David Baer, who teaches theology and philosophy at Texas Lutheran University, is interested in the fate of Hungary. He spent two longer periods in Hungary as a Fulbright scholar and is the author of a book entitled The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism. He also has family connections that tie him to the country. His wife and two children are Hungarian citizens. He speaks Hungarian well.
On January 17 Baer decided to write an open letter to Hungarian churches in which he expressed his worries about the general state of Hungarian democracy as well as his specific concerns about the new law on churches that makes the recognition of churches as such the prerogative of politicians. He sent his Hungarian-language letter to the Hungarian Lutheran Church, which decided to make it available on the Internet.
It is a thoughtful letter. Baer is convinced that reviving the notion of the “third road” (the idea that Hungary’s future lies somewhere between modern capitalism and Soviet-type socialism) can only lead away from Europe. Baer’s sympathies used to lie with Fidesz, but today he is deeply disappointed in the Orbán government. He thinks very little of the new Hungarian constitution which “perhaps some consider to be the basis of Hungarian democracy, but then these people must realize that this specifically Hungarian democracy is contrary to basic concepts of western democracy.” In the West this “new kind of democracy is called Putinism.”
At the end of his letter Baer asks the people who pin their hopes on Orbán in the name of national interest to reconsider their opinion about Hungary’s true national interest.
The Lutherans made Baer’s letter public “in the hope of substantive and cultured discussion.” As far I could ascertain, Baer’s letter solicited only one answer: from Gyula Márfi, the Catholic archbishop of Veszprém, earlier Bishop of Eger.
Márfi was appointed to his post in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, a post József Mindszenty held in 1944-45 prior to his appointment as prince primate of the Hungarian Catholic Church and archbishop of Esztergom. Márfi spent two years (1976-1978) in Paris where he received his “diplome supérieur d’études oecuméniques.” So, Márfi doesn’t even have the excuse of being totally ignorant of Western Europe. Of course, it is possible that while in France he met only arch-conservative Catholic priests. In any case, a few years back–as Zsófia Mihancsik’s footnote to Márfi’s letter reminded me–he delivered a ringing speech on the thirty-second anniversary of Mindszenty’s death about “Hungary that is suffering from an overdose of freedom,” in fact “is in life threatening danger” because of too much liberty. In the audience was the American ambassador April H. Foley. One can only hope that she didn’t understand one blessed word of Márfi’s sermon, unless, of course, the Archbishopric provided an English translation of the speech ahead of the event. Of course, if this was the case, April Foley shouldn’t have attended.
Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém (magyarkurir.hu)
Márfi’s letter is very long and I will not be able to do justice to it. In keeping with the Hungarian custom of telling one’s adversary that he is ignorant, Márfi writes that, in complaining about taking the right to decide on the status of churches away from the judges, Baer doesn’t understand the Hungarian situation. Because, according to Márfi, the so-called independent Hungarian judiciary is full of judges who served the communist dictatorship and took part in the persecution of Hungarian church leaders. Naturally, this is the figment of Márfi’s imagination. In fact, by the 1970s and 1980s the Catholic Church had a very cozy relationship with the Kádár regime. Most of the church leaders served as informers for the Ministry of Interior.
Márfi also takes exception to Baer’s questioning of the current Hungarian government’s commitment to Europe. Again, he repeated, “as far as I can see, Mr. Professor, your knowledge of Europe is deficient and one-sided.” In Márfi’s opinion there is a “Christian Europe in hiding while there is a much louder, sharply anti-Christian and ultra-liberal Europe.” This Europe still recognizes “the Great Builder” but denies “the God of Jesus Christ and his Ten Commandments.” The leaders of this Europe are the ones who “overprescribe freedom which, similar to an overdose of medicine, doesn’t cure but poisons.” Europe today is a place where abortions are performed; it is the world of free love; a place of lesbians and homosexuals.
Márfi goes further. This left-wing, modern Europe is actually “the Europe of former communists who are now capitalists; the Europe of freedom fighters who were formerly dictators; the Europe of such ‘modern people’ whose morality has proved to be obsolete and incapable of survival in the last two thousand years; the Europe of people who seem to be worried about the freedom of religion when in fact they persecute the churches.”
After this outrageous description of today’s Europe, Márfi moves on to the defense of Viktor Orbán who is being shown as a martyr who was attacked in the European Parliament by “the followers of Mao Zedong” and “a pedophile who is trying to teach morals to a father of five.”
Baer’s third sin is that he ignores the influence of the evil United States “in the Orbán affair.” If Baer thinks that this is a purely European question, he is wrong. Viktor Orbán doesn’t really have problems with the European Union but “with international capital” whose “owners” must be found somewhere around New York’s Wall Street. These “owners of capital” want to make individual states their slaves through their loans. These people try to influence elections and through their loans they make smaller countries their colonies. These capitalists are very angry at Viktor Orbán because “he enacted several laws adversely affecting the international financiers.”
The Veszprém Archbishopric advertising Fidesz and the Orbán government’s New Széchenyi Plan
The leaders of the European Union know full well that international financial circles are endangering Europe yet they are still willing to cooperate with them for financial reasons, out of fear, or perhaps for ideological considerations. “The situation is well known. It was this way two thousand years ago when the Rabbinical Council cooperated with Pontius Pilate. Pilate is still being applauded by all scribblers and pharisees. And naturally there are the false witnesses whose whole life consists only of lies and because they own most of the media … they exclaim ‘Crucify him! Crucify Viktor Orbán.'” And in case we have any doubt whom Márfi has in mind, he mentions Ákos Kertész and Imre Kertész, both of whom happen to be Jewish.
This incredible description of the world by a Hungarian Catholic cleric ends with a quotation from David C. Korten’s 1995 book When Corporations Rule the World. It is a leftist critique of global capitalism, but I have noticed over the years that it is also a favorite book of the far right.
And the Orbán government is passing on school after school to a Catholic Church whose leaders think like Archbishop Gyula Márfi. I’m really worried about the kind of education these children are receiving now and will receive in even greater numbers in the future.