Church-State Debate Threatens Budapest's Second District

Abstract

This short, engaging case spurs class discussion about the role of community-based interest groups and the pressures they exert on local governments and public executives. The case also prompts analysis of how local governments are caught between the dictates of nationally driven policy or regulation and the specific, unique needs of their own communities. By mapping the divergent interests of various community groups, students are equipped to identify a range of possible compromise solutions to the political and social crisis.

The A case describes the tension between national and local governments which is fueled by a Hungarian law requiring localities to return all property formerly owned by churches (pre-Communism) to local religious orders. In this case, conflict erupts when the Catholic Church seeks to reclaim a building that has housed a popular public school for almost fifty years. The local district council votes to defy national law and deny the Catholic Church's claim to the building. The conflict escalates, pitting supporters of secular education against advocates of religious schooling. It quickly assumes societal dimensions as the national branches of Hungary's political parties attempt to exploit the issue for political gain.

The B case outlines the conditions of the compromise eventually brokered by the mayor, prompting class discussion about the strategies local leaders can use to minimize the negative impact of solutions that defuse the crisis but ultimately please no one.

Although it takes place in Eastern Europe, the case does not presume knowledge of Hungarian politics or society. Its lessons about the role of—and constraints upon— local government are relevant for local executives and legislators in a wide range of settings.

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