We are writing to you from the Jai Bhim Buddhist Network, an organisation of Gypsy Buddhists in Hungary, affiliated to the Triratna Buddhist Community and a member of the European Buddhist Union.
We request your urgent help with a major political difficulty faced by Buddhists in Hungary. If we are not able deal with this problem, Buddhist organisations will be deprived of all legal status, thus losing the considerable financial benefits and official legitimation enjoyed by other religions.
Last year, elections in Hungary brought to power, with two thirds of the seats in Parliament, a conservative nationalist party. The character of this government is illustrated by the fact that it shares significant elements of the agenda of an extreme right wing party in Parliament which is more or less explicitly racist: anti-Gypsy and anti-Semitic. With such a substantial majority, the government has been able to write a new constitution for Hungary that gives Christianity a privileged status. On that basis they have introduced a new law on churches, redefining what is a religious congregation, entitled to legal status and the tax and other benefits that go with it.
Only ‘historic Hungarian churches’ are automatically recognised: the Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Orthodox and a few other traditional Christian churches are all explicitly accepted in the law ? no other Christians are acknowledged. Some traditional Jewish congregations are included in the law, but reformed Jews are excluded, and not a single Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist organisation is accepted.
The law allows for other religious congregations to be recognised in future, if they can prove they have a membership of at least one thousand and have been in existence for more than twenty years. However, the law gives the authority of recognition to Parliament ? the courts will have no jurisdiction over whether or not any organisation fulfils the criteria and therefore qualifies for recognition. Since recognition can only be given on the basis of a two thirds majority of votes in Parliament, it is very likely that it will not be awarded to Gypsy Buddhists and others in future ? the far-right anti-Gypsy party together with Christian Democrat members of the ruling party will be able to block such a vote in the present Parliament and this situation is likely to continue for some years.
The immediate result of this new law is that all Buddhist organisations, among them Jai Bhim Network, will lose their status as religious congregations on 1st January 2012.
This is especially serious for us in the Jai Bhim Network. We are inspired by the great Indian Buddhist, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, who led millions of former ‘untouchables’ into Buddhism in 1956. Integral to our Buddhist practice is active social work on behalf of Gypsy communities in Hungary and neighbouring countries in Central Europe. We are especially engaged in educational work because the majority of young Gypsies are effectively excluded from the secondary school system ? many of them having been declared ‘educationally subnormal’. We now have close to a thousand students in six schools, all of whom are at the least gaining a very positive impression of the Buddha and his teaching from the benefits that their Buddhist teachers and friends are bringing them. The tax benefits our legal status as a religious congregation gives us are crucial to the survival of our educational work. Next year, our income for running our schools will halve because of this law, making it very difficult for us to provide education to these already highly marginalised young people. The fact that our organisation is led and run by Gypsies who are Buddhists makes it even more likely that the government will wish to dismiss our case ? as an illustration of what we are likely to face, we have already successfully sued one MP from the majority party for racist remarks made in Parliament in an attack on Jai Bhim Network and we are preparing a similar case against another from the far-right party.
We need your help to put pressure on the Hungarian Government to afford legal recognition to our organisation, as well as to other Buddhist groups. We ask you therefore to:
a. contact your own Member of Parliament, asking him or her to raise the matter with your government;
b. alert media in your country to the injustice that is being done;
d. ask your national Buddhist Organisation and other such fellowships to take this matter up and to urge all member organisations to act;
e. write to the Hungarian Government, urging them to register the Jai Bhim Network as a religious organisation. If they see that you take us seriously, they may do so too.
Please copy to us anything that you do send.
With many thanks for your help,
Your in the Dharma,
President, Jai Bhim Network
For more information about our organisation please visit www.jaibhim.hu ; our facebook profile is (in Hungarian orthography): dzsaj bhim kozosseg.
Suggested letter for the Hungarian Government.
To the Rt. Hon. Dr Navracsics Tibor,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Administration and Justice,
Kossuth Lajos t?r 2-4,
Dear Dr Navracsics,
We understand that the new Hungarian Law on Churches excludes the Jai Bhim Network, along with all other Buddhist congregations, from registration as a religious organisation. The Jai Bhim Network is an internationally recognised and authentic Buddhist church in good standing and we ask you urgently to reconsider the application of this law so that it includes them and other such congregations.