The parliament failed to amend the religion law, including those specific provisions the Constitutional Court found unconstitutional and the parts resulting in mass deregistration of religious groups that the 2014 ECHR ruling declared in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. The government reached full agreement on the settlement of restitution claims of six out of the 16 ECHR applicant religious groups. Nonincorporated religious organizations continued to have limited access to public funding and to religious activities in public institutions. Jewish community representatives and other civil groups heavily criticized the plan to erect a statue honoring World War II politician Balint Homan in Szekesfehervar, a plan which the prime minister subsequently also criticized. The statue was not erected by the end of the year. The government said it maintained a policy of “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism” and assumed the IHRA chairmanship in March. In connection with the migration crisis in Europe, the prime minister repeatedly emphasized the importance of defending the “Christian values of Europe” against the flow of Muslim migrants. On April 14, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said at an international conference that the government pursued “a Christian foreign policy based on a Christian Europe and a Christian Hungary.”
Parliament did not meet the Constitutional Court-ordered deadline to amend the unconstitutional provisions of the law on religion by October 15. Although governing parties submitted to parliament an amendment to the religion law on November 10 following widespread intragovernmental consultations, it failed to garner the required two-thirds majority. The contested provisions of the religion law remained in effect at the end of the year.
At the end of the year, four constitutional compliance cases involving the religion law were pending at the Constitutional Court.
The government did not reach agreement on damages with all 16 deregistered churches which were plaintiffs in the case in which the ECHR ruled that parts of the religion law violated the plaintiffs’ freedom of association with respect to the freedom of religion. The ECHR had urged the government to reach an agreement by May 15 with the plaintiffs, including the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET), Mennonite, Jewish, and Buddhist groups, and a variety of other minority religious groups. The government settled on damages with six applicant groups, and partially settled with three groups (including the MET), but had not reached agreement with seven other organizations by year’s end. Dissatisfied groups returned to the ECHR to seek final settlement, which remained pending at the end of the year.
At year’s end, despite the legal deadline, parliament had not voted on any of the 12 applications for incorporated church status that religious organizations had submitted to the MHC in 2013. The MHC had found all 12 of the groups eligible for incorporation and had moved their applications forward for parliamentary action.
During the year, courts terminated 18 deregistered churches. Only one had assets in its name, valued at approximately 26,000 forints ($90), which the government liquidated. Thirty-five cases of termination of deregistered churches remained pending.
The Curia, the highest judicial authority in the country, ruled on seven appeals involving deregistered religious groups (including six cases concerning the MET), and three cases remained pending. In these rulings the Curia concluded that the 2013 annulment of parts of the religion law by the Constitutional Court did not mean religious groups would automatically regain their lost church status. Consequently, religious organizations needed to complete the registration process for incorporated church status and obtain parliamentary approval of that status before they could be listed in the official state registry of incorporated churches.
On June 26, MET reached a partial agreement with the government on its compensation claim of 3.7 billion forints ($13 million) based on the 2014 ECHR ruling. Pursuant to the agreement, the government transferred 1.2 billion forints ($4 million) to MET on July 13, covering the unpaid 1 percent personal income tax allocation for churches, the supplementary state subsidies for its social welfare and educational institutions, and the wage supplement for its staff working in its institutes from 2012 to 2014. Based on the partial agreement reached with the government, MET considered its 2012-14 financial compensation claims closed. MET continued its legal effort to regain its lost incorporated church status and access to financial subsidies for 2015 at the Constitutional Court and the Curia.
The Constantinople Patriarchy Hungarian Exarchy, which directs the national branch of the Greek Orthodox Church, reported it would continue to contest the restitution of a church in Budapest the government awarded to the Russian Orthodox Church.
As of November 15, a total of 16,532 schoolchildren had visited the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Center (HDKE), compared with 16,014 the previous year. The government reimbursed the travel expenses of school groups arriving by train to visit the center. Approximately 10,000 more school children had visited the traveling exhibits of HDKE around the country.
The Jewish Community Roundtable Educational Expert Group (ZSKK – an ad hoc alliance of 17 Jewish organizations) continued its cooperation with the government aimed at adjusting the portrayal of the Jewish community in educational materials to more prominently feature the role of Jews in the country’s history and cultural life, as well as information about Israel. The ZSKK reviewed government-commissioned history, literature and ethics textbooks in public elementary and secondary schools for Jewish-related content and criticized some “anti-Judaic” phrases it found in history books. According to the ZSKK, the government incorporated 70-80 percent of their recommendations for the textbooks but several issues remained open for further discussions.
The MHC continued to provide supplementary operational funding to three religious organizations maintaining schools (MET, the Dzsaj Bhim Buddhist community, and the Christian Family Church Religious Association), effective from 2013 until the end of August 2017. During the year, the three groups received a total of 563.5 million forints ($1.94 million). No other religious association requested a supplementary subsidy from the MHC during the year.
The government provided 52 billion forints ($179 million) to incorporated churches for a range of activities, including maintenance of buildings; support for religious instruction, education, and culture; support for community programs and investments; and wages of church employees. The government also provided a total of 109 million forints ($376,000) to religious organizations for operational costs of religious activities.
The government continued to provide approximately 90 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.
On May 18, Prime Minister Viktor Orban signed an agreement with Archbishop-Metropolitan Fulop Kocsis to allocate 2.3 billion forints ($7.8 million) for the newly created Metropolia of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church to finance the restoration of properties received from the city of Debrecen.
The government provided 4.8 billion forints ($17 million) supplemental funding in fiscal year 2014 to contribute to the 3.9 billion forints ($14 million) allocated by taxpayers as 1 percent of personal income tax to 31 incorporated churches that requested listing on tax declaration forms. On the 2014 personal income tax return forms, 62 formerly recognized churches that became religious organizations received the allowed 1 percent tax contribution for their work as NGOs, with total contributions reaching 17 million forints ($60,500). The Column of Truth Full Evangelical Christian Association completed the administrative process of registration as a religious organization during the year and became eligible to receive from the tax authority the 178,000 forints ($635) allocated to it in 2011 and 2012 (the last two years it was eligible to collect taxpayers’ donations allocated for churches). Payments worth a total of 85 million forints ($300,000) to the 59 other formerly incorporated churches that remained unregistered remained in suspense at the end of the year, pending registration of the groups.
The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH) criticized the system of 1 percent tax allocations on the basis of the lack of transparency and inability to verify the counting of individual taxpayers’ donation slips.
On January 30, a member of the European Parliament asked the European Commission (EC) to investigate the “excessive conditions” imposed by the government on uses of the European Social Fund, which narrowed the pool of potential applicants to only the Roman Catholic Church. The issue referred to the government’s distribution of two billion forints’ ($6.8 million) worth of EC funding for Roman Catholic religious education. On April 23, the European commissioner for education said the EC had launched a review of the case.
On December 18, the Szekesfehervar city council withdrew its June 12 decree, which had approved the plan of The Homan Balint Cultural Foundation, an NGO, to erect a life-size bronze statue of Balint Homan in Szekesfehervar and allocated 1.9 million forints ($6,500) to the foundation for related costs. Earlier the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice had also transferred 15 million forints ($51,000) to the project. Homan was minister of religion and education between 1932 and 1942, a member of parliament during the Nazi Arrow Cross party’s rule in 1944, a cosponsor of legislation that stripped Hungarian Jews of their citizenship rights, and an advocate for the deportation of Hungarian Jewry in 1944. In the spring and summer of 1944, 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Homan was convicted of war crimes in 1946 for having voted to declare war on the Soviet Union, a conviction that the Budapest Metropolitan Court revoked on March 6.
Domestic and international Jewish organizations, as well as foreign governments, three cabinet members, and several NGOs criticized the Homan statue project. In response to the criticism, on December 11, the mayor of Szekesfehervar announced he had asked the foundation to reconsider the construction of the statue and to return the funds received from the central government and the municipality. On December 15, Prime Minister Orban declared “the government could not support the erection of a statue in honor of a politician who collaborated with occupying powers and collaborated with oppressors of Hungary – whatever merits that politician may otherwise have had.” On December 17, the NGO informed the city mayor it no longer wished to erect a statue of Homan and returned the public funds.
The Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ) registered six incidents of public expression of anti-Semitism by political party representatives and national or local government officials during the first six months of the year.
On May 22, the governing Fidesz Party issued a statement in which it characterized the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an NGO which has criticized the government’s policies towards the migration crisis, as “a fake civil society organization that responds to the political requests of international speculative capital…We call upon the Hungarian Helsinki Committee to stop lying and stuffing their pockets with [a wealthy Jewish American’s] money at least in such an important and serious question.”
On October 30, in a speech to Fidesz supporters, Prime Minister Orban said that “Europe has been betrayed” and claimed that “some well-organized unelected activist leadership presiding over huge flows of capital, thinking in terms over and beyond the framework of nation states; and if the Soros Foundation comes into your mind now, that is not entirely unjustified.” Domestic experts on anti-Semitism stated that, while not overtly anti-Semitic, the terms “international speculative capital” and “beyond the framework of nation states” can have anti-Semitic connotations in national discourse.
MAZSIHISZ and the Brussels Institute, founded by the NGO Action and Protection Foundation (TEV), reported that members of the extreme ethnic nationalist Jobbik Party limited their previous practice of making public anti-Semitic statements. At a press briefing in parliament on April 13, party chair Gabor Vona stated that “those with anti-Semitic sentiment should look for a new party for themselves.” Nevertheless, on February 12 and 16, Laszlo Benke and Elod Novak, respectively Jobbik representatives in Budapest’s 13th district council and parliament, failed to stand up for a minute of silence in honor of the chief rabbi, who had died a few days before. The media also reported that Jozsef Pista, Jobbik representative of Komlo, shared an internet post on February 20 in which he noted the chief rabbi “was tolerated in our country, nobody slapped him in the face, or knocked him on his head (to come to his senses), but he definitely fulfilled his promise, he harmed us every way he could.”
On March 14, the Democratic Coalition Party filed a report at the prosecutor’s office in connection with a 2011 email sent by Jobbik MP Gergely Kulcsar to his fellow party members, in which he stated that he had spit on the Holocaust memorial next to the Danube River. The prosecutor’s office launched an investigation in the case but terminated it on March 18 without pressing charges, due to the time lapse and a determination there had been no crime. Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Janos Lazar condemned Kulcsar’s action, as well as the Jobbik Party leadership, in April.
The government’s National Education Authority suspended a teacher for posting a portrait of Hitler on her Facebook page with the caption, “EU Refugee High Commissioner, Lager [Nazi concentration camp] Commander.” The State Secretariat for Public Education of the MHC issued a public statement condemning all racist, anti-Semitic hate-mongering and aggression against any ethnic or religious minority.
Law enforcement and judiciary agencies continued to prosecute anti-Semitic incidents. During the year, courts convicted one individual of incitement of religious hatred and a total of 59 individuals for violence against members of religious, ethnic, racial, or other societal groups. Details on the incidents and their motivation were unavailable.
On March 26, the Debrecen District Court imposed a fine of 750,000 forints ($2,500) on Tibor Agoston, Jobbik representative on the Debrecen City Council, for Holocaust denial. Agoston called the Holocaust a “holokamu” (“Holoscam”) in 2014. Agoston appealed the verdict, as did prosecutors who sought a more severe penalty, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
On February 10, Csaba Latorcai, the Deputy State Secretary for Priority Social Affairs of the PMO, stated the government had declared “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.” He stressed that preserving Jewish cultural heritage was a “shared responsibility” of the nation and noted that, within the framework of the 70th Anniversary of the Holocaust in the country, the government had allocated in the previous two years 3.3 billion forints ($11 million) to renovate 19 synagogues and 200 million forints ($680,000) to renovate five abandoned Jewish cemeteries around the country. The renovation of two synagogues in Debrecen, started in 2013, concluded during the year. The government allocated an additional 1 billion forints ($3.4 million) for further synagogue and cemetery renovation projects to begin in 2016.
On March 9, the government took over the chairmanship of the IHRA and said it was making combating anti-Semitism and Holocaust education central to its program. As part of its chairmanship, the government organized a conference on November 6 on the use of Holocaust related imagery and language in public discourse. On May 13, IHRA Chair Szabolcs Takacs stated in a speech in Jerusalem that the “Holocaust is one of the most shameful episodes of Hungarian history. Hungarian authorities actively assisted in … the killing of 600,000 Hungarians.”
In a statement marking Holocaust Memorial Day on April 16, Prime Minister Orban said that “The community of Hungarian Jews can rely on the respect, friendship and protection of the Hungarian government.” The president, prime minister, and cabinet members condemned anti-Semitic incidents, publicly accepted responsibility for the Holocaust on behalf of the state and its officials, and attended events commemorating the Holocaust.
On October 29, the Ministry of Interior and the Israeli embassy co-organized a Righteous Among the Nations Award ceremony to recognize 13 individuals who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II, attended by the president of the Curia, the president of the National Office for the Judiciary, and justices of the Constitutional Court, among other senior government officials.
The government’s 2013 plan to establish a new Holocaust museum, the House of Fates, remained pending. Despite international pressure for her removal and government promises, the project manager, widely criticized for failing to consult with the Jewish community and Holocaust experts on the content of the exhibits, officially remained in her position. On March 3, Minister of the PMO Janos Lazar repeated his earlier pledge that “in Hungary a Holocaust museum or a Holocaust memorial cannot be built without the representatives of Hungarian Jewry or without their support…If Hungarian Jewry, the Holocaust survivors, do not support it, the House of Fates will not be built.” The government had already spent 7.5 billion forints ($25 million) on the project and completed the physical infrastructure of the future museum.
The government hosted two high level intergovernmental roundtable discussions with representatives of the Jewish community. At these events, the Jewish community discussed the renovation of Jewish cemeteries, the House of Fates project, anti-Semitism and physical security, and restitution for heirless Jewish properties with the relevant cabinet members and other senior government officials.
The country faced a historically high flow of migrants and asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi Muslims transiting to Western Europe. In an interview in January after the terrorist attacks on the kosher supermarket and the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Prime Minister Orban said, “While I am prime minister, Hungary will definitely not become an immigration destination. We don't want to see significantly-sized minorities with different cultural characteristics and backgrounds among us. We want to keep Hungary as Hungary.”
Interviewed on a talk show in January, Fidesz faction leader Antal Rogan stated the presence of Muslim communities in Western Europe “disrupts the domestic order of these Christian countries.” On February 11, the government launched a comprehensive public relations campaign against migrants and asylum seekers, including anti-immigration billboards across the country, the launch of the National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism, a survey-style questionnaire mailed to the entire population. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concern that the questionnaire promoted hostility toward migrants.
The prime minister repeatedly voiced concerns regarding what he called the need to preserve European identity – rooted in Christianity – from massive immigration. On May 18, at a public ceremony, Prime Minister Orban said “Hungary will either be Christian or will not be at all.” On October 16, German weekly news magazine Focus published an interview with Orban in which he stated that Islam “has never been part of Europe but came into Europe.” Orban also said “the Islamic religion and culture do not blend with Christian religion and culture; it is a different way of life.”
Hungarian and international Muslim groups repeatedly criticized the anti-Muslim statements of the government. On September 3, the imam of the Hungarian Islamic Community (HIC) announced that the governing Fidesz and Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) were “haram” (forbidden) because of repeated anti-Muslim comments by their officials. The imam said the haram declaration meant that Muslim community members (the MIC has approximately 5-10,000 members) should not be members of those parties or support them with their votes. MHC State Secretary for Church Affairs Miklos Soltesz called the haram declaration “more than unfriendly,” especially since the community had received significant financial support from the government for its activities in past years. The imam withdrew the haram declaration on October 9. On August 10, the imam also announced that the nationalist Jobbik party was haram due to its support for anti-immigrant actions along the Serbian border, a declaration which remained in force at the end of the year.
On June 16-17, the MHC and the country’s National Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization cohosted a conference entitled Common Path – The Situation of European Religions and the Coexistence of the Hungarian Religious Communities in Tihany. Several Christian and Jewish organizations and religious leaders participated in the panel discussions aimed at fostering interfaith dialogue on various challenges faced by contemporary societies. The conference concluded with the adoption of a joint statement promoting interfaith dialogue and combating anti-Christian and anti-Semitic sentiments.