by Balazs Schanda
Issues concerning religion and state in Hungary
ECCLESIASTICAL SITUATION OF THE CANDIDATE COUNTRIES TO THE EUROPEAN UNION
At present there are 12 countries that are candidates for inclusion in the European Union. Negotiations were opened with the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia in 1998, after the Luxembourg European Council of December 1997 established the accession and negotiation process. The Helsinki European Council of December 1999 decided to open negotiations also with Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia in February 2000. The status of Turkey as a candidate country, with all rights and duties and its full participation in the accession process, was recognized, although there was no decision on opening negotiations. The Nice European Council of December 2000 endorsed the strategy proposed by the European Commission in its Strategy Paper and the target date for membership of the most prepared candidate countries was set as 2004. The Commission insisted that no further obstacles should now be put in the way of the process of expanding the Union. It specifically reconfirmed the European Parliament’s view that the best-prepared candidate countries should be able to participate in the 2004 European Parliament elections. At the same time, the Commission endorsed the distinction that had been made between the candidates, while confirming the ‘catch-up principle’–that those countries which were most qualified should be allowed entry, and those not yet adequately prepared would have the opportunity of preparing themselves for acceptance at a later date.
According to the present stage of negotiations, ten countries will have an opportunity to join the EU in the near future (according to the schedule in 2004). In the Commission’s view, Bulgaria and Romania will definitely need a longer period before accession and, as mentioned above, negotiations with Turkey have not yet been opened.
In my paper I shall focus on the Central European region–Cyprus and Malta are in a very different situation from these countries. With the exclusion of the two Balkan States from the first round, all the candidates (except for Cyprus) have a history and an identity linked to Western Christianity (the largely secularized countries, such the Czech Republic, are also affected by this affiliation: or, rather, a rejection of it). Throughout their history, these Central European countries have striven to be recognized as belonging to the western part of the continent. Their inclusion in an enlarged Union is not for them the result of a cost-benefit analysis but, rather, a moral issue. The average size of the candidate countries hoping to join the EU is less than the present ELI average. The population of Poland is more than the total population of all the other nine countries put together.
All the candidate countries of Central-Eastern Europe suffered communist governance for over four decades. Religious freedom was curtailed in them all. Certainly there were significant differences between countries and periods. Probably believers in the former Soviet Union suffered the most. The record for Czechoslovakia is definitely worse than that for Poland. Practices varied from open persecution to administrative harassment and discrimination with one common element: there was no religious freedom as such.
Historical backgrounds, and the process and effects of imposed secularization of the various societies show great differences. In Poland and in Lithuania, Catholicism played a significant role in safeguarding the national consciousness; the same was true for Croatia, which is to become a candidate for inclusion in the European Union in the near future). Slovenia also is predominantly Catholic. Hungary and Slovakia have a Catholic majority, with firmly established Protestant minorities (Calvinist in Hungary and Lutheran in Slovakia). Estonia is the only candidate that is predominately Lutheran; and Latvians are divided between Catholics and Protestants. Orthodoxy in the candidate countries is linked to national minorities, especially the Russians in the Baltic States. In the Baltic States, as well as in other countries (such as Hungary), a jurisdictional conflict emerged between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, raising difficult issues concerning the limits of legitimate government involvement in inter-Church disputes. Denominational and ethnic affiliations also overlap in Romania, where members of the Hungarian and German minorities are either Protestants or Roman Catholics, while the Romanians are predominantly Orthodox (or, in parts of Transylvania, Greek Catholics). The Czech Republic is probably the most secular country among the candidates, and would in this way become the most secularized country within the Union. But Estonians and Latvians are not particularly devout either (not to mention the new German “Lander”).
Taking the expanded Union as a whole, it can be seen that the incorporation of the new countries would result in a rise in the overall proportion of Roman Catholics. Apart from Bulgaria, none of the candidate countries has a significant Muslim population. Hungary is the only candidate country where the Jewish community has remained a significant mainstream religious community. New religious movements were active throughout the region in the 1990s, but their presence has not brought about significant changes in the denominational landscape
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