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An anthem by the Danube


DURING the recent break in posting we visited Budapest, and were left with some remarkable memories. A beautiful city with a terrible past, and not only from the dreadful Soviet days. Below the imposing Parliament building is a row of metal shoes commemorating the Jews who were lined up, forced to remove their shoes, and shot dead by the fascist Arrow Cross militia in 1944, the bodies falling into the Danube.

We were there for the World Athletics Championships which were worth the journey alone. There was the fascinating duel in the women’s pole vault resulting in two gold medals, and Femke Bol’s imperious domination of the women’s 400 metres hurdles. Seeing Edinburgh’s Josh Kerr win gold in the 1,500 metres, beating hot favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen into second place, was special.

Yet the most abiding memory came on August 20, which for Hungarians is St Stephen’s Day, a holiday celebrating their nationhood. That evening along the Danube there was the largest fireworks display in Europe. The watching crowd were treated to an incredible display. The remarkable thing came right at the end.

When it was clear the display was over the crowd began to disperse. Then we heard music and turning round saw, floating above the river, a huge representation of St Stephen’s crown, Hungary’s crown jewels. The crowd, mainly teenagers and young parents, stopped, turned to face the display and began singing the national anthem. There were no instructions, no commands, just a mass of people showing respect and affection for their country.

Where else in Europe would you witness a scene like that, a crowd of young people spontaneously singing their national anthem? Certainly not in the UK. When the anthem was finished, the crown faded and was replaced by a gigantic 3D outline representation of a cross.

This is not to say that Hungarians are especially Christian. Eastern Europe has higher rates of church attendance than the West, an admittedly very low bar, but Hungary is amongst the lowest in the ex-Soviet countries. Hungary’s defence and promotion of its Christian roots is based on its understanding of the importance of cultural identity for any nation which wishes to remain a nation.

Having experienced life under rabidly secular Soviet power Hungary knows what is necessary. ‘If we don’t want to get swept away by the tide of this time, it only will be possible through Christianity,’ said Eduard Habsburg, Hungarian diplomat to the Vatican, in an April First Things podcast. ‘A country won’t remain conservative if it’s just based on conservative ideas. You need a bedrock of faith under that or it will be blown away.’

Though Hungary is a secular state, Christian values absolutely influence policy-making, from its 2021 law aimed at limiting children’s exposure to pornography and pro-LGBT content to its use of financial incentives to encourage marriage and child-rearing.

Hungary is intent on resisting the imposition of ‘European values’ by the EU. The country’s president Katalin Novák explained: ‘We think that the problems of Europe can be traced back to the denial of Christian roots. We see the misinterpretation of tolerance many times. Being tolerant should not mean that one gives up his or her identity.’ 

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is of the opinion that Europe can be saved only if it ‘returns to the source of its real values: its Christian identity . . . The Hungarian people and their government believe that Christian virtues provide peace and happiness to those who practice them’.

At the opening of a new Reformed church, Orbán noted that many today question or openly reject the notion that Europe’s fate is intertwined with Christianity, ‘but we Hungarians believe that Christian culture . . . is the cornerstone that holds the architecture of European civilisation in place’.

Hungary’s Christian-based democracy provides its own solutions to the problems facing Europe. Hungary differs from the rest of Europe regarding illegal immigrants. While resisting the influx, Hungary tries to help people in their own countries.

Orbán said that unlike many politicians elsewhere in Europe, ‘We believe people should be encouraged to live and thrive where their ancestors have lived for centuries. So the Hungary Helps scheme is about rebuilding schools, hospitals and dwellings in troubled parts of the world and providing young people with education at Hungarian universities.’

Unlike the secular and religious leadership elsewhere in the West, Hungary speaks up for persecuted Christians. ‘The Hungarian people and their government believe that Christian virtues provide peace and happiness to those who practise them,’ Orbán said, noting that under Hungary’s fundamental law, protecting Hungary’s constitutional identity and Christian culture was an obligation for each state agency. ‘This legacy obliges us to protect Christian communities persecuted across the world as far as we are able.’

Orbán understands that in the EU he is resisting elites who believe that being a post-Christian, post-national culture is a wonderful thing to be relentlessly pursued. As a result the bien pensants loathe Hungary and its leader with a passion: they recognise him for the existential threat to their self-satisfied liberalism that he is.

Concerning Humgary’s ban on teaching homosexuality in schools, Mark Rutte, then Prime Minister of the Netherlands, said: ‘My goal is to bring Hungary to its knees on this issue’. According to Emmanuel Macron, the Hungarian law is ‘not in line with our values and what Europe is’. Last year in a resolution that passed 433-123 with 28 abstentions EU lawmakers in plenary session expressed concern regarding Hungary, going so far as to declare that ‘Hungary is no longer a democracy.’

In response Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said that Hungarian voters had ‘decided in four parliamentary elections in a row what kind of future they want for the country’ by electing Orban and his party.

Hungary has moved from Soviet domination through post-communist chaos to Christian democracy. It is possible.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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