Dozens of deregistered religious organizations continued to contest the loss of their status and to seek legal remedies on multiple fronts. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a final ruling in September upholding the organizations’ challenge to the mass deregistration of churches in 2011. Non-recognized religious organizations continued to have limited access to public funding and to religious activities in public institutions. Jewish community representatives reacted negatively to the government’s erection of a monument to mark the country’s occupation by German forces; to its plans for the “House of Fates,” a new museum focusing on child victims of the Holocaust; and to its appointment of a historian as director of a new historical research institute (Veritas Institute) whose views on the deportation of Jews in 1941 drew criticism. Jewish groups decided not to attend programs organized by the central government to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary. The president and prime minister made speeches at Holocaust commemoration events criticizing anti-Semitism and acknowledging the role played by the Hungarian state during the Holocaust.
On April 8, the ECHR ruled the 2011 religion law had violated the freedom of association with respect to the freedom of religion of 16 deregistered applicant churches, including Mennonite, evangelical, Jewish, and Buddhist groups, as well as a variety of minority religious groups, and ordered the government to pay damages to the plaintiffs in an amount to be determined following mediation. The ECHR rejected an appeal by the government, and the verdict became final September 9. On September 11, the state secretary for church affairs released a statement declaring the ECHR ruling “fits into the series of attacks carried out against Hungary by certain international interest groups” and claiming that the parties concerned were primarily motivated by the gain of “material benefits” and actively participated in activity aimed at damaging “tax-paying Hungarian people.” The government started consultations with the applicant groups on the damages in December, but no agreement was reached between the parties by the end of the year.
Of 27 applications submitted by religious communities to the MHC in 2013, the ministry ruled 15 applicants were ineligible based on the administrative criteria listed in the law. Four of the rejected applicants appealed the ministerial decision in court. In two of the cases, the court suspended proceedings and turned to the Constitutional Court seeking a ruling on the constitutionality of the relevant legal provision; in one case, the MHC withdrew the rejection (which terminated the court proceeding) and launched a new administrative proceeding on the eligibility, while another case remained pending at the court at the end of the year. The ministry declared 12 of the 27 applicants eligible from an administrative point of view and forwarded these applications to the parliament’s judiciary committee. On July 8, the parliament’s judiciary committee recommended against the applications of 10 religious organizations (the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship; Evangelical Free Church; Evangelical Friends Church; Hungarian Evangelical Association; Mantra Hungarian Buddhist Community; Pentecostal Church of Hungary; Church of the Nazarene Hungary; Hungarian Bahai Community; Sim Shalom Progressive Jewish Community; and Alliance of Hungarian Reform Jewish Communities Church) for recognized church status. The committee said that while the applicant communities’ public service activities were “considerable,” those only enjoyed small public support, meaning their overall societal benefits remained “limited.” This decision followed a June finding by parliament’s national security committee that the 10 groups did not pose a threat to national security. Parliament had not voted on the applications by the end of the year. Two remaining applications referred to the judiciary committee by the MHC remained pending.
The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET, a Methodist community of approximately 18,000 followers) and several other deregistered small religious organizations continued to try to obtain their lost church status based on the Constitutional Court’s 2013 decision that retroactively annulled parts of the 2011 religion law. The Constitutional Court had ruled that those deregistered churches whose requests for rerecognition had been rejected by parliament, as well as those deregistered churches which had submitted constitutional complaints at the Constitutional Court following their deprivation of church status, should all be considered as not losing their church status through the 2011 religion law. On February 19, Minister of Human Capacities Zoltan Balog appealed a decision by a trial court that he reconsider the MET’s application for retroactive inclusion in the registry of “recognized churches.” This case and six others lodged by four different deregistered religious groups in connection with their deprived status remained pending before the Curia, the highest judicial authority in the country.
On May 7, the Curia rejected a request by MET to retain “supplementary state subsidies” for one of its homes for the elderly, which the group had stopped receiving when it lost its official church status in 2012. The Curia reinforced the ruling of the court of first instance, which said that, notwithstanding the Constitutional Court ruling, MET must first appear on the official registry of recognized churches maintained by the MHC. On July 8, the MET appealed the Curia’s ruling at the Constitutional Court, which can review the constitutionality of an individual court decision. That case remained pending at the Constitutional Court at the end of the year.
On July 21, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling that its June 2013 decision overturning the deregistration of several former churches also applied to other deregistered churches whose cases reached the Court subsequent to the 2013 decision. In its justification of the ruling, the Court noted that the amended religion law maintained several privileges available exclusively to recognized churches. The Court acknowledged the right of the state to use wide discretion in allocating financial subsidies and privileges to religious communities, but warned that any regulations and their application should not discriminate between religious communities. The ruling further stated that deregistered churches could initiate new proceedings to gain “recognized church” status as prescribed by the current religion law.
On December 16, the Constitutional Court issued a decision in the case of a constitutional complaint submitted by an anonymous religious group that had lost its church status under the 2011 religion law. The applicant community failed to initiate the transformation of its legal status to religious association by the February 29, 2012, deadline set by the 2011 religion law, and in both the first (in November 2012) and second instance (in January 2013) courts ordered the group’s mandatory dissolution and the liquidation of its assets. The Constitutional Court ruled that the first and second instance court orders on the dissolution were unconstitutional because those were issued based on the provision of the 2011 religion law that the Constitutional Court had annulled retroactively in March 2013 on the basis of violation of religious freedom and discrimination.
At the end of the year, there was one pending case at the Constitutional Court initiated by the Budapest Metropolitan Tribunal, another one initiated by the Budapest Metropolitan Court of Public Administration and Labor in connection with the recognition or dissolution of seven religious communities, and four pending constitutional complaints initiated by deregistered religious communities.
Since the introduction of the 2011 religion law, courts have terminated 43 deregistered churches and liquidated assets worth a total of approximately 800,000 forints ($3,084). Eighteen court cases of terminating deregistered churches remained pending at the end of the year.
On September 26, following a meeting with Minister of Human Capacities Balog, the Alliance of Evangelical Free Churches and the Hungarian Evangelical Alliance, umbrella organizations for 20-30 unrecognized churches, issued a statement that they would not turn to international forums to seek reinstatement of their previous church status. Representatives of the organizations said that religious freedom was guaranteed for them by the constitution and the relevant law. The organizations told the minister about difficulties caused by changes in the religion law, but welcomed governmental financial support for their faith-based, charity and social welfare activities.
At an October 30 meeting with the MHC, the Council of Recognized Oriental Churches, an umbrella organization for recognized Muslim, Buddhist, and Krishna groups, reportedly reached agreement on regular cooperation with the government. After the meeting, the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness issued a statement declaring that the expression and practice of faith were fully guaranteed for its communities.
From January civil society groups organized a series of demonstrations against the erection of a monument, approved by the cabinet at the end of 2013, to honor the victims of the country’s occupation by German forces in 1944. The protesters said the government was attempting to “falsify history” and urged a broad public dialogue on the country’s role during World War II (WWII). Government officials rejected the idea that the government was shifting responsibility to Germany for the treatment of Jewish Hungarians during WWII. Despite daily protests at the construction site, the centerpiece statue for the monument was erected in the middle of the night on July 19, without any public announcement, official ceremony, or dedication. On July 21, the prime minister issued a statement specifying the purpose of the monument was to “express the pain and ordeal the Hungarian nation experienced and suffered as a result of losing its freedom.” Authorities launched proceedings on three different legal grounds (disobeying lawful police action, vandalism, and illegal graffiti) against approximately 30 protestors. Fifteen demonstrators challenged the police actions in court. Some demonstrators were acquitted by the court, while the cases of others remained pending at the end of the year.
In January the police banned a Day of Honor rally planned for February 11, by the neo-Nazi Hungarian Dawn party on the grounds it could serve to promote Nazi and extremist views.
On July 2, the Pest Central District Court sentenced a man to one year in prison (suspended for two years) for repeated public denial of the crimes of the Nazi regime. The convicted man displayed on his car a sticker reading “holokamu,” which is a combination of the words for Holocaust and scam.
On July 16, the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed as ambassador-designate to Italy a controversial writer and journalist who previously had publicly expressed anti-Semitic views, such as describing Jewish people as the “agents of Satan.” Domestic and international Jewish organizations objected to the appointment, and the ambassador-designate withdrew his name from consideration for the post July 25.
On October 15, the state television station appointed a new editor of religious programs who had previously posted racist jokes on her social media webpage and invited UK citizen David Irving, a well-known Holocaust denier, to her show on public media in 2012. On October 21, the heads of the Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches and of the Jewish community organization MAZSIHISZ sent a joint letter of protest against the appointment, declaring the new editor “unacceptable due to her openly ostracizing and anti-Semitic comments” that made her “unfit and discredited” for managing religious television programs. On October 27, the chief executive of the state television station responded, informing them that religious programs had been removed from the contested editor’s portfolio.
The government continued to process petitions under 2006 legislation allowing compensation claims from individuals whose immediate relatives had been killed in the Holocaust or had performed forced labor due to religious discrimination during WWII. By the end of the year, the government had paid approximately 3.4 billion forints ($13.1 million) in claims to 2,200 applicants since 2007.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (“Claims Conference”) completed the distribution of the final portion of a total of 2.75 billion forints ($10.6 million) allocated for Hungarian Holocaust survivors living outside of the country. The funds derived from a 2007 agreement negotiated by the World Jewish Restitution Organization with the government to pay $21 million over a five-year period to compensate Holocaust survivors living both inside and outside the country. On August 15, the responsible international auditing firm sent to the Prime Minister’s Office the audited accounting of the Claims Conference’s spending, which the government accepted. The Hungarian Jewish Heritage Public Endowment (MAZSOK) had previously completed the distribution of funds designated for survivors living inside the country.
On January 1, for the second consecutive year, the government raised the pension supplement for the approximately 7,090 Holocaust survivors by an average of 50 percent.
The Constantinople Patriarchy Hungarian Exarchy, head of the Hungarian branch of the Greek Orthodox Church, reported it would continue to contest the restitution of a church in Budapest despite its award to the Russian Orthodox Church.
In January the government appointed a historian as director of a new historical research foundation, the Veritas Institute for Historical Research, established by the government in late 2013. He drew domestic and international criticism for a January 17 interview with the National News Agency, where he called the 1941 deportation of 18,000 Jews from Hungary to German-occupied Ukraine a “police action against aliens,” because they did not have Hungarian citizenship. Some 24,000 Jews were massacred by German Nazis in Kamianets-Podilskyi, including 10,000-15,000 deported from Hungary. A member of the Democratic Coalition party filed a complaint against the director for Holocaust denial; however, on June 20, the Budapest Police Headquarters rejected it, based on the lack of evidence of a crime, and the director remained in his position.
The government dedicated the year to commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary. It set up a working committee to determine an agenda for the commemoration, including representatives from the Jewish community and foreign embassies. The president, prime minister, cabinet members, and opposition politicians routinely criticized anti-Semitic incidents, spoke of the culpability of the Hungarian state and its officials for the Holocaust, and attended events commemorating the Holocaust. On January 23, Prime Minister Orban wrote in a letter, published by the press, marking Holocaust Remembrance Day that “the Hungarian Holocaust cannot be regarded as anything other than the tragedy of the whole Hungarian nation.…We cannot and do not tolerate the branding, humiliation, or mistreatment of anybody because of their religion.”
The government-established working committee ceased to function after February 9, when MAZSIHISZ adopted a resolution withdrawing from all participation in central government-sponsored events related to the Holocaust Memorial Year. MAZSIHISZ also returned government grants worth 210 million forints ($809,000) for Memorial Year projects. Thirty-four other Jewish organizations, along with a number of non-Jewish groups, joined MAZSIHISZ in these actions. The MAZSIHISZ resolution set three conditions to resume cooperation with the government: 1) a halt to the German Occupation Monument project; 2) the dismissal of the director of the Veritas Institute; and 3) an increase in consultation and input into the “House of Fates” project.
In March several members of the advisory board for the House of Fates resigned after criticizing the museum’s project director for “inadequate consultations.” Those leaving the board included representatives of MAZSIHISZ and the Yad Vashem Museum. On July 18, the government issued a decree entrusting management of the House of Fates to a foundation led by the project director. On September 9, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Janos Lazar promised the exhibit would be opened only if Jewish community representatives approved the content.
Despite the MAZSIHISZ withdrawal from central government-sponsored Holocaust memorial events, the central government organized several events, mostly conferences, during the year. Local governments also organized numerous memorial programs, generally in close cooperation with Jewish groups, including construction of new Holocaust memorials. On April 16, President Ader stated at a Holocaust memorial ceremony that “the murderers were Hungarians, the victims were Hungarians.” On April 28, President Ader joined the annual March of the Living event with thousands commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
Visits of school children to the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Center (HDKE) increased during the year as a result of a 2013 government decree on partial reimbursement of travel expenses for school groups arriving by train to Budapest. As of November 30, the latest date for which information was available, 15,590 school children had visited the museum in Budapest, while a total of 13,849 visited in all of 2013. As of the end of November, 21,417 school children had visited the traveling exhibits of HDKE around the country.
On January 16, the “Jewish Community Roundtable Educational Expert Group” (an ad hoc alliance of 17 Jewish organizations negotiating the portrayal of the Jewish community in educational materials) signed an agreement with the minister of human capacities and the director of the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development to change the curriculum to more prominently feature the role of Jews in the country’s history and cultural life, as well as information about the State of Israel. The Jewish Expert Group said the revised curriculum published April 29 was a positive step, but criticized the continued inclusion of writers from the WWII era widely considered to be anti-Semitic (including Jozsef Nyiro, Albert Wass, and Dezso Szabo) and passages in history books that they found offensive (such as a passage blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus Christ).
In the spring semester, a new course was introduced at the National University of Public Service entitled the “Background and Social Consequences of Hate-Crimes.” It was offered to students enrolled at any of the three faculties (Law Enforcement, Public Administration, and Military Sciences) and held in six three-hour sessions. Twelve students participated in the lecture series and the seminar program, which were based on material developed by TEV. Students also met with Jewish victims of hate speech and a Holocaust survivor.
As of October, 12.4 percent of the country’s elementary and secondary schools were operated by recognized churches and 0.1 percent by religious organizations. Eight percent of kindergartens (for ages 3-7) were operated by recognized churches, and 0.2 percent by religious organizations. Approximately 200,000 students studied at kindergartens and elementary and secondary schools operated by religious communities (both recognized churches and religious organizations).
In the 2013-14 school year, 52 percent of first graders chose “faith and ethics” education and 48 percent ethics classes, while 58 percent of fifth graders picked ethics education and 42 percent the faith and ethics curricula. In the 2014-15 school year, 53 percent of first graders, 47 percent of second graders, 40 percent of fifth graders, and 38 percent of sixth graders picked “faith and ethics” education.
On December 17, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Janos Lazar invited Jewish community leaders to discuss the hate crime situation in Hungary with representatives of the Prosecutor’s Services, the National Judiciary Office, the National Police Headquarters, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice. Minister Lazar stated at a press conference after the meeting that the current legislation aimed at preventing and combating anti-Semitic crimes was adequate, but the enforcement of the relevant laws by the police and prosecutors could be improved, and the government would institute measures to improve enforcement.
The government provided funding to TEV to monitor anti-Semitic incidents in the country and for research projects and other programs aimed at fostering societal commemoration.
In March the MHC and the Hungarian National Committee of UNESCO cohosted a conference on the coexistence of Jewish and Christian communities, “Our Common Future – Our Common Responsibility” in Tihany.
The government provided 52.3 billion forints ($201.6 million) to recognized churches for a range of activities, including maintenance of church buildings; support for religious instruction, education, and culture; support for church community programs and investments; and wages of church employees. The government continued to provide 91 percent of its total financial support to the Roman Catholic Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Jewish community, which it considered to be the country’s four “historical” religious groups, an unofficial designation by which the media also referred to these four groups.
In 2013 the MHC granted supplementary operational funding to three religious organizations (MET, the Dzsaj Bhim Buddhist community, and the Christian Family Church Religious Association), effective until the end of August 2017. No other religious association requested a supplementary subsidy from the MHC in 2014.
Supplemental government funding was augmented in fiscal year 2013 by taxpayers contributing 3.8 billion forints ($14.6 million) to 31 recognized churches that requested listing on tax declaration forms. On 2013 personal income tax return forms, 62 formerly recognized churches that became religious organizations received the allowed 1 percent tax contribution for their work as civil organizations, with total contributions reaching 16.5 million forints ($63,600). The transfer of the 1 percent donations in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 (worth a total of 85 million forints ($327,600) to 60 formerly recognized churches that failed to complete the administrative process of eligibility remained pending.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).