The latest target of Viktor Orbán’s “cleansing” of Hungary? Religion
BUDAPEST – Tamás Lukács chairs the Human Rights Commission of the Hungarian Parliament. His committee is also responsible for religious matters, and as a main figure there were times when he could feel a bit like a god himself.
Especially since Lukács, as a member of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), is one of those who decide the fate of Hungary: and this now includes the fate of its religions.
The KDNP is the minority partner of the conservative Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Union) party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Since spring 2010, Fidesz and KDNP have enjoyed a powerful two-thirds majority in the unicameral Hungarian parliament, the National Assembly. They used this influence to impose their will in all areas of society – the media, the labor market, the judiciary, even the independence of the National Bank.
And another vital part of Hungarian life is also affected: religion. Hundreds of religious groups now risk losing the right to be legally considered a Church. “To be recognized as a Church is not a right but a grace, a favor”, explained Lukács. And whoever did not obtain this favor now has the status of an association, with all the legal and financial consequences.
These consequences are directly felt in a homeless shelter in the 8th district of Budapest. Managed by a group called the Evangelical Fellowship, the facility provides food and shelter to up to 1,000 people a day – although it is only equipped to accommodate 300. But because the Evangelical Fellowship has recently lost its official Church status, it may soon have to close the occupied shelter. According to the brotherhood’s own estimates, it lost half of its income due to the withdrawal of government support.
Costly political fallout
Pastor Gabor Ivanyi led the Brotherhood for many years. The man with the long, white, bushy beard is well known in Hungary for his public demonstrations and television appearances. And he has direct links with Prime Minister Orbán. Ivanyi baptized the first two of Orbán’s five children. In the 1990s, the two men represented liberal parties in parliament. But as Orbán and his Fidesz party became increasingly conservative, Ivanyi distanced himself from his former political friend.
“Orbán does not tolerate criticism. But I will not hide my opinions,” says the man in the street whose parish not only takes care of the homeless but allows 3,000 Roma children to attend school and to train. social workers in their own higher education institution. The parish also employs 800 people.
Ivanyi may now have to pay a hefty price for his harsh criticism of the government. The reason for this is the new law on churches which Fidesz promulgated last summer and which entered into force at the beginning of this year. This is another “clean-up” action on the part of the Orbán government. Orbán sees every reason to put churches on his very long blacklist because, he says, “a significant number of them were created only to avoid taxes.”
Only a few of the 350 or so small Hungarian churches were able to survive the new law. At the end of February, after an extension of the deadline due to external pressure, the parliament recognized only 32 churches and religious communities, among which the two main churches Christian, Muslim, Adventist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Anglicans, Copts, Mormons, five Buddhist, Hindu and Jehovah’s Witness communities. Petitions from 66 other church communities were refused – among them, the Brotherhood of Ivanyi, a Methodist separatist group.
“A corrupt state apparatus”
Tamás Lukács does not hesitate to explain the reasons for the refusal of Ivanyi’s petition: “Why does he think that we would continue to financially support his installation? Just because the previous government – with which he had close ties – has funds for him? Does he think that’s what it is to be a religion? People have to decide whether they want to get involved in religion or in politics, ”he told German television station NDR.
Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unable to exert any influence in Budapest. In a letter, she expressed concern that “the requirement for two-thirds approval by Parliament unnecessarily politicizes decisions around a basic human right.” In vain.
The head of the Council of Europe also criticized the law, saying some of the decisions appeared arbitrary and clear and strict criteria were needed. For her part, Kinga Göncz, former Hungarian foreign minister and member of the European Parliament, said that Fidesz was trying to “give privileges to some and exclude others in order to build a corrupt state apparatus”.
Read the original story in German
Photo – Wikipedia