Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

To visit the tomb of Servant of God József Cardinal Mindszenty, in Esztergom, Hungary, is, in a sense, to venerate the suffering of the Hungarian people throughout the twentieth century. The fight for freedom and human dignity against both the Nazis and the communists is personified in the cardinal.

Mindszenty was Primate of Hungary from 1945 to 1973, when Pope Paul VI tragically decided to strip him of his title due to the failed Vatican policy of “Ostpolitik”—accommodating communist regimes in the vain hope they would make life easier for the Church. In 1948, Mindszenty was arrested by the communist authorities and endured eight years in prison before he was released during the revolution of 1956. Rather than leave his people, the cardinal sought asylum in the U.S. Embassy until he was exiled to Vienna fifteen years later, again the fruit of the Ostpolitik betrayal.

In the current European Union disputes with both Hungary’s government and the nation of Poland, it is worth keeping the life and legacy of József Mindszenty—still a hero to the Hungarian people—at the center of discussion. This year, on September 12, the EU parliament voted to apply what is called an “Article 7” resolution against the nation of Hungary. This means that sanctions can be applied against Hungary, a member of the EU, by the other countries in the Union. According to EU bureaucrats, Hungary was violating “human dignity and freedom,” especially regarding “asylum seekers and refugees.” This draconian resolution could suppress some of Hungary’s membership rights in the EU. For a nation that experienced foreign diktat and control for decades, the EU's actions have a certain “1956” feel for Hungarians.

Viktor Orbán, the pugnacious prime minister of Hungary and bête noire of the liberal elites at the heart of the EU machine, swiftly identified the real reason for the EU’s hostility to Hungary: “concerns over asylum seekers and refugees.” Hungary, Poland, and the other nations of the Visegrád Four—Slovakia and the Czech Republic—have refused to accept the EU's disastrous immigration policies that allow millions of migrants into Europe, changing the culture and causing manifold social problems. Orbán said the EU took action simply because Hungary is choosing “not to be a country of migrants.”

György Hölvényi, Hungarian member of the EU parliament, recently described the EU as the “most secular concept in Europe.” These words echo statements made by the last three popes, not only about the failure of the European constitution to acknowledge Christianity’s profound contribution to the foundation of Europe, but what Pope Francis has called Europe’s “sterility.” Hence the desire to fill the continent with immigrants.

It is unpopular with the secularists, but the reality, as Orbán has stated, is that the nations formerly oppressed by atheistic communist regimes have “a different view on Christianity in Europe.” The EU is denouncing a country that “has been a member of the family of Christian nations for a thousand years.” Nothing is more impressive than touring the beautiful parliament building in Budapest and finding the crown of St. István (St. Stephen) at the center of the building. The symbolism of the crown of Hungary’s first Christian king at the epicenter of the parliament is clear: Hungary was and remains a Christian nation. As Europe and its elites secularize ever more rapidly, introducing legislation that challenges the very definition of the family, the Hungarian people have voted in a parliamentary democracy to keep what Orbán has called “a little slice of Christianity in Hungary.”

Orbán’s Hungary, and the government of Poland, are engaged in a battle that is aggressively opposed by the secular and progressive forces that have dominated Europe for decades. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has warned that the EU elections next year would be a “fight for survival” of the EU against the populist parties gaining ground across Europe. Steve Bannon’s new organization in Brussels, “The Movement,” is another sign of the campaign to recapture the Christian heart of the European ideal. Predictably, it has been denounced and attacked.

The EU has described Hungary as being “at clear risk of a serious breach of EU values.” Presumably, the sovereignty of a nation-state is not an EU value. Neither is the right to control one’s own border or to preserve the Christian understanding of the family. Perhaps it is worth looking at Belgium or the Netherlands to discover EU “values”: Euthanasia, abortion, no-go areas that have produced numerous Islamist terrorists, and, as Pope Francis has pointed out, negative birth rates. Judit Varga, the Hungarian minister for EU relations, has reminded the unelected guardians of EU “values” that Hungary is a “real democracy, not a democracy of illusions,” and said, echoing the words of Jesus, that “a solid house has to be built of solid values and beliefs.”

Christian nations that endured decades of external oppression, symbolized by the tragic and heroic figure of József Mindszenty, will not build their countries on sand, and will not accept a new form of foreign control, even if such control is decoratively described as “European values.”

Fr. Benedict Kiely is the founder of, a 501c3 charity helping the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

Photo by Nagy Gyula via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

Become a fan of First Things on Facebooksubscribe to First Things via RSS, and follow First Things on Twitter.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles