Tag Archives: Hungarian Reformed Church

Viktor Orbán’s election campaign in Romania

Just the other day I saw a short article full of advice about how to achieve a happy and healthy old age. It listed all those well-known factors that have an important bearing on our well-being: proper nutrition, exercise, relaxation, intellectual activities, and the proper amount of sleep. I have bad news for Viktor Orbán, who, as an article pointed out, has aged fifteen years in five, comparing his photos then and now. Since he gave up taking care of everyday governance, finding administrative duties at home too boring, and started spending his time trying to act like an important world leader, he has had a punishing schedule.

Let’s take the following example of his hectic gallivanting about. He left Budapest on the evening of September 24 for Hanoi, Vietnam, where he arrived on the 25th. Around noon on September 26 he arrived in Singapore, where he spent not quite two days. The large Hungarian delegation arrived in Budapest from Singapore on the evening of September 27. The next morning, on September 28, he was already in Ohrid, Macedonia, where he and Prime Minister Janes Jansa of Slovenia “gave a hearty boost to Macedonia’s ousted leader Nikola Gruevski in the run-up to Macedonia’s local elections.” You know–the one who was allegedly ousted by George Soros himself. A few hours later he was in Tallinn, Estonia, for an EU conference, where again he spent only a few hours because by eight o’clock that evening he was in Cluj/Kolozsvár in Romania. After spending September 30 and part of October 1 in Kolozsvár and in Florești/Szászfenes, he travelled to Oradea/Nagyvárad, where he spent another day and a half before returning to Budapest sometime in the afternoon of October 3. A busy ten days for sure.

The few hours spent in Tallinn were good enough only for a brief talk with the Dutch foreign minister, whom Orbán forgave for the harsh words of the Dutch ambassador to Budapest. He agreed to the return to Amsterdam of the Hungarian ambassador, who had been hastily recalled about a month ago.

He had more important things to do at the next stop, Romania. The ostensible reason for this extended trip was celebration of the birth of Protestantism 500 years ago, in 1517. Normally, Orbán is not in the habit of spending almost five days in any one country, and although I understand that his newly found fervent faith makes him more interested in religious matters, it is still hard to believe that the real goal of his trip was to talk about Protestantism as part of the religious history of Hungary. After reading the description of his speeches and interview, I can say that Viktor Orbán was clearly campaigning in Romania. He indicated that continued financial support depends on whether the Hungarians of Romania support him and his government. If the liberals and socialists win the 2018 election, the generous aid packages will come to an end. Or, at least this is what he wanted his audience to believe. The extremely generous maintenance of Hungarian religious, cultural, and educational facilities in Romania began during the first Orbán government, in 2000/2001. But two years later, when Orbán lost the election, the new socialist-liberal government uninterruptedly gave the same amount of money to Hungarian organizations in Romania as before.

Orbán delivered three speeches. The first was in Cluj/Kolozsvár in the Protestant Theological Institute, the second in Florești/Szászfenes at the consecration of a new Hungarian Reformed Church, and, finally, one in Oradea/Nagyvárad at the convocation of the Partium Christian University. His first speech was almost like a Hungarian Reformed sermon. It was only at the very end that he began talking about his government’s vision for the Hungarian community, which might be divided by borders but is nonetheless a unitary living organ that cannot live a full, happy life if any of its parts is in need or ill. Therefore, he would like to see a future in which “the soaring Hungary is joined with an emerging Romania.” He would like to see “a future in which the Visegrád 4 countries, the engines of the European economy, and Romania unite.” Well, considering how fast the Romanian economy is growing, I wouldn’t be talking so glowingly about the “soaring” Hungary and so disparagingly about the “emerging” Romania. In general, he claimed that “the age of national pride” is ascending in which “the future will be written in Hungarian.”

A day later he delivered a speech in Florești/Szászfenes, which is only a few miles from Cluj/Kolozsvár. Historically speaking, it was a Catholic town, but lately a lot of people moved from Kolozsvár to Szászfenes and by now there is a community of about 1,000 Hungarian-speaking Protestants in the town. They decided to build a church and, from what I read, the cost was covered almost in its entirety by the Hungarian government.

The new Hungarian Reformed Church in Florești/Szászfenes / Source: Krónika

On October 2 he talked to the students of Partium Christian University, another university the Hungarian government keeps going in Oradea/Nagyvárad. First, a few words about the Partium or “Részek.” It is a historical and geographical region that consisted of the eastern and northern parts of Hungary proper, i.e. it did not include historical Transylvania. Today it is the westernmost part of Romania, along the Hungarian border. Orbán’s speech was full of boasts about Partium’s strong “hinterland,” meaning Hungary. A few years ago no one dared even to dream about the flowering of Hungary that has been achieved under the leadership of Viktor Orbán. Hungary is no longer a small state but “a middle-sized country of consequence” that can contribute to the peace and well-being of other people in the Carpathian Basin. Those people who are ready to cooperate with the Hungarians will fare well. By now the Slovenians, the Slovaks, and the Serbs have already discovered the benefit, and he “very much hopes that Romania one day will follow their example.”

Orbán even found time to give an interview to the Bihari Napló, serving Nagyvárad and Bihor/Bihar County. Here he openly campaigned for votes for the next national election. The great economic success of Hungary began when the Orbán government decided to give dual citizenship to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. When “these Hungarians in the diaspora were connected to the Hungarian national circulatory system,” suddenly, the people’s “sense of security began to grow, their vigor increased, and therefore the economy started to grow.” It is for this reason that he encouraged everybody to participate in the national election next spring. Finally, he made another pitch for cooperation between the Visegrád 4 countries and Romania. Surely, he would like to shore up the rather shaky Visegrád Group by having Romania join it. But I’m almost certain that this will not happen in the foreseeable future.

Finally, a few words about the amount of money that has been given to these institutions over the years. In addition to the Partium Christian University, the Hungarian government subsidizes another university, the Sapientia Transylvanian Hungarian University, with faculties in Miercurea Ciuc/ Csíkszereda, Cluj/Kolozsvár, and Târgu Mureș/Marosvásárhely. All Hungarian institutions of higher learning in Romania are financed through the Sapientia Foundation, which since its establishment in 2000 has received 25.6 billion forints from the Hungarian state. According to Magyar Idők, altogether 37 billion forints were given to the Sapientia Foundation from Hungarian sources. The newspaper doesn’t go into details, but I assume that some Hungarian state companies and churches contributed the additional money.

A year ago napi.hu asked for the figures on the amount of money the Hungarian government spends on Hungarian schools operating abroad. The list of colleges and universities is very long, and the amount of money is substantial. Apparently during 2015 they received 608,232,000 forints. Without the subsidies, these Hungarian-language institutions wouldn’t be able to survive.

October 5, 2017

The Orbán government’s penchant for religious educational institutions

As I was browsing through local Pécs news sites yesterday, I happened upon an article about the beginning of the school year. It wasn’t so much the article that caught my eye but the accompanying photo, which I recognized as a Protestant church service for school children. (The tipoff was the way the kids were clasping their hands in prayer.) From the article I learned that indeed the photo was taken at the Pécs Református Kollégium, which was the site of the official school opening for the whole city. Given that the official ceremony took place in a parochial school, Bishop István Szabó, head of the Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church, gave a short sermon, which was followed by the usual speeches for the occasion. Among the speakers was Péter Páva, head of the local school district, who boasted about the generous government support for education. He claimed that the government will spend 254,000 forints for each and every student next year. If you’re wondering whether Péter Páva is related to Mayor Zsolt Páva, the answer is yes. He is his younger brother. The city and its education are in good hands.

School opening in the Pécs Hungarian Reformed elementary school

I for one find it offensive that the official school opening, at which government and municipal officials give speeches, is held in a parochial school, although I shouldn’t have been surprised because the official national school opening this year was held in a Hungarian Reformed church in Nagykőrös. Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, and László Palkovics, undersecretary in charge of education, were among the speakers. The event was organized by the local Hungarian Reformed educational institution, which includes an elementary school, two gymnasiums, and a boarding school. There is no longer even the pretension of a separation of church and state in Hungary.

Last November János Lázár said that “the most important institutions of education in Hungary are the parochial schools and the primary goal of education is to raise good Christians and good Hungarians. Everything beyond that is debatable and indefinite. One doesn’t know whether it would stand the test of time. The lesson of the last 1,000 years is that the nation can endure only through religious educational institutions.” These unacceptable sentences were uttered in the Hungarian Reformed church in Mezőtúr.

Lázár’s speech prompted quite a debate at the time. Perhaps the most thoughtful comments came from Gergely Nádori, a high school teacher in the Alternatív Közgazdasági Gimnázium, an excellent private school in Budapest. He pointed out that Lázár’s words reveal his total lack of knowledge of Protestant religions, which pay special attention to Paul’s teaching that “it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy” (Rom 9:16). That is, no one can create good Christians. It is the gift of God. He also noted that most parochial schools in Hungary today do not have the religious support of local communities. In the majority of the cases, the parents are not religious people; more often than not, they don’t even belong to the church whose schools their children attend. The decision to send a child to a religious educational education is based on utterly pragmatic considerations.

The number of parochial schools has been growing rapidly, especially after the nationalization of schools formerly run by the municipalities. In 2010 there were 572 communities where churches maintained schools. By the 2016/2017 school year that number had grown to 1,308. In 2010 112,500 students attended parochial schools; today their number is 207,800. As a result, some communities ended up without school choice. According to a study conducted by the Magyar Liberális Párt, there are 95 villages without a public school and 30 larger towns where there is no choice when it comes to high school. This is an unacceptable situation, and there are plans to turn to the Constitutional Court for remedy.

Although Hungarian parochial schools often require church attendance and school prayer, the children who come out of these schools are not any more religious than those who attend public schools. Even as the number of parochial schools multiplied, between 2000 and 2016 the number of churchgoers between the ages of 15 and 28 plummeted.

Most parents don’t opt for a parochial school because they want their children to have a religious education. The reason is financial. Parochial schools receive a great deal more money from the state per student than do public schools. The extent of the discrimination is staggering. On the basis of calculations done by the Költségvetési Felelősségi Intézet, a financial think tank, while the state disburses 61,300 forints per child to the public schools, parochial schools get 160,000 forints per student. So, 2.6 times more. In fact, in the next school year the situation will be worse because public schools will receive only 58,300 forints per student, while parochial schools will get 200,000 forints per student. The difference will be 3.4 times in favor of the latter.

Parochial schools have further perks. They don’t have to use the textbooks published by a government publishing house, which, according to the majority of teachers, are inferior to the earlier ones. Unlike public schools, parochial schools don’t have to accommodate all students within their school districts. They can accept only the most qualified students. Thus, the larger the number of parochial schools, the greater will be the already huge gap between elite schools and run-of-the mill or worse schools.

The government also announced at the beginning of July that it will give an additional 22 billion forints to the Piarists for the renovation and expansion of five schools run by the order. They are gymnasiums located in Göd, Kecskemét, Mosonmagyaróvár, Nagykanizsa, and Sátoraljaújhely. The Ministry of Human Resources justified this incredible amount of money by saying that these five institutions will educate 2,500 students. The money will be spent over the next four years. By way of comparison, the government is planning to spend 30 billion forints for the reform of hospitals in Budapest, which affect the health of 4-4.5 million people.

I feel very strongly about this issue. The close relationship between church and state has been an impediment to modernization and to social and economic development. This was true during the dual monarchy and even more so during the Horthy era. My natural inclination regarding this topic was only reinforced by my unpleasant experiences at a parochial school that I attended because of a lack of choice. Therefore, I am saddened that today there are communities where parents must send their children to a religious school, perhaps against their better judgment. And the fact that the Orbán government discriminates against 80% of students attending its own schools is scandalous and shameful. It was also outrageous that Zoltán Balog, in his initial confusion, said that the Hungarian government must wait for the official position of the Catholic Church on the question of in vitro fertilization. It took him a day or so to realize on what dangerous ground he was treading.

September 1, 2017

Is Zoltán Balog emotionally unfit to oversee the ministry of human resources?

It’s hard to pick the least sympathetic minister in Viktor Orbán’s cabinet, but Zoltán Balog, the former Calvinist minister, is definitely somewhere at the top of the list. Admittedly, my acquaintance with Calvinist ministers is limited, but I imagine that a good minister should be a compassionate human being who is ready to listen to the joys and sorrows of others. Someone who can offer solace. Someone who knows the meaning of empathy. Someone whose love of his fellow human beings is discernible in all his actions and words. Although I have never met him in person, when I think of a man who is the embodiment of the ideal clergyman it is Gábor Iványi who comes to mind, the Methodist minister whose church has been the victim of Viktor Orbán’s inexplicable hatred.

On the other hand, Orbán became very fond of Zoltán Balog, who joined the still liberal Fidesz party in 1991 as an adviser on church-related matters. In his student days and even later, Balog was highly critical of the conservative Hungarian Reformed Church and, in turn, the church hierarchy believed he should probably not become one of them. First, he was expelled from the Hungarian Reformed College of Debrecen and later from the Debrecen University of Reformed Theology. Although for a while he worked as a practicing minister, soon enough, after 1990, he drifted toward a political career. In 1993 and 1994 Viktor Orbán was refashioning the liberal Fidesz into a Christian Democratic party and was in need of people, Catholics as well as Protestants, who knew something about Christian churches.

By the time Viktor Orbán became prime minister in 1998 and Balog his chief adviser, Balog had abandoned his earlier liberal, even radical, ideas about relations between church and state and about a thorough revamping of the Hungarian Reformed Church. As time went by, he became more and more conservative, even radical in some ways. He was one of the first Fidesz critics of “politically correct” speech. He fought any legal restriction of “hate speech” and made some unfortunate remarks about the situation of the Roma when he claimed that the greatest danger the Gypsies face is not racism but hopelessness. Some of his earlier liberal friends didn’t know what to make of his sudden metamorphosis. One thing is sure. Balog today is one of the greatest apologists of the regime Viktor Orbán has built since 2010.

These are the bare facts of Balog’s transformation from Protestant minister to super minister of “human resources,” the person who is supposed to oversee education, health, sports, culture, churches, and family and youth. One would think that a former Protestant minister would be well suited to manage such human endeavors, yet over the years it became evident that Balog is singularly unfit for the job. Almost every time he opens his mouth he insults somebody or at least presents himself as an uncaring person.

Balog’s “mishaps” are too numerous to recount here, but I recommend my post from 2013 on the Hungarian Reformed Church Charity’s brilliant move of collecting 40 kids who live in poverty for a luxury dinner in the Budapest Hilton Hotel. They were served goose consomé with vegetables and rotini, chicken breast with a mushroom sauce prepared with Calvados, vegetable lasagna, broccoli, and rice. The dessert was yogurt strawberry cake. All this for kids who like pizza, hamburgers, and gyros. But then came the Reverend Balog’s speech in which explained that perhaps these children, when they have a job or “perhaps even go to college, who knows,” will be able to afford to eat in a restaurant like this. Or perhaps they will be able to visit Paris or Cluj/Kolozsvár. It was an incredible performance.

Since this incident, there were many others that demonstrated Balog’s insensitivity. For example, a couple of months ago at a gathering to celebrate the Day of the Ambulance Service he gave a speech at a breakfast meeting held in a relatively expensive restaurant in Budapest. It is a well-known fact that the members of the ambulance service receive shamelessly low salaries. Balog began his speech by cracking a “joke” about his audience whose members “eat breakfast here every day.” No one laughed.

More serious was when Balog and the newly appointed chief of the National Ambulance Service gave a press conference about the dreadful accident involving Hungarian high school students, 16 of whom burned to death in the bus near Verona. Balog introduced the new director by saying that “Gábor Csató just took over the leadership of the organization and it was a real baptism by fire, if one can say such a thing.” I guess one can, but one shouldn’t.

Balog made headlines a couple of days ago when he gave an interview on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk). He explained that Hungarian healthcare is not as bad as one would think after reading the Hungarian media, which entertains the public with fake news which in turn has a negative effect on healthcare itself. The conversation turned to the case of a little girl who was being operated on but since the Országos Kardiológiai Intézet (National Institute of Cardiology) doesn’t have a CT machine she had to be transported to another hospital in the middle of the operation. Balog saw no problem with this situation. At least there is another hospital to which she could be transported. Instead of talking about the lack of CT and MRI machines, the media should concentrate on the higher salaries doctors are getting thanks to the government. He seemed to be totally unsympathetic to the little girl’s plight, who died a few hours after she was transported to the other hospital.

Most likely the trip to another hospital was not the cause of the girl’s death, but people nonetheless felt that Balog’s reaction, as usual, was inappropriate to the occasion. HVG pointed out that there are two possibilities. First, Balog may have been unaware of the death of the patient about whom many articles had been written lately. Or, second, he knew about it and yet showed no sympathy or emotion. In the former case, he is not fit to be a cabinet minister, and in the latter, he is unfit to be a clergyman.

July 13, 2017

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

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.

juncker

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

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.”

Jefferson

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

The Hungarian Catholic church and education

Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I heard it, but to my total astonishment and dismay I learned that 550 schools in Hungary have been taken over by the Catholic Church and 250 by the Hungarian Reformed Church. Of course, I knew that over the years, especially after 2010 with the active assistance of the Orbán government, the number of parochial schools had been growing, but the figures I heard yesterday simply took my breath away. I was especially alarmed since I also read that the government is working hard to convince the churches to take over even more schools since the Orbán government’s efforts to run a centralized school system have failed.

Here are a few statistics. In the 2009/10 school year there were 2,133 kindergartens, 2,019 elementary schools (grades 1 to 8), 442 trade schools, and 1,316 high schools of various types. In that year churches were in charge of 139 kindergartens, 194 elementary schools, and 168 high schools. By the 2014/15 school year the Catholic Church ran 497 institutions, the Hungarian Reformed Church 221, and the Lutheran Church 74. This is a 58% increase, assuming that the number of schools remained the same.

Many of the school takeovers had actually been initiated by the municipalities before the nationalization of schools following Viktor Orbán’s electoral success in 2010. Communities, especially the poorer ones, found the maintenance of schools without support from the central government a burden they could no longer bear. Parochial schools received more money per pupil from the government than secular schools did, so municipalities figured that the schools could be placed on a more secure footing. After the nationalization of schools, principals and teachers themselves championed for a takeover by the churches because this way they could escape the fate of being subordinated to KLIK, the mammoth “owner” of all Hungarian non-parochial and non-private schools.

Many parents believe that because of their more generous financing parochial schools are better than secular state-run schools. A list of the 100 best Hungarian high schools belies this belief. And what parents don’t think about when sending their children to parochial schools is that they will have to take the bad with the good. It is one thing that parochial schools are financially better off than state schools and that they don’t have to wage battle with KLIK for every piece of chalk. The downside, at least for parents with no religious affiliation, is that their children will be subjected to religious indoctrination and will be taught the conservative worldview one expects from the Hungarian Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches.

I looked up the rules and regulations of Pannonia Sacra Catholic Elementary School. Reading them, I was transported back to the two most miserable years of my life when I, as a non-Catholic child of 10, had to attend a Catholic school. There was no choice. It was the only girls’ gymnasium in the city of Pécs.

Just to give you an idea of how micromanaged the children’s lives are at Pannonia Sacra, the school’s rules are 34 printed pages long. Among the many useless rules the students’ duties and rights are carefully noted, but one gets mighty suspicious about the extent of these rights when one reads that one of the students’ rights is “to practice their religion at the time prescribed by the school.” In case someone thinks my translation is faulty, here is the original: “Vallását az iskola által meghatározott időben és keretek között gyakorolja.”

These horrid white stocking seems to be a favorite at Catholic schools

These horrid white stockings seem to be a favorite at Catholic schools

In school all teachers must be greeted with “Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus” (Praise be Jesus Christ), a Catholic custom. Designated children have to check the so-called “report books” (ellenőrző) every morning. If a child doesn’t have it with him, the officially designated student will have to report him to the teacher. There are children designated “shepherds” whose duties last a whole week. They arrive at school early and “assist the work of the teachers and keep order.” They take the report books of those who arrive late and naturally inform the teacher of this terrible sin. Then there are the “pipers” who lead their classes to morning prayer. Unless I’m mistaken, no student is allowed to bring a smart phone or tablet to school because they are too expensive and considered to be ostentatious. Anyone who thinks that this is the way to bring up and teach children in the twenty-first century should send their children to Pannonia Sacra and similar Hungarian parochial schools. They’ll be well prepared for nineteenth-century life.

Horror stories rarely become public, but one such story surfaced only a few days ago about a Catholic elementary school in Sajólád, a village close to Miskolc. Even the Fidesz-KDNP mayor wants the Catholic Church out of the village’s only school two years after its takeover. The story involves discrimination against non-Catholic students. Thirty sets of parents decided to take their children out of this Catholic school and send them to Kistokaj, seven kilometers away. Some of these children were Hungarian Reformed. Others belonged to the eighty-member Jehovah Witnesses community. The parents discovered that their children had to repeat Catholic prayers, had to cross themselves, and in general were forced to participate in Catholic rituals. In addition, there were complaints of sexual molestation of younger children by older ones. If the contract with the Catholic Church cannot be abrogated, Sajólád has to put up with the present situation for twenty-five years. Right now the decision is in the hands of the Archbishop of Eger.

I should also add that Catholic parochial schools facilitate the segregation of Roma children, as Miklós Beer, bishop of Vác, admitted recently.

It seems to me that the Hungarian Catholic Church has learned nothing in the last 70 years because, the rule book of Pannonia Sacra and the stories from Sajólád (well, not the reports of sexual molestation) differ mighty little from what I experienced at the Saint Elizabeth Gymnasium run by the Notre Dame nuns. The same miserable attitude, discrimination, public humiliation, lack of charity, and total subjugation. For me the nationalization of schools two years later meant liberation.

Abandoning the idea of secular education and willingly handing education over to the churches is about the worst thing a liberal democratic society could do. Critics of the Orbán regime and opposition parties should think very hard about what to do with these parochial schools once Viktor Orbán is gone.

April 1, 2016