Last Updated 13 August 2020

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.

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.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Toward an “illiberal” state

The popular, nationalist Fidesz party, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has made conscious and explicit efforts to remodel Hungary as an “illiberal democracy” veering away from liberalism and towards an authoritarian democracy. 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”

Since 2010, Fidesz has been formally in coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), though in reality the KDNP is usually considered a satellite party of Fidesz, or even defunct and irrelevant as an autonomous party. Either way, the Fidesz-led coalition has dominated the Hungarian Parliament, using their supermajority to adopt an entirely new constitution (which came into force 1 January 2012), which limits the role of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, undermining the separation of powers as well as the separation of church and state, the protection of human rights and the rule of see paragraph 145

The operations of the government have become less transparent, the social dialogue between the government and different social groups has become virtually non-existent or a mere formality. Also serious efforts have been made by the government to control mass communication.

Toward a religious state?

The Fundamental Law, which is the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of conscience and religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief and freedom. The constitution separates church and state and stipulates that churches are autonomous, but also that the state will cooperate with so-called “incorporated” churches on community goals. The constitution’s preamble expresses gratitude to the nation’s first king who united the country with “Christian Europe” 1,000 years ago, and praises Christianity as an agency in preserving the nation.

A 2011 law on religion stripped more than 300 religious groups and organizations of their legal status overnight, deprived them of state resources to which they had previously been entitled, and resulted in other limitations. In 2018, following judgments by Hungary’s Constitutional Court as well as the European Court on Human Rights which held that the religion law discriminated against minority faiths, the Hungarian government was forced to amend this law. However the revised law remains highly problematic. Rather than redressing the human rights violations occasioned by the 2011 law, it merely repackages them. The new church law introduces a four tiered classification system for religious groups, where the bottom three tiers have their rights and privileges significantly curtailed (more detail below in the section titled Discriminatory hierarchy of religion or belief groups).3

Although the state is officially secular, considerable government support, including hundreds of millions of dollars, is given to the main Christian churches.

The Orbán administration has increasingly invoked “Christian values” as a means of justifying its’s nationalistic, anti-immigration rhetoric. In 2015, the prime minister explicitly stated that he wants to preserve Hungary as a Christian nation, and that “Hungarians should not want to live together with Muslims” in their country.4

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 privileges the government wants to impose on them – are not exactly uncomfortable with the new situation, in which they have much more money for their operations and more opportunities to proselytize. In return, they do not express views critical of the government, or in some cases they become an outright part of the government’s propaganda, as in case of the 2015 migrant crisis. For example, Gyula Márfi, the archbishop 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”.

Education and children’s rights

The new religion law continues to help both incorporated churches and religious associations to take control of public schools through a formal transfer agreement with the central government. Municipalities, religious groups, or school boards can initiate such transfers, but they can only be executed if the designated religious group is able to collect the signatures of at least 50 percent of the parents and adult students. Churches and religious associations operating public education institutions receive the general “normative subsidy” provided to educational institutions by the state, but officially registered churches are also entitled to a “supplementary subsidy” as well, which puts church-operated schools in a much better financial position than the ones administered by municipalities.

This financial leverage was the main factor behind a significant increase in the number of public educational institutions operated by churches – but funded by the state. In 2010 these type of schools made up only 7.7% of all public educational institutions, while in 2014 it rose to 12%. Regarding secondary general schools this figure jumped from 12% to 23% respectively, which is the highest percentage among all types of public educational institutions. Several towns have only one church-operated secondary general school, forcing non-religious parents to enrol their children either in that school or one in another town. Religious providers of educational institutions are not subject to governmental control or oversight. They can choose their terms of enrolment – which, in certain institutions, has already led to discrimination against Romani children -, their syllabus, their teaching materials, and they can be religiously committed in their everyday operation of the institution they administer.

Religious classes were introduced in all public primary schools in the 2013/14 school year. Although, they are optional to take up (the non-religious can choose ethics classes as an alternative), the government brought religion back into public schools finding another way to spend public resources on religious activities.

Family, community and society

Discriminatory ‘church tax’ and public funding

All so-called “incorporated churches” receive advantageous tax treatment compared to (unincorporated) religious communities, which operate as any other non-religious associations, but can call themselves churches. People can offer 1% of their annual income taxes to be paid to incorporated churches, and another 1% to any non-profit organizations including incorporated churches. Thus incorporated churches are eligible for 2% of the income taxes collected by the state, while other religious and non-religious non-profit organizations are eligible for only 1%.

The FIDESZ-KDNP government passed a provision in 2012 — part of a health-related law — which requires the state to amend these voluntary tax-based donations with a state subsidy if their total amount is less than 0.9% of the state’s annual budget. This constitutes a further governmental revenue stream for incorporated churches (and not for other non-profit organizations) regardless of the people’s actual will to support them financially.

In addition to taxpayer contributions, the government allocates public funds to incorporated churches. Additional government funding to religious organizations is provided for a range of activities, such as the maintenance of public art collections; support for religious instruction, education, and culture; annual compensation for religious property that was confiscated by the Communist regime but never restituted; and assistance to church personnel serving the smallest villages. In 2011 this financial assistance significantly increased to 34 billion forints (~$121 million) as compared with 23.5 billion forints (~$84 million) in 2010. Since 2014, member donations to incorporated churches are entirely exempt from the Hungarian Accounting Law, allowing them to use those funds as they see fit, without any oversight.

Discriminatory hierarchy of religion or belief groups

Religious associations are not treated equally in Hungary. A new religion law, which took effect on 1 January 2012, changed the registration process for religious associations from one led by the courts to one requiring the approval of parliament, and introducing a two-tier system of church recognition which provides preferential treatment for 27 incorporated churches. They ‘enjoy full church status including entitlement to privileges, subsidies and tax donations’, while the 350 other religious associations are in a much less privileged situation, with only limited possibilities to move from a non-incorporated church status to that of an incorporated one.

Sixteen churches, which were fully-fledged churches previously, and now belong to the second category, filed a lawsuit against the Hungarian government at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for having “substantially reduced rights and material possibilities to manifest their religion, when compared either with their former status or with the currently incorporated churches.” In 2014, the Court decided in favour of these 16 churches stating that “the Church Act violated the applicant churches’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of association protected by the European Convention on Human Rights”. These 16 religious associations want a 20-billion-forint ($71.5 million) compensation from the Hungarian government for their lost income in the last 3 years. The government and the churches are currently in negotiations to settle the amount of the compensation and the renewal of these religious associations’ status, but probably not as incorporated

ECHR’s 2014 decision makes it clear that the Church Act as well as the Fundamental Law of Hungary, “in its current form, violate the Convention on Human Rights.” After one year of preparation, in September 2015 the Orbán-administration drafted a comprehensive concept to make statutory amendments to the Church Act in line with ECHR’s decision. The proposed provisions, however, codify previous discrimination between religious groups, and “only rewrite the law without changing its essential content.”;

Discrimination exists not only between incorporated churches and religious associations, but also between religious organizations in general and non-religious organizations, especially when their socio-political leanings differ from those of the Orbán-administration. Key managerial positions at agencies distributing EU and state funds for supporting the activities of civil organizations in Hungary are held by officials formally or informally close the current government, who award funds to NGOs supportive of the government. There are only a few foundations that operate entirely independently from the government. One of them is the Norwegian NGO Fund sponsored by the Norwegian government, which gives 40 + 4 billion forints ($142 + 14 million) to Hungarian NGOs. The 40 billion is distributed by the government, the remainder 4 billion is awarded by Ökotárs Foundation. After the FIDESZ-KDNP coalition was re-elected in 2014, the Minister of Prime Minister’s Office, János Lázár launched an attack against Ökotárs accusing them of preferential treatment for opposition-backed NGOs, and a misconduct in awarding the fund’s money. In September 2014 criminal proceedings were initiated against Ökotárs, which were terminated in October 2015 in absence of any criminal activity. In spite of the court’s decision, Lázár stated that he is convinced that the Foundation does its job illegitimately, which foreshadows further governmental prosecution against the Foundation.

The criminal investigation against Ökotárs was part of a full-fledged attack against independent NGOs in Hungary, which started in 2014 and continued in 2015 with audits and investigations. “At one point, there were more than 50 NGOs being audited by the government, including all of the most prominent human rights watchdog organizations and independent civil society advocates.” In most cases, courts ruled in favour of NGOs, but there are still four NGOs threatened by being their tax licenses suspended and another seven are being subject to tax

Here, we cannot speak of a direct discrimination against humanist or secular organizations, but about an indirect one, as these organizations are inherently part of the opposition to the current non-secular government. At the moment, there are no registered humanist or secular civil organizations in Hungary. Hungarian Secular Association started its registration process at the registry court in the fall of 2013, the court registered the Association in early 2014, but its decision was attacked by the metropolitan prosecution office on technicalities. The Association has still not been registered.

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, there is some informal political coercion against expressing these views, especially by those holding public office. Zoltán Balog, 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”.

The criminal code 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. 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.)

Media control

Under the new media legislation taking effect in 2011, media outlets must register with the new National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), which has the power to revoke licenses. A new Media Council under the NMHH can close outlets or impose fines of up to $950,000 for violating vaguely defined content rules. Fidesz, with its parliamentary supermajority, controlled appointments to the Media Council, whose members serve nine-year terms. 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 to the legislation made in March 2011 and again, following a December 2011 Constitutional Court ruling, in May 2012, 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.

Domestic ownership of Hungarian media is highly concentrated in the hands of Fidesz allies. The government is the country’s largest advertiser and has withdrawn most advertising from independent media since the 2010 elections. According to Freedom House, there is anecdotal evidence that private companies withhold advertising from independent media to avoid losing government contracts. In 2011, Dániel Papp, co-founder of the far-right race-baiting political party Jobbik, was named as editor in chief of the news office at the MTVA media fund, which is responsible for the management of all public media. Extensive layoffs followed. In 2011 the Media Council prevented Klubradio, a radio station that is critical of the Fidesz government, from renewing its broadcasting license for five frequencies.

Ever since, the (directly and indirectly) FIDESZ-controlled media empire continued to expand. In July 2015, MTVA launched its sixth channel, exclusively dedicated to sports. The state television has an 80 billion forint ($286 million) budget for 2015, plus the government assumed its 47.2 million forint ($168.5 million) debt this September. For 127.2 million taxpayer forints only in 2015, the government has its own propaganda machine echoing such unfounded government statements as there are terrorists among the refugees. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, for example, assessed MTVA’s coverage of this year’s refugee crisis in Hungary as biased and unfair, and noted that the state television uncritically adopted government rhetoric about this issue hindering reasonable public debate, and undermining social cohesion and integration.

Andy Vajna, government commissioner in charge of the Hungarian film industry and one of the few casino license-holders, tried to buy the second largest Hungarian commercial television network, TV2 this October. His ownership rights, however, are disputed by another media entrepreneur, who also states buying the same television network. The two parties took their dispute to court.

In September 2015, Viktor Orbán’s ‘informal advisor’, Árpád Habony launched a pro-government news portal ( through one of his business interests to counter dissenting and adversarial voices on the internet, which dominate the online media

LGBT Rights

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

During the current Orbán premiership, LGBT 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.10

In 2012, the far-right Yobbik party proposed two constitutional amendments with the aim to ban ‘homosexual propaganda’, prohibiting assemblies and public speeches that would “propagate disorders of sexual behaviour – especially sexual relations between members of the same sex” as well as amending laws on advertising. The amendments proposed fines of up to HUF 150,00 (about £415) and up to 8 years in prison. Both of the amendments eventually failed to

In 2019, the Hungarian Authority for Consumer Protection fined Coca Cola over some ads showing LGBT couples hugging and sharing a bottle of the drink. The ad, which was initially brought to the attention of the authority by a citizens’ letter, was deemed to violate the legal provisions of the Advertising Act, which prohibits advertisements that can “potentially harm children’s physical, mental, emotional or moral development.” The fine has been reported to amount to about £;

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