Far-right Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán is expanding his ultranationalist and ultraconservative ‘Marshall Plan’ in Europe with the Church as a key ally. This time, pushing “Hungarian identity” in the heart of Romania.

Driving the news

The pro-Orbán Hungary Today website reported Monday that a church in Romania has been rebuilt with the help of Hungary.

“The Catholic church of Atia (Atyha) in Szekler Land, which was struck by lightning and burnt down in 2016, and rebuilt with a donation from the Hungarian government, was inaugurated on Saturday”, Hungary Today said.

“Miklós Soltész, state secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, told [state news agency] MTI after the inauguration that the reconstruction project ‘is an example that small communities, when in great need, can rely on help, also from the Hungarian government’.

“He added that the government had contributed 42 million forints (EUR 129,000) to the church project.

“‘The example of Atyha should lend Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin strength, including those whose faith in the survival of Hungarian communities may falter; it shows that cooperation will help retain our Christian faith, our language and Hungarian identity’, Soltész said”.

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Go deeper

On the face of it the church reconstruction project in Atyha (Atia in Romaninan) seems perfectly innocent.

But Szekler Land has been the focus of tensions between Hungary and Romania at least since the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

“In 2018 alone Hungary spent an estimated 250 million euros on churches, schools, cultural and sporting centres and groups outside its borders, mostly in the Transylvania region” in which Atya is located, the AFP reported last years.

The huge amounts of money being pumped by Orbán into the region are part of his “ongoing nation-building project”, academic Zsuzsanna Árendás, from the Central European University, told Euronews.

Agata Gostyńska, from the Centre of European Reform, added that Orbán is exploiting the memory of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon – by which Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, Transylvania included – to ensure his grip on power.

Orbán has given the right to vote in Hingary to some 675,000 “ethnic Hungarians” living in countries such as Romania, Ukraine and Serbia.

Why it matters

But the Prime Minister’s policies have caused problems with Hungary’s neighbours, not least of all Romania. Not to mention the people of Szeklerland who don’t consider themselves Hungarian.

In 2018, for example, then Romanian PM Mihai Tudose reacted angrily to Szekler Land independence demonstrations.

“If they hang the Szekler flag on institutions in Szeklerland, the people who fly these flags will hang as well. Autonomy for Szeklers is out of the question,” Tudose said.

He later added: “As a Romanian and a prime minister, I refuse any dialogue concerning the autonomy of a part of Romania. It would go against the constitution of this country, which guarantees from the first line, the unity and indivisibility of the Romanian state”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.