Hungarian Baha'is inaugurate new national center in the heart of Budapest

January 4, 2003

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Having outgrown its old administrative headquarters, the Baha'i community of Hungary inaugurated its new national Baha'i Center with a reception on 27 November 2002.

More than 50 people gathered at the reception, which was attended by a number of dignitaries, including two members of the Hungarian Parliament, representatives of the Prime Minister's Office, a representative of the Ministry of Interior, a pastor from the Unitarian Church, a representative of the Club of Budapest, and several national media personalities.

The celebration opened with the reading of a congratulatory letter from a former president of Hungary, Arpad Goncz, who conveyed his "appreciation and heartfelt support to the Hungarian Baha'i community."

The honored guest of the evening was Istvan Szalay, State Secretary for Religious Affairs. "The uniqueness of the Baha'i community," said Dr. Szalay in his remarks, "lies in the fact that it is striving for optimum and not for maximum, that by being humble and not pressing on converting others, Baha'is try to create harmony and stability among people."

Peter Koczoh, secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Hungary, said the acquisition of the new Baha'i center was "a turning point" in the life of the Hungarian community.

"The old center, which we were only renting for several years, proved to become too small as the community started growing," Mr. Koczoh. "We needed a place where the Baha'is could hold their meetings in a dignified atmosphere."

"The new center, which is more than twice the size of the first rented apartment, used to belong to a textile merchant at the turn of the nineteenth century," added Mr. Koczoh. "The building, where we purchased an apartment, lies in the heart of the city, in one of the most historical and cultured parts of Budapest."

The history of the Hungarian community reaches back to the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1913, 'Abdu'l-Baha, the eldest son of Baha'u'llah, visited Budapest and met a number of dignitaries and academics. Among them was the renowned orientalist Professor Arminius Vambery who, in a letter addressed to 'Abdu'l-Baha, pledged his allegiance to the Baha'i faith and is considered the first Hungarian Baha'i.

During his nine-day stay in Budapest, 'Abdu'l-Baha delivered a number of speeches to the public as well as to dignitaries of the Parliament and the Academy. He also expressed his hope that in the future Budapest would become the center for the unification of the East and the West. "I am happy to have been able to visit Hungary," 'Abdu'l-Baha said in 1913, "because this is the country where the culture of the West and the warm hospitality of the East meet and merge into one."

The Baha'i community grew slowly in the inter-war years. Several times during the country's dictatorial rule in the 1930s and 40s, it was dispersed. Many of the first Hungarian Baha'is were of Jewish origin, and most of them were deported to concentration camps. After World War II, the community also faced restrictions when the Communist government banned religious gatherings.

With the end of Communist rule in the late 1980s, religious freedom increased and the community began to flourish again. In 1990s, the Baha'is in Budapest were able to again elect their Local Spiritual Assembly, the local governing body that stands at the base of the Baha'i administrative order.

Today, there are more than 1,200 Baha'is in Hungary, up from about 70 in 1990. They are spread among some 65 localities -- and more than two-thirds are members of the Roma people.

The Hungarian Baha'i community is currently involved in a social and economic development project, MESED ("Meselo Edesanyak" - Storytelling Mothers), a program for young Roma mothers. Romas are members of a disadvantaged community, and they are often deprived of proper education. The project provides literacy training for mothers and helps them to read storybooks to their children. In this way MESED not only increases the women's self-esteem but also promotes a closer and deeper bond between mother and child. In 2001 MESED was approved by UNESCO as one of its partner organizations.