Viktor Orbán just announced his government’s motto: Glory to God alone

We all know about Viktor Orbán’s infatuation with the spiritual in the last few years. Maybe I just don’t remember properly, but I can’t recall much piety in his speeches during his first premiership between 1998 and 2002. Today, by contrast, his speeches are teeming with Biblical quotations and Latin religious phrases. And his generosity toward the “established” churches, especially the Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches, is substantial.

At the time of the formation of the Orbán government in June 2010 Gusztáv Bölcskei, the Calvinist bishop of Hungary, told a conference that the Hungarian Reformed Church “is looking forward with great expectation to the work of the new government.” He added that the Catholic, Hungarian Reformed, and Lutheran churches will join forces to “rethink the question of the churches’ educational and social activities in addition to their finances and their compensation.”

These churches haven’t been disappointed. The famed Hungarian Reformed College, actually a gymnasium, received 10 billion forints for its renovation. The generous gift was announced by Viktor Orbán at a church service in the famous Great Church (Nagytemplom) of Debrecen where the prime minister said: “The communist dictatorship stole the collection box in which Hungarians for centuries had contributed their pennies” for the churches. I happen to have a different recollection, at least of the Hungarian Catholic Church’s accumulation of wealth: it didn’t come from collection boxes. In any case, Orbán promised that the government will return “the stolen wealth to the churches and the Hungarian people.” An interesting equation of the churches with the Hungarian people.

Yesterday Viktor Orbán again had an opportunity to deliver a speech in a Hungarian Reformed church. This time in Rimavská Sobota (Rimaszombat), a town of 25,000 in south-eastern Slovakia. The majority of the inhabitants of the town are Slovaks, almost 60%, but there is a significant Hungarian minority, about 36% of the population. Rimavská Sobota doesn’t seem to be a particularly religious place. Approximately 25% of the population claimed no religious affiliation at the last census. Only 10% purport to be Calvinist.

The church service was meant to express the locals’ gratitude for all the gifts that made the renovation of the church possible. The renovation, by the way, cost 270,000 euros. We don’t know how much the Hungarian government contributed, but it had to be substantial. After all, besides Viktor Orbán, several other government officials were present: Zoltán Balog, minister of Human Resources and himself a Hungarian Reformed minister; Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry; Zsuzsa Répás, assistant undersecretary in charge of policies connected to national issues (nemzetpolitika); Csaba Balogh, Hungarian ambassador to Slovakia; Éva Molnár, née Czimbalmos, Hungarian consul-general in Košice;  and Pál Csáky, one of the leading politicians of Magyar Közösség Pártja (MKP), the favored Hungarian party in Slovakia.

The Hungarian Reformed Church in Rimavská Sobota/Rimaszombat

The Hungarian Reformed Church in Rimavská Sobota/Rimaszombat

From the speech it is not entirely clear whether the faithful in Rimavská Sobota had already received money during the first Orbán government, but it is likely. Orbán referred to the eight-year hiatus in the renovation effort. What was clear from his speech is that between 2011 and 2013 the Hungarian government financially assisted in the renovation of 119 churches and church buildings beyond Hungary’s borders. Twenty-three of them in the Uplands (Felvidék), i.e. Slovakia. To the chagrin of Slovaks, Hungarians still cling to the old designation for the Slovak territories.

We also found out, and I must say this was entirely new to me and I suspect to everyone else in Hungary, that “the publicly declared motto of today’s government which is civic, national, and Christian, is “soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone) as opposed to the other political camp which declares that ‘glory is to man alone.’ I don’t think that I have to say more about the conditions at home,” Viktor Orbán added.

“Soli Deo gloria” is associated with Protestantism and was the name of the Hungarian Reformed Church’s student association between the two world wars. The five “solae,” one of which is soli deo gloria, encapsulate the basic theological beliefs of Protestantism: sola scriptura (by scripture alone), sola fide (by faith alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). Perhaps Reverend Balog neglected to mention the origin of Orbán’s new motto because, at least historically speaking, the association is too close to the Protestant churches whose followers are in the minority in Hungary.

The editor-in-chief of Galamus, Zsófia Mihancsik, gathered some information about the sums the government spent on the renovation of churches, both Catholic and Protestant. Subsidies from the European Union cannot be used  for anything directly connected to religious activities, but some of these projects were and still are being financed from subsidies set aside for projects promoting tourism as well as educational and social services. Thus, for example the Hungarian Reformed Church in the Northern Plains, in the vicinity of Debrecen, will receive 4 billion forints in the next six years from the European Union. Similar but less spectacular projects are under way in a very poor area of Baranya county called Ormánság, and in Tolna county twenty village churches will be renovated with the help of the European Union.

One possible reason that the Hungarian Reformed Church is doing so well under the Orbán government is that at its General Convent in 2010 it declared itself to be one and indivisible in the territories of the Carpathian Basin. In other words, in the former territories of Greater Hungary. There was only one bishop, László Fazekas, the representative of the Slovak Hungarian Reformed Church, who announced that for the time being his church would not join the “convent.” He added that his congregation is bilingual and they therefore have reservations about the merger. By May 2011, Fazekas changed his mind. The Slovak Hungarian Reformed Church joined the one and indivisible Hungarian Reformed Church but promised to pay special attention to defending the  minority rights of its Slovak brethren.

One of the two ministers who delivered homilies in Rimavská Sobota was Bishop László Farkas. The other was retired Bishop Géza Erdélyi whom Viktor Orbán described as a man who has for many years been his family’s spiritual guide. I guess it was a long distance affair. The special mention of Erdélyi was most likely intended as a sign of Orbán’s recognition of his political work in MKP, the party Fidesz recognizes as the only Hungarian party in Slovakia. Most-Híd, a Slovak-Hungarian party, doesn’t exist as far as Fidesz and the Orbán government are concerned. In fact, Fidesz as well as the Romanian-Hungarian RMDSZ voted against Most-Híd’s application for membership in the European People’s Party. They were admitted against the wishes of their brotherly co-nationals. By the way, MKP did remarkably well in the first round of local (county) elections a week or so ago. I’m sure that it’s not only the churches that get a lot of money from Budapest. MKP is also a major beneficiary of the printing press in Hungary.

I should add that it was announced today that the Government Debt Management Agency (ÁKK) mandated four banks to manage a 10-year USD bond issuance to the tune of 2 billion U.S. dollars.


  1. Ahh, the Felcsutian genius has discovered the ‘evangelical gaff’, huh? Reminds me of those
    American stalwarts–Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim and Tammy Bakker. A nice money-making gig. The central assumption for evangelicals is this: All Good comes from God, but I am God’s servant and the indispensable connection between you (the believing sucker) and God (the Lord Almighty).

    Now, can Orban’s touting of the heavenly be a sign of his ‘divine right’….of kings…? Oh my-

  2. The preamble of the Basic Law of Hungary or the National Avowal contains the following: “We recognize the role of Christianity in preserving the nation. We honor the various religious traditions of our country.” Article VII while stating that the church and state shall operate separately also says “the state shall co-operate with the churches in order to attain community aims.” Apparently that includes rehabbing churches in Hungary or in Slovakia.

    The Prime Minister’s allocation of funds to churches is within the Basic law that Fidesz and the Orbán government have put into place. Most US citizens who are not religious fundamentalists would be shocked by governments’ paying for the rehab of churches, US fundamentalists would like the Basic law very much however. They want a Christian nation, fortunately for now most US citizens don’t agree. Most US citizens would be shocked at governments handing over money for rehabbing places of prayer and would think things like that only happen in countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran.

  3. “One possible reason that the Hungarian Reformed Church is doing so well under the Orbán government”

    Actually, all the traditional churches are nation-wide organizations and as such those are of paramount importance in an election system where entry into the political field can be done only through having a very strong regional presence from the very beginning.

    We saw how Együtt, but even MSZP have been struggling just to identify, let alone recruit, local political candidates. No such problem with Fidesz.

    Orbán made damn sure that he had the complete loyalty of the most important such nation-wide organizations (Catholics, Reformed Churched and the Lutherans). Of course he was in a good position by default given his conservative ideology, but he made sure Fidesz commanded and cultivated these contacts, who happened to be spread all over Hungary. And the churches assist Fidesz not only during the election campaign, but between elections too, such as by supporting the Békemenet (the question how to deliver 100,000 people within two days is impossible for the Hungarian left to answer, while Fidesz has been oiling its machinery for years now by doing just that every couple of months), identifying potential and reliable local political candidates, helping ambitious kids from the religious schools to get ahead within Fidesz.

    Of course these churches would have never supported the left, but Fidesz utilizes its advantage fully. So Fidesz owns the rural regions, whereas the left has zero traction there.

    This Glory to God is just a small gesture to the churches; they deliver and in return Orbán delivers too.

  4. Does anyone know what, if anything, has the government done to restore synagogues? I remember when we lived in Vác in the 1990s there was a very run-down synagogue there. Sometime in the 2000’s it was completely restored. Who would have paid for that? Of course, there are few or no local Jewish communities outside of the capital anymore……

  5. Éva. Can you substantiate that 15% you mentioned above? I would have agreed with you drawing from my earlier experiences when living in Hungary. However, a recent vist to a 40 year high school reunion shocked me finding a much higher percentage of religious people among my old classmates. I went to one of the ” elite” high schools of Budapest which I thought would represent a lower percentage of religious people than the general population.

  6. If the basic law of the Hungarian State enshrines Christianity by name why would it even cross Orban’s mind to restore some temples? The look fair?

  7. Tinshed, Istvan:

    Regional synagogues are usually restored by local municipalities at their own initiative, not by the state or by the Jewish organizations. That said there has been a compensation program for the historical churches (to compensate them for the confiscation of property after 1945 and to establish their funding) the result of which was a payment of hundreds of billions of forints. Of course most of it went (and actually still goes although now not under ‘compensation’ but under various other budget titles) to the Catholics, but the official Jewish organization (MAZSIHISZ) also received a lot, so I guess they should have money to restore buildings if they wanted to.

    Rich, liberal, capitalist or communist Jews who talk too much in the media are bad. Conservative, god-fearing, silent or poor Jews are good. We can live with them, because we are very tolerant. After all, I am told it is a Judeo-Christian civilization we have here in Hungary. Fidesz’ policy re Jews is pretty complex actually.

  8. Hungarian Jews for the most part are filled with hate for Orban. Hungarian Jewish organizations are quite happy with Orban. Fidesz has done a great job of playing the big divisions within the Hungarian Jewish communities.

    I’m still shocked that Reformed Jews have not come to the aid of Szim Salom, the Reform congregation, whose recognition was revoked by the new Basic Law. Szim Salom is certainly not getting government funds- there was even talk that religious groups that lost recognition might even lose their properties. Has anything come of this?

    How are the other groups that lost recognition faring? Were’t there some Methodists and American-style Evangelical groups that lost recognition?

  9. OT: according to Tárki:

    between the ages of 18 and 47, Jobbik is the second strongest party, after Fidesz.

    This is a massive (30 years) age bracket. It is clear that whoever leaves Fidesz, will not leave to MSZP or anywhere else, but to Jobbik. But conversly Jobbik’s young voters will never vote for anybody on the left, but will instead flock back to Fidesz if needed. Fidesz has an enormous reserve with Jobbik voters.

    Also, under the age of 45, about 70% of people vote Fidesz or Jobbik. But between ages 18-32, this is more like 75% (!). As it was mentioned, nobody under 40, well, about one out of four voters wants to be associated with the Hungarian left. This is how strong their brand is. And these voters are the future.

    The Hungarian left is just dead in the water with the younger generation. I have not seen anything similar in the West. I guess they are restless, frustrated and want to went their anger, to protest. For them the never-ending impotence of the left is just unacceptable, uncool. And if you associate with uncool and loser typed, you will become uncool and loser too, and youngsters hate to be uncool and losers. Since traditional identities are being eroded, eliminated, association with brands is becoming ever more important in forming an identity (whether the brand be Adidas v Nike, IPhones v Android, or supporting Jobbik v MSZP, naaah).

  10. Jean Paul: Yes, but keep in mind that the inactive rate is also the highest in this age group. This means that the anti-Orbán anti-Jobbik youngs just simply doesn’t have a party right now. The left is unacceptable for them either because of all their small-mindedness and raging impotence or they see them together with Fidesz as a part of a system corrupt and rotten to it’s core.

    They are politically depressed, and even though they might turn up at the polls to leave an x while holding their nose, they would rather have their arms chopped off than to identify with anybody on the left when asked. I know this very well as I’m one of them, and as far as I can tell, 80% of my friend group at home are in the same situation.

  11. Jano: but Fidesz does still have a lot of younger people supporting it, in fact Fidesz is still red hot popular among them (if we are to believe the polls). Apparently, these younger people do not care about Fidesz’ partaking in a corrupt system. Despite all we have seen (Simicska and co. just to name one issue), they don’t feel themselves let down and haven’t gotten disappointed. To them, Fidesz seems to be delivering the goodies.

    The question is not why MSZP and the leftist/liberal parties in aggregate lost a lot of voters so that younger people nowadays rarely want to identify with them, but rather why, at the same time, Fidesz and Jobbik are still so very popular among them? What can the right wing do what the left apparently is (and has been) unable to?

  12. “Glory to God alone”: does this mean that they’ll be back-pedaling on all that glory they’ve been giving to Horthy or Wass?

  13. As it is not surprising that the left doesn’t want to have anything to do with christianity, it is also not surprising this government does! It was clear from the start what place christianity has in their world view and politics and it would be strange if they suddenly expressed left wing views about christianity, wouldn’t it? So everone here has to except that they are in power now not the left, if you like it or not! Also in 2014 I don’t see any victory of the left, so the Hungarian voter doesn’t mind so much about this governments “christian” politics as most people here!

    What the real motivation is behind “Glory to God alone” we can only speculate!

  14. Question:

    What Orbán says right now seems to me very different from what he said 24/25 years ago when he claimed to be a liberal. And of course the whole concept of Fidesz has changed in those years.

    Is there anywhere a collection of his words where we might compare his ideas on democracy, religion etc then and now ?

    Of course it would be nice to have this in English translation …

  15. Just a footnote to István’s references to the Basic Law. The state always financed the churches even during the Kádár regime.This continued after 1990 and in 1998 the socialist Gyula Horn signed an agreement with the Vatican that was very advantageous to Rome. He hoped that the churches would not attack the socialists at the coming election. He was naturally wrong.

    So, the Basic Law actually has nothing to do with the state financing of churches.

  16. Orbán is only using the churches. It’s all politics. It’s just a game for him. I think he overestimates Hungarians’ religiosity. Just as he underestimates Hungarians’ sympathy for Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. 75% of Hungarians don’t want people living in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, etc. to vote in Hungarian elections. They don’t want them to get any money from their tax forints. That’s how it is.

  17. The new, Fidesz-appointed ombudsman is not willing to refer the unequal voting system to the Constitutional Court. (ethnic Hungarians living in Serbia and Romania can vote by mail in 2014, while Hungarians working in Western Europe cannot – several hundred thousand voters in the UK are supposed to line up in front of the embassy in London.)

    Ordinary people cannot turn to the same court with this problem any longer, because Fidesz cancelled this right with the abolished Constitution on January 1, 2012.

    I think it is time the opposition declared that the upcoming election is neither fair nor free, and a fraud by design.

  18. Wolfi, there are various books on Orban (in Hungarian at least), but what does it matter? Who cares? Everybody knows he was a liberal (and before that a young communist in KISZ) and is now a religious conservative and none of his fans thinks it is strange.

    If the left does or would do something rational (perhaps restrictive) from a budgetary point of view it would be “bloody austerity” and people would go just mad. When Orban does it, he sells it like “growth and spending”. He controls the media and the discourse.

    The left does not have the means and capability to control any discourse, we saw from Baja to Szekszárd to the Trafikmutyi to the current NAV matter, they seem genetically incapable of taking advantage of anything Fidesz does. I am thinking they do not even want to and Mesterhazy is only a Fidesz-planted amateur. In any case I know that at Fidesz they can’t believe their luck so far, they prepared and are prepared for a much tougher fight.

    Actually, there is no Hungarian discourse about any current event or political issue which would not be controlled by Orban, but voters are OK with that, they are happy with it.

  19. Thank you Eva! That article in the NZZ (which you can’t call left or even liberal …) is really scathing, I’ll have to let everything “sink in” – I wholeheartedly agree with the author, even though I understand only part of what he describes, the Hungarian language still baffles me sometimes – even with my wife’s help …

    Re Orbán’s words:

    I really think it would be instructive (at least for observers from outside) to compare what he said 25 years ago and what he’s proclaiming now – and how he and his (!) party changed.

  20. Jean-Paul: If you take a look at the chart you linked, you see that Fidesz’s support is roughly constant in each age group. What changes is Jobbik switches place with MSZP. This means that there is much more here about MSZP’s dismal figures. But again, you have to take into account that there are only 38-40% of youngs choosing a party therefore making a countribution on this chart while the same figure is about 55% amongst the older generation. Right wing youngs are active, anti-Orbán youngs are depressed and turning away from politics as a whole.

  21. JP: “What can the right wing do what the left apparently is (and has been) unable to?”

    They have a vision. It’s wrong on multiple levels but they do have an idea about what kind of country they would like. The left doesn’t see beyond grabbing power at all costs.

  22. I should have mentioned that Júlia Horváth who does a fantastic job of translating from German and English for Galamus translated the article of Wilhelm Droste in record time is available in Hungarian here:

    This translation gives links to the Hungarian original of István Kemény’s poem and also a video of a poem by Virág Erdős Droste mentions as a political poet.

    Here is the link to the video.

    I’m kind of conservative when it comes to literature but I really liked this one.I listened to it several times to catch all the words.

  23. Eva: Thanks for the link to the translation! I agree with every word. I think this phenomenon goes back to the 2002 elections and the kokárda-incident. I think that’s when Viktor realized how powerful it can be to monopolize our national symbols (which is only one step away from monopolize certain words and phrases). He must have also realized how defenseless the left is against this given their conflicted and largely undefined relation to the notion of nation and our national symbols.

  24. The article by Wilhelm Drose injects some new ideas into the debate. I was particularly intrigued by his concept of language expropriation. So much so that I decided to translated a few paragraphs into English. (I am neither a native German or English speaker. Feel free to correct.)

    ….a monstrous wave of expropriations runs rampant in Hungary, not only in the field of economic assets but, first of all and targeted, in the field of language. The state, governed by a suffocating parliamentary majority, occupies an entire vocabulary and thus withdraws it from a large part of the population. The latest inglorious example is the word “nemzet”. In dubious ways all tobacco shops were reallocated to new often government friendly owners, and these shops now call themselves “Nemzeti Dohányibolt”, national tobacco shops with a uniform emblem on doors and facades…..
    …..It affects not only the word “nemzet”, also the word “magyar” has an incomparably more sinister meaning than twenty or thirty years ago. Earlier this word signified unity, today it forces one to take side….
    …..It would be possible to compile a small dictionary with numerous Hungarian concepts that have lost their innocence or are about to loose it. Thus Hungary in a creeping manner becomes a country where more end more people develop homesickness because they are not at home in their own house. A strange homesickness that drives people into the foreign and faraway.

  25. Not too much OT:

    Hungarian TV M2 (aka North Korean State T …) is showing in the news for the 100th time that “election video” from Baja – they’re rehashing this ad nauseam …

    And there’s more plain advertising for Orbán – my wife says she won’t watch it any more, it makes her want to throw up!

    Of course there’s nary a word about the original manipulation at the first election.

  26. Renátó: “The left does not have the means and capability to control any discourse, we saw from Baja to Szekszárd to the Trafikmutyi to the current NAV matter, they seem genetically incapable of taking advantage of anything Fidesz does.”

    Jano: “They [Fidesz] have a vision. It’s wrong on multiple levels but they do have an idea about what kind of country they would like. The left doesn’t see beyond grabbing power at all costs.”

    And people generally? Do they have a vision? It is power grabbing on Fidesz’ side also, and with more harmful consequences for the country than that of MSzP before. I share the opinion that the Hungarian opposition is weak in defining and spreading an alternative programme, but because I would not consider what OV does or promises a “vision” but instead plain cynicism or derision, I believe that his only “advantage” is that he promises to care for people in a way Kadar etc. promised it also. But he will just deliver patronising and the “vision”, not living standards. Which is why I do not see much alternative to people stopping to wait for the “left” and “right” to provide them with visions, and engage themselves.

  27. Churches in rural Hungary – which is most of Hungary – are extremely strong. I, myself, have been told that I shouldn’t expect to be part of our community if I don’t attend mass! Most of the statistics presented, I guess, refer to urban conurbations. But it’s the countryside that is the Fidesz heartland. And they’re canny, if not exactly holy.

  28. I can’t find anymore who was asking about my figures for church-goers in Hungary. There are many statistics, some are higher others lower than my 15%. Actually I can’t come up with the source of the 15% but put it that way, it is not way off.

    According to Gallop 12% of Hungarians are regular churchgoers. I.e. those who go every Sunday because that is what the Church tells them they must do.

    Then there is a study by the University of Michigan. They indicate 21% churchgoers but it is not clear how regularly these people attend church.

    Then they are other telling signs that Hungarians are a skeptical lot. While in Romania 92%, in Poland 79% and in Slovakia 63% of the people say that they believe in God, in Hungary this number is only 45%, while 22% percent are atheists. The rest believe in “something.”

    So, I have a have feeling Ivan that you live in a very strange village.

  29. Interesting, from an analysis by a Turkish Foreign Ministry think tank (in English) from Gábor Török’s facebook page:

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