Special to WorldTribune.com
UNITED NATIONS — One of the silent tragedies among the conflicts raging in the Middle East, concerns the fate of the ancient and now persecuted Christian communities. Concerns for the forgotten and once vibrant Christian minorities especially in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are often politely air brushed out of political discussions.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has taken special care to underline the plight of persecuted minorities in the Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with this writer, Minister Szijjarto conceded, “Unfortunately the Western World suffers hypocrisy and political correctness. It is strange but many of us are not brave enough to speak about the necessity of protecting Christians.”
Indeed political gatherings “usually speak about ‘religious groups’ which I don’t like the term for example. I like to be straightforward and honest. And if I mean we have to protect the Christians, I will say we have to protect the Christians.”
He added enthusiastically, “Whenever I speak about the necessity to protect Christians in the foreign affairs councils of the European Union, I’m warned, ‘Peter be more balanced and say protection of religious groups’ which I totally deny because if we Christians don’t speak about the necessity to protect Christians, Who will speak about this? No one!”.
Although Christian believers form the largest religious community worldwide, “that should not keep us from speaking about brothers and sisters living in those areas where they are not the majority.”
Significantly, the Budapest government has established a State Secretariat which only deals with the cases of the persecuted Christian communities around the world.
When asked which other countries have such a formal commitment to persecuted Christians, Minister Szijjarto stated proudly, “I think we are unique in that. This State Secretary has the duty to monitor the status of the Christian communities globally. If they need help we try to help.”
Hungary’s own bitter experience under communism served as a reminder of the importance of religious freedom. Today Hungary is a member of NATO and the European Union.
An astute and passionate supporter of this cause, Minister Szijjarto added, “For example we finance construction of schools for Christians in the Middle East. We finance humanitarian actions and provide help for them in their communities. Why? Because their leaders told us we should not encourage them to leave their communities because then they will leave the Middle East. So we help them to remain strong where they stay.”
The Minister stressed, “Helping them to be strong in the places that they live is the number one issue in this regard. You know we should not forget we are the most persecuted religion all around the world. And let us not forget that four out of every five people killed because of his or her religious affiliation is a Christian.”
He added, “We should not be shy in speaking about that because if you look at our Moslem brothers they speak about the protection of their groups very openly. Which we should do as well.”
Ancient Christian communities in Syria and Iraq are being attacked and forced out. When asked whether some of the Christians who joined the refugee flow will return, the Minister conceded
“No, that is why we are financing the operation of schools, hospitals and communities. We hope they will return but the minimal goal should be that those stay in their countries. We are contributing to the reconstruction of 100 Christian churches in Lebanon. They are churches which were not reconstructed or old and we finance them to be reconstructed as to be community centers too.”
He stressed, “In Iraq we are building a school in Erbil and contributing to a hospital too. We support the Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Catholic Church as well.”
Specifically, how much funding is there? “Ten million Euros, ($13 million). We are a small country so please put this into consideration. For communities, hospitals and schools. There are charities too, but much this funding is directly from the Hungarian government. You help these people not because you want to be a Star but because it comes from your heart.”
Equally Hungary has granted citizenship for two Syrian Orthodox Bishops and extends scholarships to Christian youth in the region.
But viewing the wider lens of the massive Syrian migrant exodus to Europe in 2015 Minister Szijjarto takes a contrarian approach to standard European Union migration Policy; “Our position is very different than the approach of the European mainstream. We should not bring a problem where there is no problem and we should bring help where there is a problem.”
He stresses, “Our policy is absolutely contradicting Brussels because Brussels (EU) encourages to take the life risks and come to Europe. Our position is that we have to bring the help to these people where they are right now. And restore their rights where rights were violated. That is why we are in favor of financing Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdish region of Iraq, the areas around the war-torn region. Because if you assist them they will be able to take care of the refugees there. “
In separate comments, Vatican Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States for the Holy See, praised Hungary’s efforts in helping persecuted Christians.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]