found one fellow who charges only 56,000 forints (about $200) for the job, but such a low price is rare. According to Magyar Nemzet, a senior paper (B.A. or B.S.) costs 100,000-120,000 forints and a master’s thesis 112,000-140,000. If the work has to be in English, it will cost at least 200,000 forints.

After doing a little research on the subject and looking at some of the papers, I came to the conclusion that a large percentage of customers are students who attend college at night. There is a good likelihood that they really are at a loss when it comes to producing original work. And their professors don’t seem ready to guide them. So, they turn to “professionals.” Those who need help getting started but don’t want to buy a completed essay can get paper topics, outlines, and bibliographies. Such a service costs only 15,000-20,000 forints.

I may add that there is nothing new under the sun. My father told me that this was common practice at the Budapest University of Technology between the two world wars, especially when it came to writing a “doctoral dissertation.”

A historical falsification

It was all over the papers last weekend that President János Áder and his wife were going to take part in the gathering that has become a celebration of national unity across borders. Thousands of “pilgrims” gather every year in Csíksomlyó, equipped with Szekler and Hungarian flags. The pilgrimage is religious in origin, but by now religion takes a back seat to nationalism.

The story that allegedly justifies the pilgrimage is that in 1567, during Pentecost, János Zsigmond, prince of Transylvania, tried to convert the Catholic Szeklers to his own faith, Unitarianism. While the men of Csíksomlyó fought the prince’s troops, the women prayed in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, who helped them against the evil prince and his troops. The trouble with the story is that it is not true.

The statue the women of Csíksomlyó allegedly prayed to in 1567

The statue of the Virgin Mary the women of Csíksomlyó allegedly prayed to in 1567

Csíksomlyó was granted the right to hold a pilgrimage every July 2, the Day of Visitation, when the pregnant Virgin Mary visited the also pregnant St. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. It is not clear when the date of the pilgrimage was moved, most likely during the eighteenth century when a Hungarian nobleman in Habsburg service in Vienna came up with the story of János Zsigmond’s attempt to forcibly convert the Catholic Szeklers to Unitarianism. Prior to 1780, when the story was first published, no one had ever heard of the great battle between the Catholic Szeklers and János Zsigmond’s troops. It is true, however, that Unitarianism was spreading rapidly in the Szekler areas of Transylvania at that time as a result of the preaching of Ferenc Dávid, a Hungarian Reformed bishop who had turned Unitarian.

Janos Zsigmond

János Zsigmond Zápolya (1540-1571)

First, a few words about János Zsigmond Zápolya (1540-1571), son of János Zápolya, who after the battle of Mohács in 1526 was elected king of Hungary by the majority of the Hungarian nobles. János Zsigmond’s mother was Izabella, daughter of the Polish king Sigismund I.

János Zsigmond was both handsome and extremely well educated. He spoke eight languages fluently and was a great lover and supporter of music and the arts. He himself played the flute and the organ. He was known as a man of religious tolerance whose greatest achievement was the discontinuation of state religion and the declaration of freedom for all religious denominations in the territory of Transylvania. János Zsigmond made this declaration in 1568, a year after he had allegedly waged war against the Catholics at Csíksomlyó. At the Diet at Torda/Turda he issued the Edict of Torda or the Patent of Toleration:

His majesty, our Lord, in what manner he–together with his realm–legislated in the matter of religion at the previous Diets, in the same matter now, in this Diet, reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching. For faith is the gift of God and this comes from hearing, which hearings is by the word of God.

Unitarians of Transylvania—and there are 75,000 of them—have repeatedly asked György Jakubinyi, archbishop of Gyulafehérvár/Alba Iulia, to debunk the story as sheer fiction. The archbishop expressed his regret that the occasion is used to foment religious discord, but there has been no correction of the erroneous historical facts. In fact, according to those who attended the pilgrimage, the speakers told the gathering crowds the same untrue story about the intolerant Unitarian king of Hungary and later Prince of Transylvania.

Hungarians should be proud that Unitarianism as a distinct religion was born in Hungary and that the first Patent of Toleration was declared there, even as elsewhere in Europe religious wars were being fought. By the way, a good short biography of János Zsigmond is available in English online. He is a historical figure who shouldn’t be forgotten–or besmirched.

May 23, 2016

Religion is not a private matter according to the Hungarian government

A month ago Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources and an ordained Hungarian Reformed minister, ruffled the feathers of those who take the separation of church and state seriously. The occasion was a speech he delivered in Szombathely at a thanksgiving service upon the completion of a steeple for the local Hungarian Reformed church and the installation of three new bells.

Balog was present because his ministry gave a 43.3 million forint grant for the steeple and five million for the bells. When all was said and done, the 29-meter steeple cost 73 million and the price tag of the bells, which were cast in Poland, turned out to be 10 million forints. From the Népszabadság article it is not clear who paid for the cost overrun.

Balog in his speech announced that “religion is not a private matter. The confession of faith is the most personal public issue.” It is for that reason that the government considers it important to support the construction of churches. Népszabadság’s reaction to the news was “Back to the Middle Ages? According to Balog, religion is not a private matter.”

Balog’s pronouncement shouldn’t surprise anyone because the Hungarian right’s belief in a close relationship between church and state has been of long standing. The first reference I found to this “personal public” concept was Lóránt Hegedűs’s assertion in 1998 that “religion is not a private affair but the most personal public matter.” The same language Balog used. Hegedűs, the openly anti-Semitic Hungarian Reformed minister, is, after all, Balog’s colleague.

In 2006, during the heat of the election campaign, Zsolt Semjén, chairman of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), attacked Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who had announced earlier that “religion is a private matter.” Semjén at this point turned to Cardinal József Mindszenty, who in 1946 had claimed that “where religion is a private matter there is corruption, sin, and cruelty.” He added that Hitler also thought that religion is a private matter and “soon enough came the Gestapo, Auschwitz, and jail.” Because of the machinations of SZDSZ politicians, an “amok-runner” was let loose on the country, who is now destroying the heritage of St. Stephen. A huge outcry followed Semjén’s accusations.

A couple of years ago members of Catholic Radio met with church leaders. During this meeting Bishop László Rigó-Kiss, one of the most reactionary Catholic bishops, expressed the church’s demand that church news should be spread widely in the media because “religion is the most personal public matter.” The same notion was expressed by Fidesz Mayor Attila Ughy of Budapest’s District XVIII, who added that for this reason the District financially supports, to the tune of 25 million forints, both Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches.

The debate over the private versus public nature of religion has a long history. Perhaps the best known expression of the belief that religion is a private matter comes from Thomas Jefferson, who in his letter to the Danbury Baptists wrote: “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship.”


What led me to this topic today was a recent opinion piece by Gábor Czakó, a Catholic writer who established a separate association of Catholic journalists. The article appeared in Magyar Idők. We learn from Czakó that the Kádár regime “transformed religion, the greatest public matter, into a private affair.” It was “inspired by a liberal idea.” The Kádár regime was so successful at implanting this erroneous idea into the heads of people that even right-wing “thinkers” believe that “the Christian faith is a private matter while Islam is a way of life.” But this is not so as long as there is a “templum,” which is a community gathering place. Liberals and socialists, however, first harassed Christians and Christian churches and finally declared the Christian religion to be a private matter.

Here are a couple of historical examples of real religiosity that Czakó cites. “Who remembers nowadays that during the kings of the House of Árpád there were more than one hundred holy days when work was forbidden and even later people devoted a third of the year to God? It was the Freemason Joseph, the hatted one, that suppressed them.” Czakó is talking about Joseph II (1741-1790), who declined to be crowned king of Hungary because he refused to swear to Hungary’s feudal constitution. Therefore people called him “kalapos király,” the hatted king. According to Czakó, the “snake of liberalism” is seemingly on the winning side against God and man, but slowly people are returning to God and away from liberalism.

Nowadays talk about Christianity in Hungary often ends by asserting its superiority over Islam. Czakó points to Jesus’s teaching “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” which he claims is unique among world religions. Czakó finds clear examples of such Christian charity among Hungarian kings. His first example is St. Stephen, who successfully repelled Emperor Konrad II, whose army in 1030 got as far as Győr but had to retreat. The Hungarians even occupied Vienna. So far the story is true, but I found nothing about Hungary’s saintly king feeding Konrad’s starving troops, as Czakó claims. His second example is another incursion into Hungary, this time in 1051 by the troops of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. In Czakó’s story András I fed the starving German soldiers. Again, I found nothing about this great act of generosity.

Hungarian churchmen and devoted members of the Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches categorically reject the notion of religion being at heart a private matter. This goes against mainstream thinking on the subject in western thought. Today, the overwhelming majority of people consider their relationship to God or to organized religion to be private. With the rejection of liberalism, this important tenet is being attacked in Hungary, not only by the churches but also by the government.

May 22, 2016

József Mindszenty: An inveterate anti-Semite or a national hero?

Today I will take a step back from everyday politics and write about a controversial historical figure, József Mindszenty (1892-1975), Prince Primate and Archbishop of Esztergom between 1945 and 1973. Just to refresh people’s memory, Mindszenty was arrested on charges of treason and conspiracy on December 26 1948, and on February 3, 1949 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 he was released from prison, and on November 3, a day before the Soviet decision to put an end to the uprising, he gave a radio address that was not universally well received. Instead of leaving the country, a possibility that was open to him at that time, he opted for political asylum in the United States Embassy, where he lived for 15 long years. Apparently, the Vatican wasn’t thrilled at his abandoning his flock. His unresolved case was a burden on both the Vatican and the Kádár regime. Eventually Pope Paul declared Mindszenty a “victim of history” (instead of communism) and annulled the excommunication Pius XII had imposed on those responsible for Mindszenty’s arrest and imprisonment. As a result of the pope’s action, the Hungarian government allowed Mindszenty to leave the country in September 1971. He went to Austria. The pope urged him to resign his posts in the Hungarian Catholic Church in exchange for the uncensored publication of his memoirs. Mindszenty refused. In December 1973 he was stripped of his titles by the pope, who declared the Archdiocese of Esztergom officially vacated.

Fast forward. You may recall that starting in early 2015 Viktor Orbán began visiting numerous provincial cities, offering them large sums of money, mostly coming from Brussels. Among the projects were, naturally, several football stadiums as well as improvements in infrastructure in and around the cities. He called it the “Modern Cities Program.”

In May 2015 he visited Zalaegerszeg, where one of the promised gifts from the government was a memorial center and museum in honor of Cardinal Mindszenty, who spent 25 years in Zalaegerszeg as a parish priest. The mayor of the city hopes that the “pilgrimage tourism” generated by such a center will be a real financial bonanza for Zalaegerszeg. The government is pouring a lot of money into the project. Almost six billion forints will be spent on renovating the church where Mindszenty served, a parking garage will be built, and a hotel for the pilgrims will be fashioned out of a castle nearby. All that in addition to the center itself. There is the strong hope that by the time the pilgrimage center opens in 2018 Mindszenty will be granted the title “Blessed” as the second step in his canonization process. He is already “Venerable.” However, Mindszenty’s canonization process hasn’t been moving forward in the last 25 years, perhaps because, as Endre Aczél, the well-known journalist pointed out, Mindszenty wasn’t exactly an obedient son of the Church.

Plan of the Mindszenty Memorial Center in Zalaegerszeg

The planned Mindszenty Memorial Center in Zalaegerszeg

The inveterate anti-Semite

Mindszenty is a very controversial figure, and it is unlikely that historians will ever agree on his role in the Catholic Church and in Hungarian politics. Today I’ll summarize two recent historical assessments of the man.

Let me start with an interview with Zoltán Paksy that appeared in Magyar Narancs in connection with news of the planned Mindszenty Center in Zalaegerszeg. In his opinion, “the person of József Mindszenty is not worthy of such veneration, and certainly he is not an example to be followed.” The story which Mindszenty himself spread that he was arrested early in his career by the communist henchmen of the Hungarian Republic is not true. He was actually arrested during the Károlyi period because he was caught organizing a movement that was supposed to topple the new democratic regime. His real aim was the restoration of the monarchy and the maintenance of the dominance of the Catholic Church. “He was a backward, anti-modernist, intolerant man, and an inveterate anti-Semite.” Mindszenty, then still called József Pehm, established a local paper (Zalamegyei Újság) that was full of anti-Semitic writings about the “Galician hordes.” His editorials frequently condemned the destructive Jewish liberal press.

Mindszenty also dabbled in politics. He was the county chairman of the Keresztény Párt, which in 1922 joined István Bethlen’s government party. After that date Mindszenty’s paper became more careful because Bethlen didn’t tolerate anti-Semitic propaganda within government circles. Once Bethlen left politics, however, Zalamegyei Újság again returned to its earlier habit of giving space to anti-Semitic voices. In 1938 Mindszenty was one of the honorary presidents of the Association of Christian Industrialists and Merchants, which was an openly anti-Semitic organization. At the time of his inauguration he said that “the nation must recapture industry and trade,” obviously from the Jews.

Paksy said that he couldn’t find any documentation corroborating the claim that Mindszenty hid Jews in the spring and summer of 1944, although stories to that effect remain in circulation. It is true that he was an opponent of Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross party but, according to Paksy, it was because he considered them to be his political rivals who managed to capture the support of the countryside.

As for his general intolerance, here are a couple of examples. He refused to take part in any ceremony organized by the city where the Protestant ministers of the town were also present as equals. And in 1922 he hit a man because he didn’t take his hat off when meeting him on the street.

The National Hero

An opposing view of József Mindszenty comes from Margit Balogh, who has spent 25 years studying his career. Her latest effort is a two-volume, 1,570-page biography of Mindszenty based on extensive research in 50 Hungarian and foreign archives. The earlier, shorter biography that she wrote has already been translated into German, and its English translation is being prepared. According to Balogh, “despite his mistakes and faults, József Mindszenty was a national hero.”

Balogh admits that in the Zalamegyei Újság “we can find vehement, unacceptable expressions,” but “Mindszenty’s criticism of Jews was not the racial kind but originated from Christian anti-Judaism.” Moreover, she claims that with time he mellowed. For example, during the summer of 1944, as Bishop of Veszprém, “while he denied that the Church is pro-Jewish (zsidóbarát), he also made it clear that what is happening to the Jews is not defense of the nation (nemzetvédelem) but murder, a sin according to the Ten Commandments.” He expressed regret over the insensitive reporting of the deportation of the Jews by the diocese’s paper: “We should have done more and more forcefully.”

Balogh also admits that in the spring of 1944 Mindszenty saw nothing wrong with “an exchange of Jewish-Christian ownership,” but “the cruelty of the deportations made a great impression on him.” For example, by September he specifically forbade his priests to acquire Jewish properties. The historian also admits that, as far as she knows, Mindszenty didn’t make any effort to save Jews. He did, however, want to spare human lives and wrote a letter to Szálasi asking him to evacuate Transdanubia in order to save lives at this hopeless stage of the war.

Zoltán Paksy’s research was limited to Mindszenty’s years in Zalaegerszeg and didn’t extend to his actions after 1945. Balogh, however, admits that the other Hungarian prelates were not thrilled with Mindszenty’s unbending attitude toward the new regime. They suggested more flexibility in order to get the best possible deal for the church under difficult conditions. Yet, says Balogh, he was the only one who “defended the values of democracy against communist expansion.”

Mindszenty certainly was a symbol of resistance to the growing expansion of Mátyás Rákosi’s rule. A few months before his arrest he celebrated mass in Máriagyűd, where 150,000 people gathered to hear him, and delivered a fiery speech against the invaders from the East. So, in that sense Balogh is right. On the other hand, she has been unable to refute Zoltán Paksy’s assessment of the younger József Mindszenty.

April 24, 2016