Hungary

Last Updated 25 March 2022

Hungary is often said to be pulled culturally, socially and politically between “East” and “West”. Hungary’s modern constitutional parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1989, following a long history of varying authoritarian regimes including 40 years of communist dictatorship. In the first 20 years, democratic institutions were set up and improved gradually with the country trying to catch up with European democracies, and Hungary joined the European Union in 2004. Since 2010, however, Hungary has undergone an authoritarian, nationalistic turn.

According to the most recent census (2011),1https://www.ksh.hu/nepszamlalas/tables_regional_00 the majority of Hungarians ascribe to Christianity; 39% of the population are Catholic, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic, Greek Catholics account for 5% of the total Catholic population. A longitudinal review of the data suggests that the predominance of Catholicism is declining over time. Other Christian denominations include Calvinist (12%), Lutheran (2%), and Orthodox Christian (less than 1%). The non-religious represent the second largest belief group among the population, accounting for 18%. There are small populations of other groups, such as Jewish (less than 1%). However, it should be acknowledged that 27% of the population declined to answer the question.

This country is found to be declining, with retrograde, anti-democratic reforms implemented under an authoritarian, nationalistic government since 2010, accused of borrowing some policies from the “far-right”. There is a trend toward a systematic desecularization of the state, giving religious privileges to certain churches, and increasing governmental control over a significant part of the media.2https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52021SC0714

 
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Toward an “illiberal” state

The populist, nationalist Fidesz party, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has made conscious and explicit efforts to remodel Hungary as an “illiberal democracy,” moving towards a more authoritarian state, where democracy and the rule of law are mere formalities.3https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/03/hungary-orban-fidesz-christian-democracy-right/ Orbán said in 2014, “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations”.4bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-07-28/orban-says-he-seeks-to-end-liberal-democracy-in-hungary

Since 2010, Fidesz has been formally in coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), though in reality the KDNP’s support was below 1% when it was last measured independently. Due to an election system that heavily favors the winner of the election, the Fidesz-led coalition has dominated the Hungarian Parliament, using their majority to replace the constitution with a Fundamental Law5https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Hungary_2013.pdf?lang=en (which came into force 1 January 2012), and to adopt a wide range of measures undermining the separation of powers, as well as the separation of church and state, the protection of human rights, accountability and the rule of law.6https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/05/16/wrong-direction-rights/assessing-impact-hungarys-new-constitution-and-laws

The government refuses to ratify the Istanbul Convention because it promotes “destructive gender ideologies” and “illegal migration”.7https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2020-002981_EN.html; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/05/hungarys-parliament-blocks-domestic-violence-treat Hungary rarely grants asylum, and in the asylum process Christians receive special treatment.8The treatment of refugees by the Hungarian State has been widely covered, and legal action has been brought against the Hungarian State. https://asylumineurope.org/reports/country/hungary/detention-asylum-seekers/detention-conditions/conditions-detention-facilities/. On the asylum process: http://www.bmbah.hu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=521&Itemid=728&lang=en A separate state secretary post is dedicated to the “Aid for persecuted Christians”.

The operations of the government have, in general, become less transparent, including regarding the distribution of state funds. Dialogue between the government and different social groups has become virtually non-existent or a mere formality. In addition, serious efforts have been made by the government to control mass communication.9https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52021SC0714

Toward a religious state?

Freedom of and from religion including equality have been granted since 1895.10Act LVIII of 1895: https://net.jogtar.hu/ezer-ev-torveny?docid=89500043.TV Freedom of religion and conscience are enshrined in Art. VII of the Hungarian Fundamental Law,11English text of the Hungarian constitution: https://njt.hu/translated/doc/TheFundamentalLawofHungary_20190101_FIN.pdf and Act CXXV of 200312Hungarian legislation is available under www.njt.hu. English and German translation of some major legislation is also available. forbids any discrimination on religious grounds.

In reality, however, the government systematically gives preference to conservative Christian and faith-based life-stances over secular approaches to policy, contrary to the diverse beliefs held by Hungarian citizens.

The Fundamental Law13https://hunconcourt.hu/uploads/sites/3/2021/01/thefundamentallawofhungary_20201223_fin.pdf provides for freedom of conscience and religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief and freedom, separates church and state and stipulates that churches are autonomous, but also obliges the state to cooperate with and grant privileges to so-called “established” churches (Art. VII. (4)). The preamble (“National Avowal”) expresses pride that the nation’s first king, Saint Stephen, “made our country a part of Christian Europe,” and praises “the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood.” Article R(4) of the chapter “Foundation” states that “The protection of the constitutional identity and Christian culture of Hungary shall be an obligation of every organ of the State”, and the whole text starts with the invocation “God bless the Hungarians”.

After the fall of the communist one-party state in 1989, any religious community is free to set up a legal entity. In 1997, the socialist government under Gyula Horn signed a Concordat with the Vatican granting the Catholic Church various privileges, which were subsequently extended to other denominations (but not to non-religious organizations). In 2011, a new Church law14https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/9290/file/HUNG_FoRB.pdf stripped more than 300 religious groups and organizations of their legal status and privileges overnight. However, in 2018, following judgments by Hungary’s Constitutional Court15https://budapestbeacon.com/constitutional-court-ruling-no-win-marginalized-churches/ and the European Court on Human Rights,16https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-142196#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-142196%22]} the Hungarian government was forced to amend this law.

In its present version, the law introduces a four-tiered classification system in which religious groups can be registered as:

  • A “Religious Association” where they are “Natural persons sharing the same principles of faith […] for the purpose of practising their religion to perform religious activities”
  • A “listed Church” if at least 1,000 people elect to donate 1% of their income tax as per the law, and if they have been in operation in Hungary for at least 5 years (or are part of an international church that has been operating for 100 years);
  • A “Registered Church” if they have at least 4,000 adherents who choose to donate 1% of their income tax and have been operating for 20 years (or are part of an international church that has been operating for 100 years);
  • “Established Church” if they are a “Registered Church” that the State has concluded a “comprehensive agreement to cooperate in promoting community objectives.”

While the criteria for “listed” and “registered” churches are objective, registration as an “established” church is clearly subject to the discretion of the government as to whether it chooses to enter into a “comprehensive agreement.” Secular worldview organizations as well as NGOs that operate without a religious background are not eligible for the prerogatives given to any class of Church under the law.

Although the state is officially secular, considerable government support is given for religious activities, particularly to the “established churches” (of which there were, as of 2021, 27: 20 Christian; 3 Jewish; 1 Mormon; 1 Krishna; 1 Buddhist; and, one Muslim umbrella organization).17For a detailed list see the annex of the Act on churches: https://njt.hu/translation/J2011T0206P_20190416_FIN.pdf As religious associations are exempt from the transparency requirements that non-religious organizations are subject to, and since the government, ministries and local governments provide resources also via various funding schemes and ad hoc decrees, it is virtually impossible to assess the amount of taxpayers’ money that ends up being used for the promotion of certain religious views.

Established churches receive an annuity for real estate that was nationalized around 1950 by the newly established people’s republic and not returned after 1989. According to the Hungarian Atheist Association, the annuity amounted to more than 20 billion forint (approx. US$ 635 million) for 2021. A further 14.5 billion forint (approx. US$ 46 million) of the state budget was dedicated to ecclesiastical purposes.18Act XC of 2020 Registered and established churches, and their employees, are also exempt from certain taxes and social security payments.

There is a sense in which the Christianization of the state may well be regarded as a veneer for nationalism and authoritarianism generally. The convergence of church and state was initiated and maintained by the Orbán administration, while the churches – though sometimes exhibiting reluctance to accept the government steps intended to favor them – are not exactly uncomfortable with the new situation, in which they have much more money for their operations and more opportunities to proselytize.19https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/14/viktor-orban-budapest-hungary-christianity-with-a-twist; https://theconversation.com/viktor-orbans-use-and-misuse-of-religion-serves-as-a-warning-to-western-democracies-146277 In return, they have tended not to express views critical of the government, or in some cases they have become an outright part of the government’s propaganda, as in the case of the 2015 migrant crisis. For example, Gyula Márfi, the Aarchbishop of Veszprém, joined in the government’s campaign against Muslim refugees, saying in an interview in October 2015 that Muslims come to Europe in great numbers “to conquer Europe through faith”.20https://www.veol.hu/hirek/2015/10/isten-helyet-elfoglaltak-a-balvanyok Or Bishop of Szeged’s, László Kiss-Rigó, statement that “the more migrants that come, the more Christian values will be watered down.”21https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/14/viktor-orban-budapest-hungary-christianity-with-a-twist

Discriminatory church taxes

Since 2001, taxpayers can offer 1% of their personal income tax to an NGO (including NGOs established by churches) and a second 1% to a church. 133 religious organizations are currently eligible to receive this tax benefit, while non-religious organizations are excluded.22Taxpayers not wishing to offer their taxes to a church are provided with a state fund for education projects as an alternative, however, churches can also receive monies from this fund.

Churches are exempt from the transparency requirements that non-religious NGOs are subject to. They receive state funds under numerous budget headings, but as they do not publish annual financial statements, it is unclear how state funds are spent by the churches.

Secular associations that provide the same public purpose activities as churches are discriminated against financially.

Education and children’s rights

Since 2013, religion or ethics classes have been mandatory in state schools. When enrolling their children, parents must disclose their religious affiliation. Religious instructors are financed by the state, but selected by the churches. Not all ethics teachers have relevant training, and while the textbooks invite children to discuss various issues, values are presented as given. When religion appears in ethics textbooks, it is rarely presented as a topic for critical discourse.23In the textbook for grade 8 (https://www.tankonyvkatalogus.hu/site/kiadvany/FI-504030801), Catholic church representatives saving Jews are mentioned, while e.g. supporters in the Vatican helping the escape of nazi criminals are not. Abuse within the Catholic church is mentioned but dismissed as “single cases” with no bearing on the church. In grade 7 (https://www.tankonyvkatalogus.hu/site/kiadvany/FI-504030701), the story explaining love in Plato’s Symposium is related without mentioning that it deals also with homosexual love. The textbook for grade 11 (https://www.tankonyvkatalogus.hu/site/kiadvany/FI-504031101_1) presents abortion in the context of scientifically unsound statements and presents two NGOs assisting women in carrying their unwanted pregnancy to term, while no space is given to discuss possible reasons for abortion such as the need for bodily integrity, nor the ethics of birth control, procreation and voluntary childlessness.

The number of church-operated schools has doubled since 2010,24https://dari.oktatas.hu/letoltes_pub/kozerdeku/koznevelesi_statisztikai_evkonyv_2018_2019.pdf p. 47 ff and in some municipalities, no secular alternative is available. Since reform to the education system in 2013, schools run by “established” churches receive full funding by the state, and are allowed to discriminate in their selection of pupils.

While State schools are not allowed to discriminate, church schools are free to do so and thereby heavily contribute to segregation across the school system.25http://mek.oszk.hu/18200/18263/18263.pdf The exclusion of Roma pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds from Church-run schools as well as Church-run segregated schools for children from disadvantaged families are a form of racial and social discrimination that is perpetuated with the full knowledge and support of the State.26http://www.errc.org/news/hungary-a-short-history-of-segregation

Children’s rights

The 9th Constitutional Amendment,27https://www.parlament.hu/irom41/13647/13647.pdf passed in December 2020, restricts the personal and religious freedoms of minors and their parents by obliging the State to ensure an upbringing of the child that is “that is in accordance with the values based on the constitutional identity and Christian culture of our country” (Article XVI). It also restricts children’s right to “a self-identity corresponding to their sex at birth.” The explanatory statement refers to the eternal “Order of Creation” being “continuously threatened” as reason for the amendment.28https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/december/hungary-constitution-family-define-christian-lgbt-adopt.html

A 2021 amendment to child protection legislation29Act LXXIX of 2021 (unofficial translation prepared by Hungarian Helsinki Monitor: https://helsinki.hu/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/06/unofficial_translation_LGBT_amendments.pdf) that initially aimed at setting up a register for sex offenders that ensures they are not employed in jobs dealing with children, ended up as an act that forbids making available any content that “depicts sexuality as an end in itself or that promotes or depicts divergence from the identity corresponding to the sex designated at birth, sex modifications and homosexuality” to persons under the age of 18 years.30https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2021/690707/EPRS_ATA(2021)690707_EN.pdf

By banning not only the “promotion” but even the “presentation”, the act effectively forbids anyone to provide minors with factually correct information about sexuality that does not conform to the government’s ideas about sex and gender. The government also refuses to take notice of the existence of intersex children, where it is impossible to clearly assign a “birth sex”. In addition, while the law now requires employers to check whether new employees are listed in the sex offenders’ register, church employees are exempt, meaning that children in religious communities receive less protection.

The supervision of the networks of foster parents has also been turned over from secular state services to sectarian organizations, partly to the reformed church and mostly to the child protection service of the Catholic diocese of Szeged-Csanád, the Saint Agatha Foundation. While the foundation claims church attendance is not compulsory, they openly admit that bringing children in contact with the Bible is part of the daily child rearing practice.31Magyar Narancs, 2021/27, p. 11-14 There are some other, also church-run organizations (including networks of other Catholic dioceses) supervising foster parents. The SOS Children’s Villages Foundation is practically the only remaining non-religious actor in the field.

Impunity for sexual abuse

The issue of sexual abuse of children within the Hungarian Catholic church has largely been ignored. No action was taken when the church appointed a man convicted for sexual abuse of his own son as religious instructor in a state school in Tatabánya, who later abused pupils. Recently, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest decided to come forward to the media, having been dismissed by church authorities after making his first complaint in 2003. He was taken to the police station for questioning for the whole of the national holiday after having wondered whether to approach church leaders in public during the procession on that day.32https://insighthungary.444.hu/2021/02/26/hungarian-catholic-church-leaders-filed-charges-against-a-victim-of-sexual-abuse

In March 2021, government spokesperson Gergely Gulyás declared that there is no reason to investigate “paedophile acts” within the Catholic Church.33https://444.hu/2021/03/18/a-kormany-nem-akar-vizsgalatot-az-egyhazon-beluli-szexualis-visszaelesekrol-inkabb-a-liberalisok-hibaival-foglalkozna While the head of the church has announced the appointment of a church official for child protection in his diocese and to introduce a course on child protection into the curriculum for the training of priests, more robust action is needed to ensure children are not abused in future.

Family, community and society

The desecularization of public duties is not limited to the education system but affects all sectors.

Since 2010, a wide range of state duties in education, social security and even health services have been handed over by the state to various churches. As a result, secular services are not available to all, and people who prefer to use non-sectarian services are hindered in doing so or at a disadvantage when insisting on using these instead of sectarian ones. For instance, in July 2021, government decision 1503 handed over 5 social institutions to the Catholic Kolping Society and another three to the Maltese Order, according to the Hungarian Atheist Association.

Homes for elderly persons and for people living with disabilities have come under church control in the last two decades, as only churches have all their costs reimbursed via the central state budget (while municipalities and private providers have to find additional funding sources).

In an act of June 2021, the Government issued a decree that hands all of the state’s over 5,000 social housing units free of charge to a company (MR Közösségi Lakásalap Nonprofit Kft., i.e. MR Community Housing Fund Non-profit Ltd.) owned by the Charity Service of the Order of Malta and the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, which will also carry out the remaining tasks of a state programme intended to help those who were unable to pay their mortgages after the financial crisis of 2008. The company will be free to use the assets as they see fit and may even sell them, provided they use the proceeds for social housing.

Funding criteria are not transparent, and institutions maintained by the church do not publish annual financial statements. It is estimated that institutions run by the churches receive at least 1.5 times (for some budget items, 4 times34Cf. Balázs Romhányi’s analysis (Fiscal Responsibility Institute association): https://168.hu/itthon/valami-nagyon-eltorzult-negyszer-tobb-penzt-ad-az-allam-az-egyhazi-iskolaknak-mint-a-sajatjainak-5029) as much as non-religious institutions receive for the same public service.

Prioritization of “traditional values” at the expense of non-discrimination

The government promotes a creationist view of gender (presenting “traditional” gender roles as eternal). Heterosexual marriage is conflated with Christian values, and unmarried persons (including same-sex couples) are considered un-Christian and are discriminated against, especially if childless.

The personal income tax system heavily subsidizes “traditional” families.35https://www.oecd.org/els/soc/TaxBEN-Hungary-2020.pdf A couple rearing three children gets a monthly tax benefit (600 000 forints) that is almost twice the median monthly salary before taxes (320 000 forints for 202036https://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xstadat/xstadat_eves/i_qli074a.html), and mothers (but not fathers or those who have reared not their birth or adopted children) who have at least 4 own or adopted children (and have reared them in their own household for at least 12 years) are granted lifetime exemption from paying income taxes on their salary (which is 15% on all salaries).

The Hungarian government has pursued a pro-natalist family planning policy based on the promotion of the “traditional family” and support for childbirth. Grants are awarded to hospitals that refuse to carry out abortions.37https://humanistfederation.eu/wp-content/uploads/Abortion-Status-Report.pdf

While medical services during pregnancy and birth are free, health insurance does not cover contraceptives. Emergency contraception is available only on prescription, causing delays that lower the drug’s effectiveness. Access to voluntary sterilization is restricted to persons over 40 or with at least three children.38https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12346670/ Non-married women are excluded from the state-funded assisted reproduction program.

Although abortions have been legal since 1953, they are difficult to access. Abortions are possible only after submitting to two counselling sessions with State officials who have a duty to dissuade the applicant from abortion.39Act LXXIX of 1992 Since 2012, medical abortions are not available, meaning that women seeking terminations must undergo a more invasive surgical procedure.40https://kafkadesk.org/2021/05/24/hungarian-women-seeking-abortion-increasingly-opt-for-vienna/ In addition, the protection of the foetus from conception was introduced into the new Fundamental Law of 2011, raising fears that abortion may be criminalized in the future.41https://balkaninsight.com/2020/11/19/activists-fear-abortion-at-risk-in-hungary-from-orbans-family-first-crusade/

A recently passed Act42Act CLXV of 2020 modifying act V of 2013 on the civil code and law XXXI of 1997 on child protection rules that only married couples are eligible to apply for adoption. In exceptional cases, the minister may permit an adoption by an unmarried person. This effectively bans all non-married persons (including both singles and non-cis-hetero couples, who until now applied as single persons) from adoption. Older, disabled and Roma children often find only non-married persons willing to adopt them, so this regulation prevents the most vulnerable children from finding a family.

In 2020, an Act ruled that sex assigned at birth “based on primary sexual characteristics and on chromosomes” may not be changed.43§33 of Act XXX of 2020 amending act I of 2010 Applications for legal gender change have de facto been refused since 2018.

LGBTI+ Rights

The 9th Constitutional Amendment,44https://www.parlament.hu/irom41/13647/13647.pdf passed in December 2020 also limits the definition of “families” to married couples and parent-children relations, and has gained notoriety for stating that “The mother shall be a woman, the father shall be a man“ (Article L(1)).

Same-sex civil partnerships have been legal in Hungary since 2007. However, the new constitution passed by parliament in 2012 restricts marriage exclusively to opposite sex couples.45https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/01/03/new-hungarian-constitution-comes-into-effect-with-same-sex-marriage-ban/

During the current Orbán premiership, LGBTI+ rights have stalled and more politicians have resorted to the use of an openly homophobic rhetoric. In May 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hungarian parliament passed a law voting to end legal recognition of trans and intersex people. The new legislation redefines the word “nem,” which in Hungarian can mean both “sex” and “gender,” to specifically refer to a person’s sex at birth as “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes.” Under Hungarian law, biological sex, once recorded, cannot be amended, so previous provisions whereby trans people could alter their gender and name on official documents will no longer be available.46https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/19/hungary-votes-to-end-legal-recognition-of-trans-people

According to the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic, the law is “a blow to the human dignity of trans people” and contradicts pre-existing case law of the European Court of Human Rights.47https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/hungary#ab0353

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Non-religious views may be freely expressed, and anybody irrespective of their religious or irreligious beliefs can hold a public office according to law. However, in practice, there is some informal political coercion against expressing these views, especially by those holding public office. According to the Hungarian Atheist Society, the non-religious are often described as lesser, and immoral; Christians are described to have higher moral standards. For example, Zoltán Balog, then Minister of Human Resources, responsible for culture and religion, stated at a conference in 2013 that Christians are better suited to do certain public services such as education, as “they have a higher moral standard than non-Christian people”.48https://hvg.hu/itthon/20131109_Balognak_rosszul_esett_hogy_az_egyhazak_n

During an inauguration speech on 31 October 2019, the speaker of the parliament László Kövér stated that “Hungarians can win the struggles we are facing only if we can keep with the instruments of democracy a political majority ready for action, if we can maintain a majority of society with the force of justice, and if we are able to secure a moral majority which is able to protect itself, its nation and its homeland against the godless, the treasonous and those rejecting nationhood.” The PPO reportedly refused to pursue a case filed by the Hungarian Atheist Association on the grounds that the speech was an expression of opinion and did not entail any action that resulted in concrete harm.

The Criminal Code49https://njt.hu/translation/J2012T0100P_20210708_FIN.pdf has a provision on the “Violation of the Freedom of Conscience and Religion,” which criminalizes violence or threat, punishable by up to three years in prison (Section 215). Public incitement of hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group is a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. These restrictions do not appear to have been used as a de facto blasphemy law to prohibit legitimate criticism of a religion.

Stifling critics

Individuals critical of the government and its ideology are routinely subjected to harassment and hate campaigns, and legal action under a repressive media law, which lists among the goals of public service broadcasting, the promotion of “respect for the institution of marriage and family values.”50Art. 85 Act CLXXXV of 2010

Hate speech legislation is routinely abused to silence criticism: Charges were pressed against HVG weekly in 2014 for its “nativity scene” depicting politicians over a heap of money that takes the place of Jesus. Persons conflating the abortion pill with the Eucharist51http://real.mtak.hu/95750/1/web_pdf_budapest_report_on_christian_persecution_kicsi-186-196.pdfhttps://index.hu/belfold/2019/11/13/budapest_kuria_masodfok_fellebbezes_abortusz_tuntetes/ in a performance in front of the Polish Embassy to demonstrate against abortion restriction in 2016 were accused of violating religious feelings. The Constitutional Court has decided that the rulings of the lower courts which exonerated the protestors were unconstitutional and has ordered to start the legal procedures all over again.52https://merce.hu/2021/02/05/az-alkotmanybirosag-szerint-alkotmanyos-jogot-sertett-a-lengyel-abortusztilalom-elleni-performansz Legal action was taken in 2020 against caricaturist Gábor Pápai for publishing a satirical drawing of Cecília Müller with Jesus on the cross.53The national chief medical officer faces Christ on the cross and states: “The underlying condition caused the pending”, alluding to the fact that Ms Müller kept stressing the underlying medical conditions of those deceased with COVID-19. Although these lawsuits were ultimately unsuccessful (that of Gábor Pápai up to now only at first instance54https://hungarytoday.hu/kdnp-lawsuit-blasphemic-caricature-muller-operative/https://nepszava.hu/3106671_kronikus-karikatura-elso-fokon-pert-nyert-a-nepszava ), they discourage criticism and contribute to a climate of self-censorship.

Opposition politician Péter Niedermüller was vilified and a demonstration was organised against him by right-wing publicist and founding member of Fidesz Zsolt Bayer, after he said in a 2014 TV interview he found it frightening that what is left if one subtracts every group that is shunned by government discourse from the nation, what remains is a “frightening formation left in the middle: white, Christian, heterosexual men – and there are of course (some) women among them. That’s the family concept.”55https://hungarytoday.hu/demonstration-dk-niedermuller-white-christian-heterosexual-men/

Media control

According to the European Commission’s 2021 Report on Rule of Law:56https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52021SC0714

“Media pluralism remains at risk. Concerns persist with regard to the independence and effectiveness of the Media Authority, also in the light of the Media Council’s decisions leading to independent radio station Klubrádió being taken off air. While no media support schemes were established to counter the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on news media outlets, significant amounts of state advertising have continued to permit the government to exert indirect political influence over the media. Access to public information was tightened through emergency measures introduced during the pandemic, making timely access to such information harder for independent media outlets. Independent media outlets and journalists continue to face obstruction and intimidation.”

Under media legislation in force since 2011, media outlets must register with the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), which has the power to revoke licenses and via the Media Council to close outlets or impose fines. The council’s president, who is directly appointed by the prime minister, nominates the heads of all public media outlets for approval by a Fidesz-dominated board of trustees. Despite minor amendments, international press freedom organizations insist that the laws do not adequately protect media independence. European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes stated in June 2012 that the May amendments had addressed only 11 of 66 recommendations made by the Council of Europe.57https://cpj.org/2012/06/hungarys-media-law-still-unsatisfactory/

The state broadcasting companies function as governmental propaganda channels, where critical voices are rarely given space and government officials never have to face awkward questions. In February 2021, the Supreme Court (the ‘Curia’) ruled that if the existence of opposing views is mentioned, the requirement of balanced presentation is fulfilled, legitimizing the practice of not informing about dissenting opinions.58https://kuria-birosag.hu/hu/sajto/mediaszolgaltato-eleget-tesz-kiegyensulyozott-tajekoztatas-kovetelmenyenek-ha-legalabb

Government influence and control is exerted as a result of concentration of media ownership in the hands of pro-government individuals and through the selective allocation of advertisement funds. Prime minister Viktor Orbán has been rated as “Press freedom predator” by Reporters Without Borders in 2021, according to whom the governing party controls 80% of the media landscape.59https://rsf.org/en/predator/viktor-orban The Kesma Foundation (in English CEPMF), owned by oligarchs depending on the governing party, owns ca. 500 media outlets, including practically all local and regional newspapers. In the preamble of its deed of foundation, the foundation commits itself to “our national and Christian values”.60“We believe that the future of our nation is closely linked to the development of our community and the preservation of our Christian culture, […] We believe that, making a joint commitment to our national and Christian values and ​​equipping ourselves with modern tools, we can give independent answers to the questions of the present and the decades ahead.” www.cepmf.hu, retrieved 30 July 2021 The last independent radio station, Klubrádió, which covered half the county in 2010, lost its FM frequency in 2021 and broadcasts via the internet only. Independent media are also discriminated against by being refused access to information (e.g. being locked out of parliament), and government officials routinely turn down any requests for interviews.

According to the Hungarian Atheist Association, formerly independent online portals origo.hu and index.hu were also sold and now produce content mostly void of government criticism. As government and churches collaborate closely, not only critical analyses of government measures and policies are not present in these media, but there is also no critical discourse on issues related to churches, religion or faith. Non-religious life-stances, humanist values, non-religion based ethics do not exist in this media universe.

As one of the biggest advertisers, the government also exerts direct financial influence over media outlets. The remaining few critical outlets heavily depend on their readers’ donations. In mid-2021, the government reportedly announced plans for new legislation that would force all beneficiaries of donations to disclose the identity of all those who make donations to them. While these plans were retracted, such a step would likely represent the final nail in the coffin of free media and free speech, as many donors would fear harassment.

In March 2021, Hungary’s media authority brought legal proceedings against RTL Hungary for broadcasting an advertisement promoting LGBTI+ acceptance, claiming that the advertisement was harmful to children.61https://www.euractiv.com/section/non-discrimination/news/hungarian-media-watchdog-targets-lgbtqi-tv-campaign/ That same month, television sports reporters János Hrutka and Viktor Lukács were reportedly dismissed from their roles at Spíler TV after expressing support for “rainbow families” on Facebook.62https://444.hu/2021/03/23/nem-kozvetit-tobbet-az-mtva-nal-a-sportriporter-aki-lajkolta-gulacsi-peter-a-csalad-az-csalad-posztjat

Academic freedom

The Hungarian government has systematically undermined liberal, independent educational institutions typically through funding. In 2019, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was “restructured”, accompanied by massive budget cuts in line with Minister László Palkovics’s stance on the uselessness of fundamental research.63https://www.dw.com/en/hungary-parliament-puts-academy-of-sciences-institutes-under-government-control/a-49440144 According to the Hungarian Atheist Association, funding for universities is not provided according to clear and unbiased criteria, and the state has interfered with study programs accredited by the Hungarian Accreditation Committee. The government has initiated the privatization of state universities.64 https://collegenews.org/half-of-hungarian-universities-privatized-by-government/; https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-003035_EN.htm Private owners of universities can influence the study and research program of their institutions, i.e. academic freedom is at the mercy of those appointed to their supervisory boards.65https://hungarytoday.hu/govt-model-change-medical-universities-higher-ed-competitive-mistrust/ The University of Theater and Film Arts is one of the institutions affected.66https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/03/hungary-continues-attacks-academic-freedom

The expulsion of the Central European University (CEU) received widespread media coverage,67https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/03/dark-day-freedom-george-soros-affiliated-central-european-university-quits-hungary as well as the fact that the government banned an accredited program in gender studies in 2018.

Civil society

Pressure remains on civil society organizations critical of the government, whilst concerns have been expressed about newly established private trusts receiving significant public funding, managed by board members close to the current government.68https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52021SC0714

Highlighted Cases

Gáspar Békés69For a detailed account of the case as it develops, see: https://humanists.international/case-of-concern/gaspar-bekes/was dismissed from his job at the capital city of Budapest by mayor Gergely Karácsony (aspiring to be the prime minister candidate of the unified opposition for the elections in 2022) after a hate campaign was launched against him by Tamás Horváth, member of the far-right and, according to Reuters,70https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-politics-farright-idUSKBN19T12A openly racist party Force and Determination (Békés’s lawsuit is still pending) because in a blog post published years earlier, Békés had suggested the baptism of children goes against their constitutional rights. A hate campaign was set up against Péter Szegő after he suggested that a high ranking state official such as chief medical officer Cecília Müller violates religious freedom when she is displaying a cross during her online press conferences on the Corona virus crisis.

References

References
1 https://www.ksh.hu/nepszamlalas/tables_regional_00
2, 9, 56, 68 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52021SC0714
3 https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/03/hungary-orban-fidesz-christian-democracy-right/
4 bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-07-28/orban-says-he-seeks-to-end-liberal-democracy-in-hungary
5 https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Hungary_2013.pdf?lang=en
6 https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/05/16/wrong-direction-rights/assessing-impact-hungarys-new-constitution-and-laws
7 https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2020-002981_EN.html; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/05/hungarys-parliament-blocks-domestic-violence-treat
8 The treatment of refugees by the Hungarian State has been widely covered, and legal action has been brought against the Hungarian State. https://asylumineurope.org/reports/country/hungary/detention-asylum-seekers/detention-conditions/conditions-detention-facilities/. On the asylum process: http://www.bmbah.hu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=521&Itemid=728&lang=en
10 Act LVIII of 1895: https://net.jogtar.hu/ezer-ev-torveny?docid=89500043.TV
11 English text of the Hungarian constitution: https://njt.hu/translated/doc/TheFundamentalLawofHungary_20190101_FIN.pdf
12 Hungarian legislation is available under www.njt.hu. English and German translation of some major legislation is also available.
13 https://hunconcourt.hu/uploads/sites/3/2021/01/thefundamentallawofhungary_20201223_fin.pdf
14 https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/9290/file/HUNG_FoRB.pdf
15 https://budapestbeacon.com/constitutional-court-ruling-no-win-marginalized-churches/
16 https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-142196#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-142196%22]}
17 For a detailed list see the annex of the Act on churches: https://njt.hu/translation/J2011T0206P_20190416_FIN.pdf
18 Act XC of 2020
19 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/14/viktor-orban-budapest-hungary-christianity-with-a-twist; https://theconversation.com/viktor-orbans-use-and-misuse-of-religion-serves-as-a-warning-to-western-democracies-146277
20 https://www.veol.hu/hirek/2015/10/isten-helyet-elfoglaltak-a-balvanyok
21 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/14/viktor-orban-budapest-hungary-christianity-with-a-twist
22 Taxpayers not wishing to offer their taxes to a church are provided with a state fund for education projects as an alternative, however, churches can also receive monies from this fund.
23 In the textbook for grade 8 (https://www.tankonyvkatalogus.hu/site/kiadvany/FI-504030801), Catholic church representatives saving Jews are mentioned, while e.g. supporters in the Vatican helping the escape of nazi criminals are not. Abuse within the Catholic church is mentioned but dismissed as “single cases” with no bearing on the church. In grade 7 (https://www.tankonyvkatalogus.hu/site/kiadvany/FI-504030701), the story explaining love in Plato’s Symposium is related without mentioning that it deals also with homosexual love. The textbook for grade 11 (https://www.tankonyvkatalogus.hu/site/kiadvany/FI-504031101_1) presents abortion in the context of scientifically unsound statements and presents two NGOs assisting women in carrying their unwanted pregnancy to term, while no space is given to discuss possible reasons for abortion such as the need for bodily integrity, nor the ethics of birth control, procreation and voluntary childlessness.
24 https://dari.oktatas.hu/letoltes_pub/kozerdeku/koznevelesi_statisztikai_evkonyv_2018_2019.pdf p. 47 ff
25 http://mek.oszk.hu/18200/18263/18263.pdf
26 http://www.errc.org/news/hungary-a-short-history-of-segregation
27, 44 https://www.parlament.hu/irom41/13647/13647.pdf
28 https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/december/hungary-constitution-family-define-christian-lgbt-adopt.html
29 Act LXXIX of 2021 (unofficial translation prepared by Hungarian Helsinki Monitor: https://helsinki.hu/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/06/unofficial_translation_LGBT_amendments.pdf)
30 https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2021/690707/EPRS_ATA(2021)690707_EN.pdf
31 Magyar Narancs, 2021/27, p. 11-14
32 https://insighthungary.444.hu/2021/02/26/hungarian-catholic-church-leaders-filed-charges-against-a-victim-of-sexual-abuse
33 https://444.hu/2021/03/18/a-kormany-nem-akar-vizsgalatot-az-egyhazon-beluli-szexualis-visszaelesekrol-inkabb-a-liberalisok-hibaival-foglalkozna
34 Cf. Balázs Romhányi’s analysis (Fiscal Responsibility Institute association): https://168.hu/itthon/valami-nagyon-eltorzult-negyszer-tobb-penzt-ad-az-allam-az-egyhazi-iskolaknak-mint-a-sajatjainak-5029
35 https://www.oecd.org/els/soc/TaxBEN-Hungary-2020.pdf
36 https://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xstadat/xstadat_eves/i_qli074a.html
37 https://humanistfederation.eu/wp-content/uploads/Abortion-Status-Report.pdf
38 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12346670/
39 Act LXXIX of 1992
40 https://kafkadesk.org/2021/05/24/hungarian-women-seeking-abortion-increasingly-opt-for-vienna/
41 https://balkaninsight.com/2020/11/19/activists-fear-abortion-at-risk-in-hungary-from-orbans-family-first-crusade/
42 Act CLXV of 2020 modifying act V of 2013 on the civil code and law XXXI of 1997 on child protection
43 §33 of Act XXX of 2020 amending act I of 2010
45 https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/01/03/new-hungarian-constitution-comes-into-effect-with-same-sex-marriage-ban/
46 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/19/hungary-votes-to-end-legal-recognition-of-trans-people
47 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/hungary#ab0353
48 https://hvg.hu/itthon/20131109_Balognak_rosszul_esett_hogy_az_egyhazak_n
49 https://njt.hu/translation/J2012T0100P_20210708_FIN.pdf
50 Art. 85 Act CLXXXV of 2010
51 http://real.mtak.hu/95750/1/web_pdf_budapest_report_on_christian_persecution_kicsi-186-196.pdfhttps://index.hu/belfold/2019/11/13/budapest_kuria_masodfok_fellebbezes_abortusz_tuntetes/
52 https://merce.hu/2021/02/05/az-alkotmanybirosag-szerint-alkotmanyos-jogot-sertett-a-lengyel-abortusztilalom-elleni-performansz
53 The national chief medical officer faces Christ on the cross and states: “The underlying condition caused the pending”, alluding to the fact that Ms Müller kept stressing the underlying medical conditions of those deceased with COVID-19.
54 https://hungarytoday.hu/kdnp-lawsuit-blasphemic-caricature-muller-operative/https://nepszava.hu/3106671_kronikus-karikatura-elso-fokon-pert-nyert-a-nepszava
55 https://hungarytoday.hu/demonstration-dk-niedermuller-white-christian-heterosexual-men/
57 https://cpj.org/2012/06/hungarys-media-law-still-unsatisfactory/
58 https://kuria-birosag.hu/hu/sajto/mediaszolgaltato-eleget-tesz-kiegyensulyozott-tajekoztatas-kovetelmenyenek-ha-legalabb
59 https://rsf.org/en/predator/viktor-orban
60 “We believe that the future of our nation is closely linked to the development of our community and the preservation of our Christian culture, […] We believe that, making a joint commitment to our national and Christian values and ​​equipping ourselves with modern tools, we can give independent answers to the questions of the present and the decades ahead.” www.cepmf.hu, retrieved 30 July 2021
61 https://www.euractiv.com/section/non-discrimination/news/hungarian-media-watchdog-targets-lgbtqi-tv-campaign/
62 https://444.hu/2021/03/23/nem-kozvetit-tobbet-az-mtva-nal-a-sportriporter-aki-lajkolta-gulacsi-peter-a-csalad-az-csalad-posztjat
63 https://www.dw.com/en/hungary-parliament-puts-academy-of-sciences-institutes-under-government-control/a-49440144
64 https://collegenews.org/half-of-hungarian-universities-privatized-by-government/; https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-003035_EN.htm
65 https://hungarytoday.hu/govt-model-change-medical-universities-higher-ed-competitive-mistrust/
66 https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/03/hungary-continues-attacks-academic-freedom
67 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/03/dark-day-freedom-george-soros-affiliated-central-european-university-quits-hungary
69 For a detailed account of the case as it develops, see: https://humanists.international/case-of-concern/gaspar-bekes/
70 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-politics-farright-idUSKBN19T12A

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