Pagans and Minority Religions Under Hungary’s Authoritarian New Constitution

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.

Hungarians protesting the new constitution.

“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.HinduIslam, 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.