Hungary's church stresses independence
by Bob Dent in Budapest
HUNGARIANS go to the polls this Sunday in the country's first free, multi-party elections in over 40 years. The likely outcome is that the present ruling Socialist Party (the successor of the old Communist Party) will be thrown out of office and a new coalition government formed from among the leading opposition parties.
Hungary's Catholic episcopacy has issued a statement welcoming the country's move towards democracy. But it has stressed that the Church wants to be independent of the political parties, of which there are now more than 40 in Hungary.
The Church, the bishops said, respects the autonomy of the state, but at the same time those in power must ensure the Church is able to fulfil its mission. This includes the freedom to air its views on social questions.
Although not involved in politics at an official level, the Church encourages individual believers to "take part in social life and to join the conscious and responsible formation of the life of the nation".
The Christian Democratic People's Party, one of Hungary's re-established opposition parties, sees its mission as injecting Christian values into political life. The party formed a fairly large opposition group in the post-war parliament but was suppressed when Hungary developed into a Stalinist dictatorship. Until last year it had only managed to reappear briefly during the uprising of 1956.
Today, under the slogan With God for Homeland and Freedom, the party is attempting to pick up the threads of its former influence. Its programme, entitled The Christian Way, while welcoming greater play for market forces, lays stress on the quality of life and social welfare.
With under 3,000 members, the Christian Democrats constitute one of the smaller political parties. Nevertheless they have been able to field 103 candidates for the 168 constituency seats.
A further 200 seats in the new parliament will be allocated in proportion to the number of votes cast for separate party lists.
If the Christian Democrats obtain the minimum 4 per cent required to gain some of these seats they stand a good chance of participating in the new government as two of the three leading opposition parties, Democratic Forum and the Independent Smallholders, are close to their moral and ethical concerns. The Democratic Forum's programme, for example, includes the introduction of optional religious instruction in all schools.
Whatever the outcome of the election, the Church as a whole is likely to benefit. Even the other opposition parties, like the Free Democrats and the Social Democrats, although more secular, are in no sense anticlerical.
All the parties argue for an end to the state monopoly in education. This should result in the opening of more church schools with financial assistance from the state. Even the ruling Socialist Party takes this position, and early this month the outgoing parliament, in one of its last pieces of legislation, opened the way for independent schools.
The moral and Christian emphasis in the campaign, however, has had its negative aspect. Some people have used it as a cover for political extremism. Many anti-semitic slogans have been daubed, for example, across the posters of the Free Democrats, several of whose leaders are Jewish.