ISKCON in Hungary has secured its legal status in a landmark development that represents the first time in Hungarian history that civil pressure has swayed a government decision.
The Hungarian government recently tried to declare ISKCON a destructive cult and revoke its registration as a religion in Hungary.�� The following is a brief history of this case:
The proposed new law never made it past the proposal stage.
The successful campaign strategy
The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to the Hungarian Prime Minister from Eric Fitzgibbon, MP, Member of the Australian Parliament:
My Government does not consider the Hare Krsna movement a threat but recognises the good work that they do in the community. In fact, the Hare Krsnas have been the recipients of Government funding grants ... they are a valuable asset in our community and I urge you to reconsider Law 90-IV. The Hare Krsnas (or ISKCON) exist side by side in harmony with other religions in Australia and its contribution to the community is valuable and worthwhile.
Devotees collected sixty thousand signatures from the Hungarian people declaring their opposition to the proposed law. They also organised a special petition, for the attention of the Prime Minister, signed by Hungarian academics, religious leaders, writers, musicians, opinion leaders, etc.
What this means for ISKCON
This case sets a very important precedent for other Eastern European and CIS governments, who have been monitoring its progress. (For example, we know that the governments of Poland, Czechoslovakia Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belorussia, Russia, Latvia and Lithuania have been watching this case in consideration of their own approach to non-traditional religions in their countries).
This victory, a text-book example of applying communications principles, has sent a clear message to Eastern Bloc countries that ISKCON is not a new religion but an ancient spiritual culture, that it is congregationally based (ninety-six per cent of Hungarian devotees live outside the temple), and that it makes a very positive social contribution. The Hungarian devotees are now being treated as a respectable religious group and their opinions are being sought on important contemporary topics by journalists and others.
The Hungarian devotees, who just a year ago faced severe political opposition, are now trained and practised preachers. They are confident in approaching the leaders of society and have developed and sustained personal relationships with influential people on all social levels. They have also become practised in developing an appropriate preaching strategy based on time, place and circumstance.
This case also sends a message to Western countries who, on the whole, have never seriously investigated ISKCON's credentials, to reassess their approach to the Movement. Academics are using it as an example of how ISKCON is valued and accepted in countries such as Hungary. Of course, this would also imply a corresponding message to ISKCON in the West who, to a large extent, has not seriously tried to establish its credentials among the leaders in Society. It also helps devotees everywhere to see how a potential crisis can be used to ISKCON's advantage and clearly demonstrates how, by international co-operation, it can affect a nation's decision-makers. This aspect of the case is very important and requires further discussion within ISKCON.