Hungarian churches warn of social collapse as economy teeters

By Ecumenical News International
March 19, 2009

Hungarian church leaders have warned that their country faces violence and breakdown in the face of unemployment and dislocation brought by the current financial meltdown - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.

"We were already in bad shape before this global crisis, and we are now affected more deeply than other countries in our region," explained the Rev Balazs Odor, ecumenical officer of the Reformed Church in Hungary, which comprises about one fifth of the country's 9.9 million citizens.

The Protestant pastor was speaking amid growing concern at economic and social hardships in Hungary, which is considered by many commentators to be the worst affected of the European Union's 10 post-communist member countries.

"As churches, we have a mission to be on the side of the weak and excluded, and to raise our voices prophetically," Odor said in a 13 March interview with Ecumenical News International.

He said tensions had been exacerbated by distrust of Hungary's Socialist-led government, which narrowly retained power in a 2006 election that was followed by mass street protests.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians are reported to have lost their jobs in the recession, alongside a drop in industrial outpu tof 20 percent and a 39 percent devaluation of the Hungarian currency, the forint, against the euro.

Addressing an EU summit on 1 March, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, warned of a "new Iron Curtain" between rich and poor states, but failed to secure backing for a proposed US$241 billion rescue fund to help eastern European countries.

Odor said Gyurcsany's government, which plans to raise value added tax to 23 percent to cope with a lack of budget reserves, had contributed to current disorders in Hungary and was not doing enough to tackle them.

"Repeated surveys have shown they don't have the trust of the people, especially when we are in bad shape and tensions are growing towards the Roma and other minorities," said Odor.

In late February, a father and his five-year-old son from Hungary's Roma minority were burned to death when their home was torched by unknown assailants. The attack appeared to be retaliation for a recent Roma attack on a group of handball players, one of whom was stabbed to death.

Hungary's Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference said in a statement on 3 March 2009 that it was also alarmed at deteriorating security conditions in the country, where elderly citizens had been subject to attacks and robberies, and called on the government to tackle "real issues rather than seeking media solutions".

The Reformed church's presiding bishop, Gusztav Bolcskei, urged "conscience and responsibility" from citizens, and said the government should place "the human person and society" at the centre of its policies.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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