On June 3, the European Union reached an agreement on the sixth package of sanctions against Russia after difficult talks with Hungary. To avoid its veto, the other member states had to remove the name of the Moscow patriarch from the EU’s blacklist. Why does the prime minister of a non-Orthodox state so fervently support to head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the main ally of Putin in the war against Ukraine?
Some observers search for the answer in the conservative mindsets of Viktor Orban and Patriarch Kirill, who endorse traditional values. The present partnership between the Hungarian state and the Moscow Patriarchate, however, also has historical roots. A lesser known page of their history is the Kremlin’s project for establishing an autocephalous Hungarian Orthodox Church after the Second World War. The initial idea of a unified Hungarian Orthodox Church belongs to Horthy’s regime. As an ally of Nazi Germany, it established control over areas with a significant Orthodox population and considered that a unified church institution would facilitate its administration.
Despite the political change after the fall of Nazi Germany, the postwar Hungarian state did not give up the idea of a local Orthodox Church. The major obstacle to this plan was the specific composition of the Orthodox minority in Hungary. Only a small number of its members were ethnic Hungarians. Meanwhile, the majority of the Orthodox believers had settled in the country as refugees from the Ottoman Empire and Bolshevik Russia. As a result, the Orthodox minority consisted of different ethnic groups belonging to five different jurisdictions: the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Serbian Patriarchate, the Romanian Patriarchate, the Bulgarian Exarchate, and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. When the Red Army occupied Hungary, however, the last one was not able to administrate its parishes because it was treated as Hitler’s ally by the Soviets.Continue reading