Most-Híd

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.

“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” at a Fidesz-sponsored gathering in Slovakia

Every year Fidesz holds a “free university” in Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos, Romania. I normally write about the event because Viktor Orbán makes a regular appearance there and what he has to say is usually politically significant.

This Fidesz tradition has now been expanded. Between July 18 and 21 a similar “free university” was held for the first time in Martos (Martovce), a village of about 700 inhabitants, 17 km from Komárom/Komárno, Slovakia. Originally the organizers were hoping that Viktor Orbán would honor the event with his presence, but in the end they had to be satisfied with László Kövér as the keynote speaker.

The organizers received financial help from Fidesz and the Hungarian government in addition to MOL, which was described as the “chief sponsor.” Among the organizations that supported the effort were several Fidesz foundations, the Fidesz youth organization Fidelitas, the Association of the Young Christian Democrats, and János Sellye University in Komárno. The sponsors must have contributed quite a bit of money because the extended weekend event featured rock bands and singers as well as speakers from Serbia and Romania.

The host was Magyar Közösség Pártja (MKP) and Via Nova, its youth organization. Originally MKP was the only Hungarian political party in Slovakia, but it split a number of years ago. Béla Bugár, a moderate, left the party since it was moving farther to the right and established a Slovak-Hungarian party called Most-Híd, the Slovak and Hungarian words for “bridge.” Fidesz doesn’t want to build bridges. It is not their style, and in no time the Hungarian government announced that it doesn’t consider Most-Híd a Hungarian party. Currently, the Hungarian government has no connection with Bugár’s party even though at the last elections it managed to retain its status as a parliamentary party while the Fidesz-supported MKP did not. Fidesz often bets on the wrong horse when it comes to Hungarian minority politics in the neighboring countries.

Via Nova has a new chairman, László Gubík. A few months ago it became known that Jobbik had approached Gubík and urged closer cooperation between Jobbik and Via Nova. Gubík was apparently impressed by István Szávay, a Jobbik member of parliament and formerly head of the Jobbik-dominated student organization at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts. Gubík was photographed standing in front of a Jobbik flag. After the close cooperation between Jobbik and Via Nova was discovered, József Berényi, the chairman of MKP, tried to distance himself and his party from Jobbik, but according to inside information he didn’t manage to convince the leadership of Via Nova to abandon their connection with the extremist Jobbik. One can read more about the “independence” of Via Nova from MKP on an English-language Slovak site.

Despite this scandal, Fidesz didn’t hesitate to work together with Via Nova in the organization of the first “free university” in Slovakia. Apparently, the gathering was not a great success although a lot of “important” people showed up besides Kövér. Among them, András Schiffer (LMP); Katalin Szili, former socialist now independent MP; Hunor Kelemen, chairman of the largest Hungarian party in Romania; and Zsuzsanna Répássy, assistant undersecretary in charge of “national politics.” But these individuals as well as Fidesz must now live with the fact that racist, anti-Semitic, irredentist books were displayed and sold at the festival. Here is a picture of the collection. The picture is genuine; it can also been seen on a Slovak-Hungarian Facebook page.

Pick your favorite!

Pick your favorite!

Among other titles you could buy Henry Ford’s The International Jew, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Ernő Raffay’s openly anti-Semitic book on the Freemasons (Politizáló szabadkőművesség). Other choice titles on display were Borbála Obrusánszky’s Szkíta-magyar múltunk ragyogása, a book about the fallacy underlying the theory of the Finno-Ugric origins of the Hungarian language, and László Gulyás’s Küzdelem a Kárpát-medencéért (Struggle for the Carpathian Basin) in addition to a bunch of books by Albert Wass and József Nyirő. You can also see Viktor Orbán’s selected speeches.

Of course, this scandal highlights the fact that Fidesz is ready to work with groups that are closely associated with Jobbik in order to gain adherents. One might argue that the Fidesz bigwigs certainly couldn’t have had any knowledge of the kinds of books that would be displayed in Martos, but unfortunately this line of argumentation is weak because the Jobbik-Via Nova connection was already well known in March of this year. The Hungarian media first reported on the preparations for the festival on May 9, 2913. By that time at least Zsuzsanna Répássy, the assistant undersecretary in charge of Hungarian minority issues, must have known about the scandal in Slovakia concerning Via Nova. Yet, Fidesz pushed ahead, cooperating with this Jobbik-tainted youth organization.

Fidesz seems to be giving in to pressure coming from the far right in Romania too. The Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos event will take place this weekend. Originally a moderate right-of-center RMDSZ politician was supposed to be one of the speakers, but the small right-wing Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt (Transylvanian People’s Party) vetoed it. Therefore the politicians of RMDSZ will not attend.

There seems to be a tendency for Fidesz to drift farther and farther to the right in the neighboring countries. This is a self-defeating strategy. Both in Romania and in Slovakia the more moderate Hungarian parties are leading in the polls. And especially in Romania, Fidesz will need those votes come April 2014.

Meanwhile it will be difficult for Fidesz to explain away the display of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion at their first “free university” in Slovakia.