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Get off the fence

I’ve managed to get this far in life without ever putting pen to paper to sign a petition. I have an irrational fear that this signature will later be used against me in some wanton, undemocratic move to rid a country of its dissenters or its non-nationals. I’ve managed to get this far without ever taking to the streets to march in protest against something that sets my teeth on edge and keeps me awake at night, lest my face be captured on camera and my image filed in a folder marked ‘dissenter’. To my shame, I’ve wanted to get along by, well, getting along. I’ve chosen the easy option; I’ve chosen to believe that in everyone, there is some good. And from every government policy, someone will benefit. And although I might not see or understand what lies behind it, I’ve somewhat naively believed that elected officials have the interests of their electorate at heart. But today, I cast aside my naivety. I’m too old, I’ve lived too long, and I’ve seen too much to be able to hide behind it any more.

Standing in solidarity

Today, Tuesday, 13th December 2011, I finally got down off the fence that straddles what is and what might be. Not only did I sign a petition, I forwarded it to everyone I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. Around the world, virtual strangers are opening up their emails and dredging through the annals of their minds in the vain hope of remembering how they know me and why I might be emailing them about the Hare Krishnas in Hungary.

Today, I stood alongside hundreds of others at Kossuth tér in the wintry sun to show my support for the Hare Krishna movement and this latest, completely asinine act by the government to cut off at the knees those who are doing the most good for those less fortunate in our society.

Earlier this year, the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness (HSKCON) was one of many religions that lost its religious status as a ‘recognized church’. Under the provisions of the new Act on Religious Communities, as of 1 January 2012, HSKCON and others should surrender all their property (real estate and arable lands) to those religious communities that have been granted legal status as a recognized church. Figuring out the formula that determines what exactly constitutes a ‘recognized church’ is beyond my basic math and logic. It seems to me to be suspiciously subjective.

Neutered and neutralized

Divested of their ‘wealth’, these religious communities may continue their religious activities as non-governmental organizations but without the right to preach or conduct religious services. What’s the point, one wonders. What’s the point in being allowed to practice medicine as long as you don’t treat any patients? What’s the point in being allowed to play football as long as you don’t score any goals?

HSKCON isn’t the only one to suffer: add to the mix at least two others that I know of – the Buddhists and the Methodist Church – and conspiracy theorists might be justified in thinking that there’s a move afoot to neutralise those who work with the homeless. HSKCON, through its Food for Life programme, feeds 1000 homeless people in Budapest each day. When it can no longer grow the food it needs on its farm in Krishna Valley; when it can no longer rear cows in peace and harmony with nature (a project much lauded in the international environmental community and held in very high regard globally); when it can no longer live the sustainable life envied by so many around the world, what then? Where is the logic here? What am I missing?

Human dignity

I’m an Irish Catholic. I go to mass every Sunday. I try to do good when I can, to be good more often than not, and to give to those less fortunate. I was brought up to believe that Christianity is more than sitting in Church on Sunday and tithing money to the collection plate. It is about feeding your fellow man when he has no food; it’s about sheltering him when he has no home; it’s about giving of yourself when it’s less than convenient. What makes the HSKCON faith, its work, its religion, less legitimate than mine, boggles my mind. When it’s been effectively disposed of by this act, who then will feed the homeless, help the needy, and remind us all that a peaceful life of sustainable living is not just a dream?

Rumour has it that a last-minute reprieve was granted this afternoon by the government that will allow HSKCON keep its land. While this is a very timely Christmas present for so many, its battle for recognition as a religious entity is still to be won. It looks like today was a good day to get down off the fence.

First published in the Budapest Times 16 December 2011