Secular Hungary

Secular Hungary

Tag Archives: reformed

Not Enough Devotion

Hungarians are learning the hard way that religious education is curbing teachers’ religious freedom. Two teachers have been dismissed int he Hungarian town of Balatonfüred, allegedly because during their participation in Sunday family worship they were not „devotional” enough.
Their school was taken over from the local government by the reformed church last year, and in the takeover process the local church promised to ensure religious freedom. However, their wording was „we don’t want to make a seminary out of this, but we want to raise virtuous, faithful Hungarians in the broadest and most noble sense, without regard to denominational boundaries”, which does show that their notion of religious freedom does not include the freedom not to be religious.
Since 2011, many local governments have handed over their schools to churches. Their incentive was often financial: schools of local governments received only half as much subsidy from the central budget as compared to church schools, and while before, local governments had to finance any school handed over to a church for another five years, this limit was abolished by the conservative government. The plans to centralise state education added momentum to this trend, since some local authorities hoped to maintain some influence over their schools by handing over their school to a church.


For Whom the Bell Does Not Toll

Christian democrat politicians are upset with the main churches: secretary of state Mr Zoltán Kovács (who was until mid-June responsible for managing the good name of Hungary abroad) had asked the churches to chime their bells on 4 June to remember the tragedy of Trianon*. The catholic, the Lutheran and the reformed churches declined to do so, insisting that their bells are to serve not political but spiritual aims. Mr Zoltán Felföldy, a church member and mayor of the town Lakitelek, and Mr László Varga, pastor of the reformed church were upset and wrote open letters to their religious leaders.

Of course we should be happy that the churches insist on their independence and don’t want to let themselves become an instrument of politics. But we should not forget that the same churches were not so keen on insisting on keeping church and state divided when the state’s regulations pushed children into schools and elderly people into homes run by churches, when they forced employees and school children’s parents to abide by church rules (because no other jobs/schools are available), when it came to reinforcing church privileges in the new laws on churches and education, and when it came to distributing state money…

* In the Treaty of Trianon (signed on 4 June 1920) Hungary lost 2/3 of its territory, and with it, many inhabitants who identified as Hungarian. Several factors played a role in this process. After loosing World War I, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, where since 1867 Hungary was almost equal to Austria (while of course the state was a monarchy far from being democratic) fell apart, and the winning parties had no intention to re-establish and strengthen the monarchy. The idea of nation-state (i.e. 1 state=1 nation=1 language) had taken over during the early 19th century. From the beginning of the 19th century,  the elites of national minorities (actually, there were minorities only, as no one nation accounted for 50% of the population, not even Hungarians in the Hungarian part of the monarchy) asked for autonomy (including the Hungarians, who – while asking for more rights for themselves within the monarchy – had had not been willing to agree to the other minorities in the Hungarian part the rights they claimed for themselves). With the fall of the empire, the national minorities took their chance to establish their own states.

A truly loving father

Mr László Tőkés, former bishop of the reformed church and present vice president of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party, for Romania and of course for the Hungarian minority of Romania, loves his son Máté very dearly (meanwhile his wife filed for divorce among others because of his extramarital affairs). So much that when a couple of weeks ago the city administration of Oradea imposed a fine of around 700 euros for opening a bar without the neccessary permits, Mr Tőkés took his phone (either in Brussels or in Oradea) and called the local authorities.
The younger Mr Tőkés is also interested in football, being player and head of the club called Partium SC, who plays in the fifth league of Romania (there is no sixth). In their interpretetion, the referees were keeping to discriminate against them, so the father took his EP vice president’s stationery and hand wrote a letter to the Romanian Football Federation, telling them that: ‘As the father of one of the players of Partium SC I am shocked about the incident at the match against Rév. As vice-president of the European Parliament, being responsible among others about sports affairs I consider the behaviour of the three referees that sealed the fate of the game unacceptable. In the European spirit of fair play I ask you to accept the complaint of the president of the Partium SC ragarding the repetition of the game.’

Morals at the protestant university

Hungary has about 80 universities and colleges. Many of them are of course minor province institutions, including a lot of theological schools caring to the needs of one particular denomination for pastors  (needless to say that they receive their funds from the Hungarian state, too). Not so Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church (KRE), which, together with Pázmány Péter Catholic University is an institution with scientific ambitions, and has not only a theologial faculty, but also one for humanities and one for law. Until now, it also had three PhD schools. One of them, the law school, has now been closed down by the Accreditation Committee for continuos non-compliance with basic academic standards. One of these says that in order to run a PhD school, an institution needs to have a certain number of specialists in the field who already have students awarded a PhD degree, and not only the now closed down PhD school, but also the PhD school in literary history is unable to meet this criterion.
However, according to the weekly HVG, the latter seems to have also committed fraud.
Probably in order to produce the necessary amount of PhD graduates, they have awarded three degrees in Spring 2009 which had to be revoked by the Accreditation Committee. In order to provide one of the professors, András Szabó, with a PhD graduate, they transferred the supervision of one aspirant to him, just three weeks before he had to defend this dissertation (the opponent was the wife of Szabó, who also teaches at the univesity, and also the direct boss of the PhD applicant was involved in the process – she, by the way, is the daugther-in-law of a well-known professor on the PhD-board of the Accreditaion Committee). The original supervisor wasn’t informed about the transfer of her student, and when she protested, she was dismissed from the school. Anyway, the school got a year to solve their problems, which they were apparently unable to do–accroding to the weekly HVG, if the Committee does keep to its standards, they will have to close down the school, leaving KRE with one PhD school only.
The university is practically the warplace of the reformed church’s internal conflicts. The university was founded in 1993 by the bishop Loránt Hegedűs who at the time was head of the reformed church of Hungary, but has been removed from his post. As the university was formally maintained by his diocese but supervised by the head of the church, conflicts were programmed. There were also financial irregularities in 2008. The then rector left, and at the time, it also turned out that he had worked for the communist secret service before 1989. Another ex-rector, Sándor Tenke is being accused of forgeing official documents. The present one is an in-law of the Hegedűs clan, which is well konwn for its activities in the far right scene, with a Mrs Loránt Hegedűs (I understand she’s the sister of the rector) being MP for the very right wing party Jobbik.

Teachers and students are also fighting online. If you speak Hungarin and want to read a rather disgustion version (probably partly of questionable reliability) of the deeds of the univesity officials (extending the above mentioned charges, including ad hominem attacks, accusations that the university does not require enough religious studies for non-theology students, and claiming that funds have been redirected to the far right wing party Jobbik), you can find their blog here.


Last year, a reformed bishop suggested that the churches receive back not only their buildings, but also the arable land that was taken away from them after WWII (the catholic church used to be one of the biggest land owners until them). The question is being discussed (not too vividly, however) in the intellectual weekly ‘És’ (‘And’–its real name is ‘Élet és irodalom’, i.e. ‘Life and Literature’, but I have not once heard its whole name and it’s referred to even in writing as ‘És’).
Csaba Fazekas and György Gábor argue that the churches did not own their estates but received them for use only by the kings, who paid them for their services to society through providing them with a revenue from these estates. I.e. they did not receive any property rights but only the rights to the net revenue drawn from the estates. Accodring to them, one of course could argue that the churches get back their land, but this would mean that all state funding would have to cease completely.;24710

Church recycling

Though the Vatican is very well informed, the head of Hungarian Catholics, Péter Erdő cardinal had to correct a statement by cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, according to whom in Hungary churches have been turned into brothels.
However, we do have more churches than necessary. In the village of Medgyesegyháza, the reformed church is selling one of its places of worship, since of the 200 inhabitants who declared themselves calvinist, only 1 or 2 attend the services held at the church once or twice a month. However, they plan to keep the churchbell, which was given to them by communist dictator Mátyás Rákosi in 1951.

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