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On the first of May this year, Hungary will join the European Union together with nine other new member states. Besides the economic and social differences still apparent between Eastern and Western Europe, there are also cultural differences which are most politically significant concerning religion. In a recent article in the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, the journalist Karl-Peter Schwarz stated that “the laic public recognizes with anxiety that to one part of European Christians, the Christian foundation of European unity is much more important than they had expected. ” (Schwarz, 2004. My translation. ).

According to the Hungarian constitutional lawyer Andri?? s Saji?? , this trend comes for the most part from the Eastern and Central European member states. These observations indicate that the Eastern European states, and so Hungary as well, differ remarkably in their degree and kind of secularization from Western Europe. I argue that the role of religion in Hungary today is the result of two forces: the heritage of communism which gives it a distinctive feature, and the almost pathological will to catch up with Western Europe, which rapidly confronted the Hungarian churches with similar problems as observed in Western European churches.

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The decisive absence of ideological secularism in Hungary or the heritage of fifty years of communism Karl-Peter Schwarz draws a clear distinction between ‘secularization’ and ‘secularism’. Secularization, which he defines according to the three principles of Josi?? Casanova1 (Asad, 2003, p. 181), was a prerequisite of modernity and ” a necessary and irreversible process, that was acknowledged by the catholic church in the Second Vatican Consultation. ” But we should not confuse this with secularism, which was an “ideological and political” movement.

The coherence of secularization and secularism is regarded by Schwarz and many other scholars (e. g. Peter L. Berger) as a “mainly Western European special case” (Schwarz, 2004. My translation). Exactly these outlooks characterize one side of the role of religion in Hungary today: the heritage of communism and the late modernization caused the absence of secularism (as defined by Schwarz) and produced a very different valuation of secularization in Hungarian politics.

On the ‘Renovabis conference about secularization and pluralism in Eastern and Central Europe’, the sociologist Mikli?? s Tomkai, talking about the situation of the Hungarian church, defined “the heritage” as following: “we learned to adapt to the status of persecution, but we did not prepare for the challenges of modern society” (Tomkai, 2003. My translation. ) During the communist era, religious practice was severely restricted due to the anti-religious communist doctrine. Especially the catholic priests and organizations continued to work in the underground (cf. Stefka, 2004).

Thereby they strengthened the society and gave hope to the people, of whom the biggest part did not believe that they would live to see their liberation from the communist dictatorship. After 1989, this exlusively positive (because anti-communist) role of the church had the effect that “it produced a protector-mechanism, which understands any attitude to criticize the church as a politically leftist church-hostility” ( Buda, 1993. My translation). Thus since the fall of the Communist regime, every political party tried to win the zestfulness of the church, in order to underline that it broke up with the communist tradition.

This indicates that a separation between state and church does not yet properly exist in Hungary in practice. In theory, the separation of Hungarian state and church was laid down by law already in 1895. After the fall of the iron curtain, the “1990/4 act restated the freedom of the church, but did not regulate a couple of issues properly”. Balog, a political scientist, who said this in an interview with the Hungarian newspaper “Magyar Nemzet”, means the “paternalism of the state”.

Since during the decades of communist regime, the church lost most of its financial basis, it is highly dependent today on financial aid from the state. All governments since 1989 exploited this circumstance to a certain degree, because ” evidence showed that the state can donate the churches more or less, dependent upon the degree of return the party at power gets from a certain denomination”. In November 2003, the Hungarian government appointed a commission that should work out a new frame of financing the churches; one that should be independant from the influence of the state.

(Balavi?? ny, 2003. My translation. ) Still this is not easy because it is impossible to switch to complete financing by the believers, because e. g. a big part of them comes from the lower strata of the society (cf. Tomka, 2003 and Stefka, 2004). Another severe problem of the Hungarian church is that due to the restrictions of the communist regime, ” in Hungary today, the church still lives in a kind of confinement … It has very little possibilities to reach the people … ” (Balavi?? ny, 2003. My translation).

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