Pagans and Minority Religions Under Hungary’s Authoritarian New Constitution

Pagans and Minority Religions Under Hungary’s Authoritarian New Constitution January 12, 2012

One thing that may escape casual observers of the modern Pagan movement is that we are now truly global in scope. Pagan revivals and reconstructions are happening across Europe, in South America, Lebanon, South Africa, Russia, and there are even Wiccans in India. Far too often our focus is on what’s happening with Pagans in English-speaking countries, forgetting that there are daily struggles by Pagans outside that paradigm. Recently, a major upheaval in the country of Hungary places a spotlight on the plight of Pagans in that nation, and gives a stark warning concerning the consequences of giving too much political power to one party or faction.

Hungarians protesting the new constitution.

On January 1st, 2012, Hungary’s new constitution went into effect. Voted on and approved by the dominant conservative political party Fidesz, who currently control a super-majority in the Hungarian parliament, the sweeping changes were made without the input or cooperation with the minority parties, and has been criticized by the United States and the European Parliament. Tens of thousands of Hungarians took to the streets last week in protest of the changes. Princeton’s Kim Lane Scheppele, who has done extensive field work on constitutional issues in Hungary, says she is “alarmed at the state of both constitutionalism and democracy in Hungary.” Of particular interest for my readership here are the enshrining of conservative Christian values into the constitution, and the mass-deregistering of 348 faith organizations from state recognition by a new law.


“The new constitution also accepts conservative Christian social doctrine as state policy, in a country where only 21% of the population attends any religious services at all. The fetus is protected from the moment of conception. Marriage is only legal if between a man and a woman. The constitution “recognize(s) the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood” and holds that “the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence.” While these religious beliefs are hard-wired into the constitution, a new law on the status of religion cut the number of state-recognized churches to only fourteen, deregistering 348 other churches.”

The 14 recognized churches are Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, and a few Protestant groups only. Hindu, Islam, Buddhist, Pagan, and most Christian protestant groups, now have to re-apply for recognition with a number of high hurdles. A 2/3 majority vote in the Fidesz-controlled Parliament is ultimately required for every group to receive recognition and tax exemption. If that doesn’t seem too oppressive, imagine if a super-majority vote were required in the United States congress, or British parliament, to gain official recognition for any faith (and that those legislative bodies were controlled by conservative Christians). I have a feeling that there would be zero legally recognized Pagan groups in either country today under such a policy. Still, at least one Hungarian Pagan organization, the Celtic Wicca Tradition Keepers’ Church, is attempting to gain recognition.

“In order for the Celtic Wicca Tradition Keepers’ Church to be able to continue to operate as a church, 1000 adult Hungarian citizens’ signatures are required. I ask everyone who agrees that we should be able to continue our operation in the form of a church [religious organization] to print out the attached register, and deliver it, signed, with as many signatures as possible.

  • a) by post to the following address: Kelta-WICCA Hagyományőrzők Egyháza 1034 Budapest, Nagyszombat u. 25. 1/52
  • b) in person during business hours (M-F 10-6pm, Sat: 10-2pm) at the Old Oak Treasure Store or “The Bookstore” both of which are located at 1062 Budapest, Andrássy út 86.

By signing the register, the undersigned only expresses his/her support and consent that our organization should be able to continue its operations in the form of a church, and by signing does not undertake any other responsibility, or membership.”

That group runs, and was founded in 1998. By all accounts, it looks like they might not qualify even if they garner the appropriate signatures, and I don’t have high hopes that two-thirds of the current Hungarian parliament will be eager to approve them. There are several Hungarian Pagan groups currently active, though I believe almost all of them will be discouraged by the new rules. Hungarian-American Elysia Gallo, a Senior Acquisitions Editor at Llewellyn Worldwide, isn’t optimistic about Paganism gaining legal recognition under the new constitution.

“I find it ridiculous that religious organizations need to jump through these hoops after years of legitimate operation just to ensure/regain their tax status as a religious organization. Here in the US, organizations do have to jump through some hoops to get religious tax exempt status, and these can vary from state to state, but there’s probably not a single state that would require you to provide 1,000 signatures. The real test will be to see what the Hungarian government does when it is presented with thousands of signatures from the various organizations that have been de-listed — will they follow through on their word and grant these faiths their equal privileges, or will they act as our own VA did for years, kicking the can, procrastinating, and offering vague excuses on the veteran pentacle memorial issue? Let’s just say that the leaders in Hungary appear to be far more right wing than Bush ever was (especially because they currently have a super majority), and unfortunately it seems that most approval bodies in these cases take their cues from their leaders.”

What happens next is uncertain. The Fidesz government is trying to cement its new power grab as quickly as it can, and tensions are mounting as to what, exactly, the European Union is willing and able to do. There are so many issues of concern at play here, including media freedom, economic stability, and authoritarian slide, that it’s very likely the plight of minority religions may get lost in the shuffle. I will try to keep you abreast of this issue as it develops, and I’d like to thank Elysia Gallo for her input and translation skills in writing this post. I hope that our Pagan leaders involved in international interfaith will speak out on this issue, and help keep the spotlight on how these policies are affecting Pagans in Hungary.

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53 responses to “Pagans and Minority Religions Under Hungary’s Authoritarian New Constitution”

  1. Let’s find a way to lend a hand. If Occupy and the Arab Spring have shown anything it has shown us that people standing in solidarity, no matter where they are in the world, can overturn empires. Any ideas what we, as a community, can do to support our brothers and sisters in Hungary?

  2. Thanks for this, Jason. I’ve been keeping an eye on Hungary, but mostly through a political/economic lens. I knew Fidesz was socially conservative, but… Jeez.

    The damning thing about all this is that their new constitution, if I understand it rightly, requires essentially every vote in the future to pass with a super-majority, from ratifying a new constitution to appointing a judge. Even if the populace puts the Socialists back into power next time, unless they also give them a super-majority – unlikely, to say the least – it will be impossible for the Socialists to do anything to fix the problems Fidesz has created. The bureaucracy will remain staffed by Fidesz operatives, which means that even if the Socialists are “in power,” on the day to day level, Fidesz will still be running the country.

    And Fidesz didn’t campaign on any of this, of course. They were elected over the Socialists because of the bad state of the economy. The idea of radically overturning the entire social order of the state was never mentioned… Until they had their supermajority, and could safely ignore the people who had elected them…

    It is a truly awful situation. And I severely doubt that Fidesz will approve any pagan organization, even if the Celtic Wiccan Tradition Keeper’s Church gets their signatures.

  3. “The 14 recognized churches are Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish, only.”

    Um. No. Unitarians, “Protestant Church in Hungary”, Evangelical Lutherans, Baptists, and Faith Church (Pentecostal) are also on the very restrictive list of 14.

  4. Unitarians are in the in-crowd in a discriminatory situation? As an adult-life-long UU I’m in severe cognitive dissonance.

  5. THANK YOU!!!! Thank you for covering this. (Kiss!) Great of you to link to the Hungarian Pagan Groups, too.
    The situation is as bad as you say except for where it’s worse. Fidesz (and Victor Orbàn, its head and the head of government) have also pensioned off (or are currently doing that) all the judges from the Hungarian version of the Supreme Court to be replaced by – no prices for guessing. Judges get appointed by a two thirds majority in parliament, and that is Fidesz. So there is, in effect, no recourse to the courts. The only legal route left would be via the EU, but that is a long way. The only hope is that Hungarians will successfully challenge the media laws, at least, a prerequisite to everything else. (The current media law is an 0,001% improvement on the first one Orban made, the “improvement” being due to EU protests.)
    They can complain to the EU Ombudsman about discrimination, after they have exhausted all national courts and procedures, and take the matter of religious discrimination to the Court of Justice of the EU. (So that’ll yield results in 2018, by my estimation.)
    There is some hope that the EU and the IMF will insist on strident changes, even if most of the actors probably never heard of Pagans, sigh. But Pagan freedom is about freedom. Hungaria is practically broke – it has already received money from the EU and the IMF, and needs more. Yet a nation that is financially down is a nation vulnerable to all kinds of extremism, and for some reason, the majority of the protesters seem to be my generation and older – not very many young people. That, too, has me worried.
    The other hope is that the protesters will prevail. Send them energy, and love and all we can ‘send’ in our own practice.
    (I’m still composing the letters. There’s the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) in the EU Parliament – the Fidesz people are part of them, but apparently they do not feel the need to show there’s a difference between conservatism and fascism; the Ombudsman – probably there’s some sort of clause you can only complain if you’re directly affected, but one of his 5000 secretaries or so can explain that to me, and I’ll target individual EMPs – European Members of Parliament. Oh all the Gods of Thunder and all the Gods of persuasion, I’ll write to the Vatican to remind them of their talk of religious freedom, so they’ll pretend at least they mean it. The Lutherans. Get the European Pagan organizations to react.)
    Please keep up the coverage. Of course your focus is on the USA – that’s where you are and so that’s where it should be. But there are a lot of canaries-in-the-mine about to die here.
    (Apologies for the length of this post.)

  6. Unfortunately, yes, you do understand it rightly. Let’s hope the protests will be very very strong.

  7. Hungary can expect unnecessary class war then. It comes with the territory, that of giving such power to one part and religion, itself a giant ‘failure of imagination.’

    More failures of imagination are to follow and their outcome will be handled in a myopic manner as well. That almost never bodes well for economies.

  8. Thanks for posting about this issue, Jason! I wanted to issue one correction, now that I’ve thought about it further. The name of the Wiccan group in question uses the word Hagyományőrzők – which I translated here as Tradition Keepers. However, perhaps Tradition /Protector/ would be closer, and as I found on the internet while looking for a more suitable translation, many historical reenactment groups use the term Hagyományőrző for anything from military to archery reenactments – kind of like our Ren Fests or the Civil War re-enactors. Is there a better word for this in English? Sometimes when I stare at one language too long it erases all the possibilities from my brain for the other… 🙂 I mean I don’t want to call this group the Celtic Wiccan Reenactment group, but the word does seem to mean (in Hungarian) people who keep traditions alive by dressing up and educating through entertainment. Just putting it out there…

  9. I’ll be keeping a candle burning for you (and by you I mean you and all the people of Hungary).

  10. Thank you, but just in case of a misunderstanding – I’m not Hungarian myself. (German) I’m just very upset, because Hungaria feels close, and in Europe there’s been all that hope 1989+, of peace, understanding, freedom, growth (not just financial gain arrgh), of spirituality and – imagination – as a poster below says, for everyone, across borders, so this really hurts. Let’s keep that candle burning!

  11. Would “Reconstruction” be closer? There are plenty of Reconstructionist Pagans, of various traditions, in the USA.

  12. Well…not exactly. Literally it’s “traditionkeeper” or “traditionprotector” and thus does not have the “re” prefix (or anything approximating it) to indicate something that is being revived or renewed. Plus, no one could reasonably say Wicca is a reconstructionist religion. 🙂 The thought did cross my mind though…
    The word in Hungarian also reminds me of those folk village living museums, or historical villages one can visit, where tourists can see old ladies churning butter or throwing pots… anyway this has nothing to do with Celtic Wicca and I’m rambling now so I’l stop. 🙂

  13. The Egyptian and Tunisian movements are still in the fight and working to ensure the promise of the revolution is delivered. No social change movement has ever succeeded overnight or without great, sustained struggle. The fact that the people are still fighting, refusing to lay down and die, and working for a better future says more than a single quick victory every would.

    If we are to have impact on the situation in Hungary, as well as our situation at home, we must be ready for a long, hard struggle. Fidesz’s power will not be undone quickly or easily and the Pagans of Hungary are going to need all the help they can get. What say you Apuleius?

  14. While I support the new reforms/government in Hungary; I am indeed worried about the status of paganism within Hungary. Hopefully the process for recognition isn’t too trying.

  15. I really like the the part where you talk about what would happen in America if the Congress needed a majority for something to be considered a religion. I think there is a possibility that even Islam would have trouble making the cut. An important part of every democracy is that there are some things that are not left up for a vote, some things need to be protected from the whims of the masses or from political gamesmanship. Spirituality needs to be one of those things.

    -Andrew Lore

  16. I would. I was disgusted by the Arab Revolts, but the outcome hasn’t been too bad so far…

  17. I don’t know about Hungary, but the way elections are won in the US have already caused a sharp and worrying rise in super conservative politicians.

    I am more replying to Castus than you, Ryan, but I would say that the people have not spoken, that elections have been rigged in such a way as to allow this type of people into our government or Hungary’s government. Our people have spoken and yet the US government ignores them! A mass of people 100x bigger than the “Tea Party” has been demonstrating for MONTHS across the US and yet very little mainstream news gets out about them. The Tea buggers brought loaded guns to demonstrations and yet these unarmed Occupiers are being beating, shot at, arrested and generally abused. The people have spoken, but are not heard.

  18. In reply to Kitsunekijo – I wouldn’t be so quick to say that Hungarian elections were rigged. They genuinely disliked the party formerly in power; unfortunately when you kick out one government, sometimes you get one that’s even worse. Fidesz did not run on a platform promising these changes, so the public never stood a chance at making an informed decision.

  19. I think it’s hate speech too. It’s generally accepted that flip side of being saved through Christ (what the bible verse is about) is burning in Hell. He just dropped the verse on Pagan news blog. He dropped it in the comments discussing religious right power grab in Hungary. It therefore really does across as arrogant and hateful, or full of ‘loving-hate.’ Heh.

  20. Not a clear analysis Apuleius. It is true but not in an interesting way. They did not run as totalitarians. If a later free election approves them, then you would have a point. Interestingly, in Germany’s last free election the Nazi portion of the vote, never 50%, fell even lower. So the Nazis made sure there was never another free election.

  21. gbnoteversions, perhaps you’ve wandered into the wrong blog by mistake? It happens. This is a Pagan news blog, by Pagans, for Pagans.

    Speaking for myself…you should know that you’ll have a much more positive experience if you’re not an evangelizing jerk. I guarantee you that every person who regularly reads this blog is familiar with your religion’s scriptures…and we don’t care. They are irrelevant to us as we do not worship your god.

    Posting such things on a blog devoted to another religion is quite rude, and adds nothing to the conversation. Can you imagine how you’d feel if someone responded on a Christian news blog in a serious discussion about oppression with a short and snotty suggestion for you to worship the Antlered God of the Forest and the Triple Goddess?

    In addition, it underscores the issues many of us have with Christianity – the egotistical overtones (‘my message is so important that it trumps your human rights, let alone manners,’ ‘it doesn’t matter what you want for you, what’s really important is what I want for you’, etc.), the Borg-like nature of its conversion scheme, the offensive assumption that our religious beliefs are so shallow that the mere exposure of Christian scripture will make us drop them like a hot potato (it won’t.) Which, by the by, is the heart of the problem with Hungary’s restrictive new religious edict. It’s imposed without regard for what the citizenry want (and without the inconvenient input of those the new law affects), because the few egotistical men in power feel their religious beliefs/desires outweigh everyone else’s.

    (Yes, s/he’s probably a troll. But maybe there’s a chance s/he just doesn’t realize how she’s acting.)

  22. Castus, it’s not a statement of faith. It’s a condescending swipe at our religions. It’s meant as a weapon.

    (And even if it was a ‘statement of faith’, it’d have no place in this forum and be rude as as all get-out.)

  23. I’m a native-born Southerner (southern US) who’s spent several vacations in Europe (Germany, Austria, and Italy mostly), and lived with 2 German exchange students, so Europe seems a lot closer to me than it does to a lot of other Americans. It terrifies me that things like this are happening again in the West so soon. I didn’t think I’d see a totalitarian European government in my lifetime–and the US is clearly following suit too, just listen to the GOP!

    Canada is looking better and better.

  24. Still. That makes 14 Jewish and Christian sects, out of a total of over 2000. Even the Christians and Jews aren’t getting any good out of this, and they’re the ones ostensibly in charge!

  25. Funny, France and the US both did the same thing in the 18th century, but only one of them had a “Reign Of Terror” immediately afterward. 😉

  26. Dude. You’re in a Pagan blog, in the comment thread of an article about Hungary becoming a Christian theocracy that has banned Paganism. In that context, John 3:16 comes across as being extremely rude and stupid at best, supportive of totalitarianism at worst.

    Also, I’m not sure what the idea of your god loving the world enough to send his son here has anything to do with the current situation in Hungary. Or is this more of a Proverbs 26:11 situation?

    Seriously, you sound like one of the Pharisees your messiah was always complaining about. “Look at me, I’m all righteous and oppressed! Look at me! WHY AREN’T YOU LOOKING AT ME YET?”

  27. Most of the John 3:16 parroters I’ve heard tend to follow a culturally-illiterate form of “literalism” that involves ignoring context and pretending that genres other than history (in the modern sense) and sacred poetry do not exist. He probably doesn’t even know what “context” means, but has the vague feeling it’s probably Satanic.

    I’ve seen this form of willful ignorance all too often. CA doesn’t have it so much, but in Alabama it’s on every block.

  28. But, but, it’s from the Bible! The Bible is the Word of Gawd and therefore always appropriate! I’m being persecuted for being told that there is a time and place for things!! 😛

  29. I’m beginning to wonder if these people even know what John 3:16 says in the first place.

  30. I think the one missing subtlety here is Castus. When you’re taught that “Christian” is shorthand for “good”…well, you’ve discussed the results admirably in your book.

  31. Technically, none of the Christian denominations is followed by a majority anyway. The biggest single denomination is Roman Catholicism, at 23% of the populace. “Evangelical Protestant” is higher at 26.3%, but that includes several different denominations. You’d have another Seven Years’ War on your hands.

  32. 1. John 3:16 is a statement of religious Exclusivism…which is pretty much the spiritual equivalent of racism. It implies that only Christians get “eternal life,” which itself implies that only people who believe certain things are “worthy” of such an Afterlife. Normal, moral people believe such a concept to be disgusting…as under that doctrine, Adolph Hitler is in “Heaven,” while Mahatma Gandhi is burning in “Hell” for eternity. I’d say that’s pretty much “Hate Speech.”

    2. As noted before: CONTEXT. A giant wooden cross on YOUR lawn is not a Hate Crime. But put it on mine, and it becomes one…

  33. And we have the first Godwin winner! Many congratulations. @Kitsunekijo: the rise of the Classic Liberal Christianity within the GOP is indeed worrying, but I don’t think we have anything to worry about. As to the Occupy scum, they lack any real clout. Just a nuisance.

  34. Re: the attitude of the gov’t in Hungary toward religion, it is important to point out some distinctions that pertain to this issue. Having struggled with understanding parallel issues in gov’t policy toward religion in other East Euro countries (Lithuania, Latvia), it is necessary to understand that many governments in this region–and not only this region–have a multi-tiered approach toward religion. It is not a black-and-white, binary opposition between government totally embracing and supporting some religions and banning and repressing others. There is a lot of grey area, a lot of middle ground. At the very least, there are two levels of government recognition of religious communities. The basic, minimal level is of registration. At this level, religious groups can register with the gov’t as offiical entities, providing they can prove certain conditions that vary from country to country, legal system to legal system, such as having sufficient # of followers, a sufficient # of years in existence and a sufficiently positive reputation in the general society. This registration simply means that the government accepts the group as a legitimate social organization, but there are no special privileges. The higher, more advantageous level of recognition is where the government not only recognizes the group or religion as legitimate, but grants privileges such as tax exemption and the right to offer classes in religious education at public institutions. The highest level of recognition is where the government gives the group or religion a major stamp of approval as a “traditional” religion of long standing and proven value in the community, and offers financial support, that is, public funding, for such purposes as upkeep of church buildings, salaries for religious officials and functionaries, and other such things. There is thus a big difference between merely being “registered” and being accepted and supported as a “traditional” religion, but the main issue is NOT outright persecution of less favorably regarded religions; rather, the concern is preferential treatment of certain religions, typically one or the other major denomination of Christianity. Religious groups can be banned and prohibited IF they are “proved” to be deviant, socially destructive, and here, there is certainly a lot of room for political mischief and popular prejudice against minority religions and NRMs. Quite a different take on church-state relations than what we are used to in the United States, and a good example of why we should never assume that the American way of doing things is the only or the normative.

    I do not yet understand the new Hungarian law in detail, but I don’t think it means a ban on Buddhism or Paganism or other younger or more recently introduced religious groups or traditions, who can still register for the minimal level of gov’t recognition. I think it mainly means that the gov’t is officially privileging the Catholic church and some other religious groups as “traditional” religions over newcomers like the Krishna movement, Buddhists, Pagans and so forth. It is pretty much standard issue right-wing politics, where the state, the church and the military are locked in a passionate, three-way embrace that goeth beyond mere mortal understanding–UNLESS you are an unpatriotic, unchristian weirdo who finds this kind of thing objectionable! In Hungary and abroad, there is real concern about rising right-wing nationalism, aided and abetted by the current Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, and his political party Fidesz. Fidesz has a commanding majority in the Hungarian parliament allowing Orban and Fidesz to pretty much do whatever they want, hence concerns voiced by the EU and also American government, through Hillary Clinton.

    I am visiting Hungary in March. Watch for my “Letters from Prison,” soon to be available at an internet pamphlet booth near you.

    Michael Strmiska

  35. You raise a delicate issue. When we find the treatment of Hungarian Pagans odious, are we standing with our co-religionists — a behavior found everywhere on Earth — or are we being American chauvinists trying to push our First Amendment off on the world?

    IIRC there are international agreements that call for freedom of worship. Does the treatment you outline — and I thank you for providing that; it’s chock full of useful information — does it violate international norms about freedom of worship, or just the domestic American standard (which, as any regular on this board knows, America has difficulty living up to at times)?