“The persecuted Christians are our relatives”

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Interview with deputy state secretary Tamás Török
by Jan Mainka in Politics
No European citizen, whether Christian or not, should be ignorant about the fate of our soul-relatives in the Near East
The Ministry of Human Resources, led by Zoltán Balog, added a new department in October: the Deputy State Secretariat for helping persecuted Christians. We discuss its concerns and objectives with its leader, the deputy state secretary Tamás Török.

How did this all come about?

At the end of August Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog participated in a consultation with several patriarchs from the Near East in Rome. The main topic was the persecution of Christians in their regions. After describing the situation at their place, the patriarchs asked the present European leaders for their specific help. Prime Minister Orbán promised that Hungary will be engaging itself even more intensively for the protection and strengthening of Christian communities in the region, as far as the country’s possibilities allow.

Has there been any help available for threatened Christian communities in Hungary already?

Yes, Hungary has been already giving humanitarian help and support to raise awareness about the prosecution of Christians especially in the Near East. Among other things, a Christian school in Erbil [Iraqi Kurdistan] was successfully rebuilt with Hungarian help. The Hungarian government feels closely in connection with the Christian communities chased both for their ethnicity and religion, and has announced this several times in the past. The creation of a deputy state secretariat was just the next step in the process.

What exactly are your responsibilities?

First of all, we wanted to co-ordinate the already-running different humanitarian helping actions in a more effective way. Additionally, my deputy secretariat will start a scholarship program, which will allow us to host 250 persecuted Christian youngsters in Hungary for the following two years. We believe that enlightenment is very important, especially making the global public sensitive to the modern persecution of Christians. We will organise a world congress in Budapest each year with this aim, with the help of international experts and the leaders of the impacted Christian communities of course. Furthermore, we will publish a yearbook in several languages each year about the situation of the persecuted Christians. We also want to film documentaries about this topic. We would like Budapest to become an important international centre in the protection of persecuted Christians.
It’s also very important to analyse the causes and motivations behind the persecution of Christians. In order to make fundamental changes to improve the situation it’s important to understand what is going on in these regions. For more than 2000 years Christians and non-Christians have been able to live together more or less peacefully in this region. Then suddenly it’s not working anymore. What happened in the past few years? How could the situation change so dramatically? How was this religious intolerance, which is now endangering the existence of the Christian communities, created? How and why were these once-peaceful Muslims angered? It’s important to emphasise that numerous Moslems are the victims of this radicalisation too, which consists of misusing faith to fanaticise people. All of this has to be stopped.

By establishing a deputy state secretariat.

The Hungarian government would like to set an international example with this. We would like to point out that something is going very wrong. It’s our moral duty to help a society that is related by soul with us. Our government emphasised several times that it’s important for our future to maintain our Christian-Jewish roots. We Europeans are Europeans since we were raised in the spirit of these roots. Even if someone is an atheist, he is enjoying the fruits of these roots today. He is free to express his opinion in Europe, since we have democracy. Without our Christian-Jewish roots we would not have democracy, we would not have equality between men and women, we would not have civil laws. Unfortunately the European youngsters are taking all these achievements granted and automatic, so that they can’t imagine that these values have to be defended and strengthened. The Christian communities in the Near East are feeling completely different. The way they are defending their values, which are also our values, should be an example to us. Now they need our support so that they are able to live on according to their values and their way of living in their home country. This is the expressed wish of the leaders of these Christian communities. Nobody gives up their home voluntarily. No European citizen, whether Christian or not, should be ignorant about the fate of our soul-relatives in the Near East.

Does something like your deputy state secretariat exist in other countries too?

In other countries there are institutions dealing with the protection of freedom of belief and religion in general. However, such a high-level institution as ours, which is specifically dealing with the fate of the persecuted Christians, is without a match. It’s very important that we dare to say what this is about. Let’s speak out that there is a society with which we have an ideological connection and for which we feel a greater responsibility than for other religious groups. We should not need to apologise for that, being Europeans. Engaging ourselves in helping out our soul mates is a very natural thing to do. The Islamic society is also specifically and expressively committed to its followers in Europe, after all.

However, in the “politically correct” Western Europe your initiative surely does not enjoy full support.

I think that it’s politically correct to say the truth and express our solidarity for our relatives. After all, this is about our roots, it’s about our values and main principles. We must continuously defend them. However, we have to be conscious about what these values mean to us and why are they so important. Without the Christian religion our present life with democracy and freedom of opinion would not exist.
However, the reason why we need to step up for the threatened Christian communities is not only our common roots. After all, the reason why they are attacked so intensively now is because their enemies identify them with the European Christians. The attacks on them are also attacks on us and our way of living. The only difference between us and our Christian brothers is that the Christians outside the protection of countries founded by Christians are easier to attack at the moment than the others. At the end all the Christians and the followers of the Western culture are targeted by the Islamic fanatics; there is one single frontline. Already because of this we should not leave our soul relatives in the Near East alone in their trouble. They need our help now and we must be ready to help them.
Today the Christians are the most endangered religious group in the world. A Christian is murdered because of his religion every single five minutes all around the world. About 200 million Christians in 80 countries have to face a form of discrimination because of their faith. Currently 80% of the people murdered due to their religion are Christians. At the beginning of the 20th century every fourth inhabitant in the Near East was a Christian but today only every 33rd citizen is a member of the Christian religious community. A terrible development is going on in front of our eyes. Still, the West remains surprisingly passive. Sometimes it looks quite like the heart of the Western public is much more worried about the suffering of the victims of the conflicts in the Near East. Just look at all the things that are done for the Moslem refugees.

That might be the result of the missing consciousness about tradition, especially characteristic in Western Europe.

Absolutely. While small groups of extremists are heating up the religious groups against each other, giving more importance to religion – even if only in a very negative sense – Europe is losing more and more its religion, its identity. These two parallel processes are happening at the same time and are strengthening each other’s effect. I don’t understand how someone can voluntarily give up his way of living, ignore his own self and distance himself from his parents. I don’t see the logic there. For me it’s very difficult to understand the neutrality of Western media about the fate of persecuted Christians. After all, this story is about their distant relatives, who have still preserved their religion. At the present time the persecution of Christians is taking place to the same extent as it was when the Christian religion was founded. Nevertheless, the “Christian” countries are barely noticing these monstrosities.

For me it’s very difficult to understand the neutrality of Western media about the fate of persecuted Christians

For me it’s very difficult to understand the neutrality of Western media about the fate of persecuted Christians

The situation of Christian communities changed so dramatically last but not least due to the “democracy export” from the West.

Either way. Even if we consider this quite questionable concept, we have to agree that we have to massively support the democratic communities in all the impacted countries, which also includes the Christians. At least if the authors of the “democracy export” are really serious about creating democratic processes. Up until now the “Arabian spring” realised just the opposite of all the expressed intentions of the “democracy exporters” for all the Christians in the impacted countries. For the Christians in the Near East life was never without any problems but in the meantime it became life-threatening. There are even real ethnic cleansing actions taking place. The global community can’t just idly stand by anymore.
We would like to achieve that more and more people learn at least what is happening to people over there, people who believe in the same values as we do. The highest goal of our newly created deputy state secretariat would be that one day it will have no reason to exist anymore, since all the Christians all around the world can live safely just like in Europe or the United States. However, I am afraid that this is going to happen only in the very long term. As long as it does not happen, my department will stay a solid part of our ministry.

Why is your deputy state secretariat part of the Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI) and not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

EMMI is responsible for the future generations among other things, for the future of our culture, the families, society, our way of living and also our identity. It’s a part of this identity for me that we understand that we are part of a larger community, which has members who are in need now and need our active solidarity.

How many employees is your department going to have?

First only ten employees. Of course, we can also rely on the existing resources of our ministry and even on the other institutions and our co-operating partners.

Have you already visited the scene where the persecution is taking place?

No, not yet. However, I am planning a travel to Erbil this year among other things, where I will visit the Hungarian general consul as well.

How have the international reactions to the foundation of your department been up until now?

Very positive. Many people see us as an example to follow and want to learn from Hungary in this context. There is a huge interest. We are visited continuously by people who would like to get information about the way we help the persecuted Christians directly from us. We are constantly receiving offers for co-operation. Time will tell the truth about our work. We do our job because we believe it’s important. If other countries are willing to learn from our example, that is nice of course but it’s not the main focus of our work.