Tag Archives: IKSZ

Two new Hungarian citizens: Part of assistance to persecuted Christians

I read with astonishment that two Syriac Orthodox Christian prelates have just received Hungarian citizenship. The two men swore allegiance to their adopted country at the Hungarian consulate in Erbil. They are Sharaf Saman Matti Sharaf (Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf), the metropolitan of Mosul & Environs, and Azeez Raed Ablahad (Mor Timotheus Mousa A. Shamani), bishop of the Mat Mattai monastery, 20 km from Mosul. Sharaf Saman Matti Sharaf thanked János Áder and the Hungarian people for their generosity and solidarity in a time of need.

The brief announcement gave no explanation for this rather unusual event, which prompted me to learn more about the background of these two men. I was lucky as far as Sharaf Saman Matti Sharaf was concerned because I managed to track him down in Canada, where he visited his parents and his brother with his wife and family. From the article written about this 2015 visit I learned that in June 2014, at the urging of his friend, the minister of interior of Kurdistan, the metropolitan left Mosul and settled in Ankawa, a Kurdish town 90 km from Mosul. Apparently there are 140,000 Iraqi Christian refugees in Kurdistan.

Metropolitan Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf

A year later both men were in the news. The Express reported that Metropolitan Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf and Bishop Timotheus Mousa Shamani had hoped to visit Great Britain for the November 24, 2016 consecration of the St. Thomas Cathedral in London, which is the first Syriac Orthodox cathedral in the country. They were denied entry by the Home Office. It’s possible that the Hungarian passports the two prelates are entitled to are intended to save them from similar experiences in the future.

All that took me to the Orbán government’s mission to defend Christians living in territories where they could face persecution on account of their religion. At the end of last summer, during his visit to the Vatican, Viktor Orbán met Christian prelates from the Middle East. Their plight apparently moved him to extend aid and assistance to Christian communities in the region. I suspect that he also figured that such generosity would somewhat mitigate the bad reputation Hungary had acquired as a result of the Orbán government’s heartless treatment of the refugees.

Bishop Mor Timotheus Mousa A. Shamani

So, last fall Zoltán Balog’s ministry of human resources got the job of setting up a special department headed by an assistant undersecretary with a staff of ten. The job of undersecretary was entrusted to Tamás Török, formerly chargé d’affaires of the Hungarian Embassy in Rome. The department received a yearly budget of almost 1 billion forints. One of their bigger projects was the renovation of a school building in Erbil that would apparently house 700 students. The government gave 120 million forints for the project, to which the Hungarian Catholic Church added another 80 million. Orbán explained that the school project “proves that we Hungarians don’t have stones in place of our hearts.” The school was supposed to open by this September, but something went awry. The ministry decided that the fault lay with Tamás Török, who was apparently unceremoniously fired. The mini-department devoted to fighting the persecution of Christians is now headed by a young man, Tristan Azbej.

The name of the new assistant undersecretary in charge of assistance to persecuted Christians sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him until I found the first article about Azbej from 2013 when he headed the ill-fated “Come Home” program. Azbej, who had just returned from the United States where he received his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, was one of the vice presidents of IKSZ (Ifjúsági Kereszténydemokrata Szövetség/Association of Young Christian Democrats). He found the large number of Hungarians leaving the country and establishing new lives in foreign countries distressing and convinced the ministry of human resources to sponsor an organization whose task would be to convince emigres to return to Hungary. About 100 million forints was allocated to the project. The idea was to convince a number of private firms to offer jobs to those wanting to take advantage of the offer. The project was a total flop. In two years only three families picked up their belongings and returned to Hungary. During these two years Azbej had an office in the ministry and I assume he was also paid a salary.

Once the project came to an end, Azbej was out of a job, but soon enough the media learned that Azbej was going to Tel Aviv to serve as the “science and technology attaché” at the Hungarian Embassy. The position was created for him. What he did there is hard to know, but by now he describes himself as having knowledge of Middle Eastern politics as well as some diplomatic experience. After three years in Tel Aviv he returned to Hungary this spring. He gave a few lectures and also wrote a glowing article about the most charitable Hungarian attitude toward the refugees. He specifically praised the “Hungary Helps” program, to which Viktor Orbán assigned close to one billion forints. As he put it in an article which appeared in Magyar Hírlap, the Hungary Helps program makes it clear that “Hungary’s refugee program can receive an A from love.” And the ceiling didn’t fall on the young man, as a Hungarian would say.

Tristan Azbej was born in Paris to a French mother and a Hungarian father. His father’s family is apparently of Armenian origin, but he claims that his ancestors have been in the Carpathian Basin for the last 350 years. Otherwise he describes himself on his blog as an “enthusiastic realist, multicultural patriot, young KDNP, tolerant conservative, refined Fradi animal, pro-economy environmentalist, workaholic father, pacifist Christian, foreign-service ‘come home’ activist, gentle provocateur.”

The new assistant undersecretary will have to make sure that the school building will be ready soon. The Hungary Helps program, it seems, has a host of projects. It will supply medicine to a hospital and will renovate churches. One project seems particularly ambitious. Hungary will pay for the renovation of an entire town with a population of 11,000. The town is Tesqopa (Tel Eskof) in northern Iraq. It was briefly occupied by ISIS twice, once in 2014 and again in 2016. As of September, a number of Christian students will be able to study at Hungarian universities.

Viktor Orbán’s generosity is touching. I wish he had similar feelings when it comes to Hungarians living in poverty.

September 23, 2017

Hungarian politicians support their friends abroad

It seems that members of the Hungarian government don’t have enough to do at home. They feel compelled to get involved in controversies outside of the country. Today I’ll look at two such controversies, one involving a Spanish archbishop, the other the all-important British referendum on EU membership.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the archbishop of Valencia, is not exactly a household name, but in Catholic circles he is well known as an arch-conservative who is described by Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais, asa guardian of orthodoxy with an incendiary personality.” Earlier Cañizares was a typical Vatican bureaucrat and a favorite of Benedict XVI, who in 2008 named him head of the Congregation for Divine Worship. But with the pope’s resignation in 2013 his service in the Vatican came to an end. Pope Francis most likely found Cañizares far too conservative. After retiring from his Vatican job, he had to be satisfied with the archbishopric of Valencia, which is considered to be one of the lesser sees in Spain.

Cañizares often gets into trouble. For instance, in October 2015 he talked about the “invasion of immigrants” and wondered what immigration will do to Spain “in a few years.” Like so many other conspiracy theorists, he wanted to know “who is behind all this.” Earlier, in 2009, he claimed that abortion was worse than child abuse. Most recently, the archbishop lashed out at the LGBT community, feminism and gender ideology. In early June, in a homily titled “In defense and support of the family,” Cañizares said that the family, which is the most valued social institution, “is shaken to its foundations by serious, clear or subtle, threats.” In his opinion, Spanish legislation only aids attacks on the family, which is being threatened by “movements and actions of the gay empire, of ideas such as radical feminism, or the most insidious of all, gender theory.” Soon enough, pro-LGBT and feminist organizations in Spain announced that they intended to charge Cañizares with apologia, a term in Spanish law that means encouraging or defending a criminal act. On June 19 The Catholic Herald reported that Spanish feminist groups had called for the government to prosecute Cardinal Cañizares “for inciting discrimination and hatred.”

Cañizares’s remarks and what followed were reported outside of Spain mostly in Catholic publications, but the eagle-eyed Hungarian Christian Democratic youth organization (Ifjú Kereszténydemokraták or IKSZ) found the story. The president of the organization, who looks close to forty years old, issued an official public statement condemning all those “radical liberals” who objected to Cañizares’s description of the LGBT community as a “gay empire.” Young Hungarian Christian Democrats share the opinion of the cardinal and find it outrageous that “even the justice system assists ‘opinion terror’ of members of a tiny minority that call themselves human rights activists.”

In the opinion of KDNP, “the activities of the radical gay and feminist groups are harmful because they want to limit the freedom of expression and incite hatred.” Zsolt Semjén, chairman, and Miklós Soltész, vice chairman of the party, will extend an invitation to Cardinal Cañizares to visit Hungary sometime in the fall.

As usual, the Christian Democrats overreached. They have an urge to openly support the most orthodox ideas expressed within the Catholic Church. Commentators endorsing Cañizares’s position view this case as “an important, perhaps conclusive, litmus test. Will Pope Francis stand with Cardinal Cañizares?” No word has come so far from the Vatican, as the author sadly announced a couple of days ago. On the other hand, a Hungarian group that calls itself the CitizenGO team is collecting signatures online in defense of the beleaguered cardinal.

While the Christian Democrats are supporting the Spanish cardinal, Viktor Orbán is supporting his friend David Cameron. That “one of Europe’s most Eurosceptic leaders” urged Britons to vote to remain in the European Union was startling enough to warrant coverage by Reuters. The move is especially surprising since it was only a few days ago that János Lázár categorically stated that the Hungarian government will in no way commit itself one way or the other. Whatever the decision is, the Hungarian government will respect it. He added that any negative effect of a Brexit on the Hungarian economy and currency would not require the introduction of any short-term measures. At this point Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, interjected, assuring the audience that the country’s budgetary reserves can take care of all possible contingencies.

Brexit ad

So, great was the surprise when two and a half days later Kovács himself confirmed the news that the Hungarian government would place a full-page ad in the conservative Daily Mail today. In fact, the ad was originally supposed to appear in the Saturday edition, but because of Jo Cox’s murder it was postponed. Kovács’s explanation for the unusual campaign tactic was that a strong Europe can be built only with the cooperation of larger states. He recalled that Hungary was often accused of anti-European sentiment, but “its current pan-European attitude aptly demonstrates how resolutely and firmly [the Hungarian government] believes in the importance of the European Union’s achievements.”

The Hungarian media’s reaction to the contradictory messages was one of puzzlement. As one headline said: “It can only happen here that we don’t know whether we support England’s exit from the European Union or not.” Journalists approached the office of the prime minister for an explanation of the contradiction between Lázár’s announcement of neutrality and Orbán’s ad with his signature attached. The answer was that Orbán, by publishing the ad, is not trying to influence British public opinion. He only expresses “his point of view that we Hungarians are glad we are in an alliance of which the Brits are members. On the one hand, this is an honor because we are talking about a great nation, and on the other, we are also stronger if the Brits stay in the European Union. This is exactly what the ad emphasizes. The decision belongs to the Brits, but we let them know that Hungary is proud to be a member of the European Union alongside of them.”

Meanwhile it is quite clear that the right-wing of Fidesz and Jobbik are keeping fingers crossed for Great Britain to leave the Union. Pesti Srácok with ill-concealed glee announced today that those in favor of Brexit now have a slight lead. The article tries to calm Hungarian nerves by emphasizing that Great Britain’s exit wouldn’t have any serious consequences for Hungary and that those approximately 200,000 Hungarians living in Great Britain have nothing to fear because “those already living there arrived in the country legally.” The question is whether they would want to remain in the United Kingdom, because after Brexit “Great Britain would no longer be the same country they chose at the time of their arrival.” Alfahír, Jobbik’s official internet paper, sympathized with Nigel Farage, who “doesn’t back down.” The article published long quotations from Farage and some of those around him. It pointed to the “almost hysterical atmosphere created by the British media and the pro-EU political elite after Jo Cox’s death.” It doesn’t matter what Gábor Vona says about the party’s changed attitude toward the European Union, Jobbik would still gladly leave the Union and is therefore keeping fingers crossed for the pro-Brexit forces to win the referendum.

So, here we have two cases in which Hungarian reactions are questionable. Hungarian bishops often and in even more forceful terms than Cardinal Cañizares have gone against the wishes of Pope Francis on the refugee issue. Now the Christian Democratic Party, which considers itself the political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church, has so much affinity with the arch-conservative Spanish archbishop that it feels compelled to extend an invitation to him to visit Hungary. At the same time Viktor Orbán has the temerity to get involved in a dispute that concerns only the citizens of Great Britain. I wonder what he would say if the European Union placed a full-page ad in a Hungarian newspaper urging people to vote against the anti-immigrant referendum he insists on holding. Perhaps one of the European prime ministers should try it. It would be fun.

June 20, 2016