Historical and modern constitutional documents provide for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and prohibit religious discrimination. The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against religious groups and classifies registered religious groups into one of three categories: religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. The 16 groups recognized as religious societies receive the most benefits. Unrecognized groups may practice their religion privately if the practice is lawful and does not offend “common decency.” The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam researched, disseminated information on, and organized workshops pertaining to what it described as Muslim extremism. The Jewish Community (IKG) partnered with the government to hold workshops for teachers and personnel working with immigrant and refugee groups to combat antisemitism among the latter groups. In July, parliament amended the law pertaining to Muslims as part of an antiterrorism package providing for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad. The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGO) opposed the amendment, which it said applied only to the Muslim community, was discriminatory, and interfered with religious freedom. In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website with an “Islam Map” listing Islamic institutions in the country. Religious and civil society groups criticized the map – and the center for publicizing it – stating it violated data privacy rules and endangered the lives of Muslims in the country by giving right-wing extremist groups the ability to target them. In January, the government presented its strategy to combat antisemitism, which called for enhancing education about Judaism, improving security of Jewish sites, and more-vigorous prosecution of antisemitic crimes, and launched an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate the strategy. A survey commissioned by parliament found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic and that more than a quarter of respondents agreed with statements that Jews dominated the business world and took advantage of having been victimized by the Nazis. Citing the study, the parliamentary president said the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon.
According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year. For all of 2020, the ministry cited 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six crimes, respectively, in the previous year. In 2020, the most recent year for which it had data, IGGO reported 1,402 anti-Muslim incidents, one-third more than in the previous year. The IKG reported 562 antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year, more than double the number over the same period in the previous year; there were 585 such incidents in all of 2020. Most incidents involved hate speech, especially on the internet, but there were also incidents of assault. For example, in Vienna in May, a man threw rocks at a Jewish family wearing traditional religious clothing. Government figures, unlike those from the IKG and IGGO, only included incidents in which authorities filed criminal charges. In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews.
U.S. embassy representatives met with officials from the Federal Chancellery and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to discuss religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with leaders from the IGGO, IKG, Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and various Orthodox churches to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination and interreligious dialogue, and the impact on their respective communities of the COVID-19 crisis. In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the Muslim Youth Organization with an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements. Embassy officials continued to serve on the advisory board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency, a governmental agency that promotes Holocaust remembrance. In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video commemorating World War II. In September, the embassy cohosted with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors. In July, embassy staff hosted a lunch with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education. Throughout the year, the embassy used social media platforms to deliver messages about religious freedom.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.9 million (midyear 2021). According to religious groups and government estimates, Roman Catholics constitute 55 percent of the population, and Muslims – predominantly Sunni – 8 percent, while approximately 25 percent is unaffiliated with any religion. According to estimates from religious groups, Eastern Orthodox churches (Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian, and Bulgarian) constitute 5 percent of the population, and Protestants (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions) 3.2 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and other Christian and non-Christian religious groups.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
A combination of historical and modern constitutional documents guarantees freedom of “conscience and creed.” The law provides for freedom of religious belief and the rights of all residents to join, participate in, leave, or abstain from association with any religious community. The law stipulates, “Duties incumbent on nationals may not be impeded by religious affiliation.”
Several constitutional provisions protect religious freedom. The main pillars are historical laws on fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, and treaties and conventions, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which form part of the constitution. Antidiscrimination legislation prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.
The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against a church group, religious society, or other religious group if the incitement is perceivable by “many people,” which an official government commentary on the law and the courts interpret as 30 or more individuals. The prohibition also applies specifically in the case of incitement in print, electronic, or other media available to a broad public. The law also prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against religious groups, if such action violates human dignity.
The law divides registered religious groups into three officially recognized legal categories (listed in descending order of rights, privileges, and legal responsibilities): religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. Members of religious groups not legally recognized may practice their religion at home, “insofar as this practice is neither unlawful nor offends common decency.”
There are 16 recognized religious societies: the Roman Catholic Church; Protestant churches (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions); the IGGO; Old Catholic Church; IKG; Eastern Orthodox Church (Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Antiochian); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; New Apostolic Church; Syrian Orthodox Church; Coptic Orthodox Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Methodist Church of Austria; the Buddhist Community; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Alevi Community in Austria; and Free Christian Churches.
The law grants registered religious societies the right to public practice and independent administration of their internal affairs; to participate in the program requiring mandatory church contributions by church members; to bring religious workers into the country to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers; and to provide pastoral services in prisons and hospitals. Under the law, religious societies have “public corporation” status, permitting them to engage in several public or quasi-public activities, such as government-funded religious instruction in both public and private schools, which the government denies to confessional communities and associations. The government grants all recognized religious societies tax relief in two main ways: donors do not pay taxes on donations, and the societies receive exemption from property tax for all buildings dedicated to the active practice of religion or administration of such. Additionally, religious societies are exempt from a surveillance charge, otherwise payable when the state provides security to religious groups, and administrative fees for garbage collection and other municipal services. Responsibilities of religious societies include a commitment to sponsor social and cultural activities that serve the common good and – like all religious groups – to ensure their teachings do not violate the law or ethical standards, which the law does not define.
Religious groups seeking to achieve religious society status for the first time must apply for recognition with the Office for Religious Affairs in the Federal Chancellery. Religious groups recognized as societies prior to 1998 retained their status. The government grandfathered in 14 of the 16 recognized religious societies under this provision of the law. To gain recognition as a religious society, religious groups not recognized prior to 1998 must have membership equaling 0.2 percent of the country’s population (approximately 17,700 persons) and have existed for 20 years, at least five of which must have been as a confessional community. The government recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses and Alevi Muslims as religious societies under these post-1998 criteria. Groups that do not meet these criteria may still apply for religious society status under an exception for groups that have been active internationally for at least 100 years and active as an association in the country for 10 years. Groups sharing a broad faith with an existing society or confessional community, for example Christianity, may register separately as long as they can demonstrate that they have a different theology.
The law allows religious groups not recognized as societies to seek official status as confessional communities with the Office for Religious Affairs. The government recognizes 10 confessional communities: the Baha’i Faith, Movement for Religious Renewal-Community of Christians, Pentecostal Community of God, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindu Community, Islamic-Shia Community, Old-Alevi Community in Austria, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, United Pentecostal Community of Austria, and Sikhs.
A recognized confessional community has the juridical standing needed to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in its own name and contracting for goods and services, but it is not eligible for the financial and educational benefits available to recognized religious societies. Contributions to confessional communities’ charitable activities are tax deductible for those who make them and tax free for the groups receiving them, but the communities are not exempt from property taxes. Confessional communities may provide pastoral care in prisons and hospitals.
To gain government recognition as a confessional community, a group must have at least 300 members and submit to the Office for Religious Affairs its statutes describing the goals, rights, and obligations of members as well as membership regulations, a list of officials, and financing information. A group must also submit a written description of its religious doctrine, which must differ from that of any previously recognized religious society or religious confessional community. The Office for Religious Affairs determines whether the group’s basic beliefs are consistent with public security, order, health, and morals and with the rights and freedoms of citizens. A religious group seeking to obtain confessional community status is subject to a six-month waiting period from the time of application to the chancellery. After this period, groups that have applied automatically receive the status unless the government issues a decree rejecting the application.
Religious groups not qualifying for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become legal associations, a status applicable to a broad range of civil groups. Some groups organize as associations while waiting for the government to recognize them as confessional communities.
The Church of Scientology and several smaller religious groups, such as Sahaja Yoga and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, have association status.
According to the law, any group of more than two persons pursuing a nonprofit goal qualifies to organize as an association. Groups may apply to the Ministry of Interior to obtain such status. To become an association, a group must submit a written statement citing its common, nonprofit goal and commitment to function as a nonprofit organization.
Associations have juridical standing, the right to function in public, and many of the same rights as confessional communities, including the right to own real estate and to contract for goods and services. Associations may not offer pastoral care in hospitals or prisons or receive tax-deductible contributions.
Pursuant to the law governing relations between the government and the Roman Catholic Church, the Church is the only religious group to receive government funding for pastoral care it provides in prisons. The law also makes various Catholic holidays official national holidays.
The law governing relations between the government and the IGGO and Alevi Muslim groups stipulates that funding for the day-to-day operations of mosques must be derived from domestic sources, Islamic teachings and practices must not violate federal law (compliance with which is determined by the Office for Religious Affairs), and Islamic institutions should “take a positive stance” toward the state and society. The law provides an explicit legal definition of, and legal protection for, Islamic practices, such as circumcision and preparation of food in conformity with religious rules, and states Muslims may raise children and youth in accordance with Islamic traditions. Muslim groups with at least 300 members and a theology not distinct from a pre-existing Islamic religious society or confessional community are considered cultural communities and fall under the umbrella of the pre-existing, legally recognized Islamic religious society or confessional community. This includes the IGGO and the Alevi Community in Austria, which are both religious societies, or the Islamic-Shia Community and the Old-Alevi Faith Community in Austria, both of which have confessional community status. The law allows for Islamic theological university studies, which the University of Vienna offers.
An amendment to the law pertaining to Muslims passed in July as part of an antiterrorism package provides for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad. The legislation, which entered into force September 1, also allows the Federal Chancellery to request a list of all Muslim officials and associations and makes it easier to close mosques to “protect public security,” with the approval of the IGGO. The IGGO must report changes in Muslim associations, such as changes in by-laws, leadership, and funding to the Office for Religious Affairs, so that authorities have up-to-date information on such associations. The law also empowers Ministry of Interior officials, who already review requests to establish new associations, to scrutinize such requests to ensure that they are not “cover organizations” for religious groups attempting to bypass the transparency requirements for mosques. The antiterrorism package also introduced a new statutory offense banning “religiously motivated extremism.”
Separate laws govern relations between the government and each of the other 14 state-recognized religious societies. The laws have similar intent but vary in some details, since they were enacted at different times over a span of approximately 140 years. As with the Muslim community, a law provides explicit protections for Jewish religious practices, including circumcision and ritual slaughter.
The law bans full-face coverings in public places as a “violation of Austrian values,” with exceptions made only for artistic, cultural, or traditional events, in sports, or for health or professional reasons. Failure to comply with the law is an administrative violation. The law prescribes a 150 euro ($170) fine but does not entitle police to remove the face covering.
In accordance with a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020 that overturned a headscarf ban for children in elementary school, children of all ages may wear headscarves and other head coverings in schools.
The government funds, on a proportional basis, religious instruction for any of the 16 officially recognized religious societies by clergy or instructors provided by those groups for children in public schools and government-accredited private schools. The government does not offer such funding to other religious groups. A minimum of three children is required to form a class. Attendance in the respective religion classes is mandatory for all students who are members of those religious groups unless they formally withdraw at the beginning of the school year; students younger than age 14 require parental permission to withdraw from religion classes. Religious instruction takes place either in the school or at sites organized by religious groups. Some schools offer ethics classes for students not attending religious instruction. Religious education and ethics classes include the tenets of different religious groups as comparative religious education.
The curriculum for both public and private schools includes compulsory antibias and tolerance education, including religious tolerance, as part of civics education across various subjects, including history and German-language instruction.
Holocaust education is part of history instruction and is also part of other courses such as civics.
The Equal Rights Agency, an independent agency falling under the jurisdiction of the Federal Chancellery Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration, oversees discrimination cases, including those based on religion. The agency provides legal counseling and mediation services, and it assists with bringing cases before the Equal Treatment Commission, another independent government agency. In cases where it finds discrimination, the commission makes a recommendation for corrective action. In a case of noncompliance with the recommendation, the case goes to court. The commission may issue expert reports for plaintiffs to present before the court. Only a court may order corrective action and compensation.
The law bans neo-Nazi activity and prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification “of the National Socialist genocide” or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print, broadcast, or other media.
The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and it imposes criminal penalties for violations.
On January 1, a law on hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, went into effect requiring online platforms to identify and delete posts that can be classified as hateful or defamatory. It broadens the definition of hate speech to include single offenses, cyberbullying, and photographs taken surreptitiously, for which a person may be prosecuted in court. The law also facilitates means of recourse by allowing individuals subjected to online hate speech to seek redress directly with the relevant communication platform, rather than go through civil courts. It mandates companies to designate a contact person to whom affected individuals and government authorities can send complaints, and it requires platforms to issue annual reports on how they received and processed hate speech complaints. Repeated failure by the platform to comply could lead to fines of up to 10 million euros ($11.34 million). The law applies only to large for-profit communication platforms with more than 100,000 users and revenues of 500,000 euros ($567,000) or more per year. Videos on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube or Facebook are excluded, as they are subject to a separate EU law, but comments on the videos fall under the new law.
The law extends citizenship to direct descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes. Descendants may obtain citizenship by reporting to Austrian consulates. Dual citizenship is also possible.
The law bans certain symbols the government considers extremist, including those pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al-Qaida, Hizballah, and the Croatian Ustasha.
The government requires a visa for visitors from non-visa-waiver countries or individuals who would stay beyond 90 days, including religious workers of confessional communities or associations. Foreign religious workers of groups recognized as confessional communities or associations must apply for a general immigrant visa that is not employment or family based and is subject to a quota. Foreign religious workers belonging to religious societies also require immigrant visas but are exempt from the quota system. Religious workers from Schengen or EU-member countries are exempt from all visa requirements.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The IGGO expressed objections to the amendment of the law pertaining to Muslims enacted in July as part of the government’s antiterrorism legislation, stating it was discriminatory and interfered with religious freedom and the internal affairs of the Muslim community. The provisions in the amendment pertained only to Islam. IGGO president Umit Vural said he was also disappointed the government did not engage with the IGGO on the provisions of the amendment. Responding to his criticism, both Justice Minister Alma Zadic and Integration Minister Suzanne Raab stated the new legislation was in no way designed to target a specific religious group. The Office for Religious Affairs stated all religious groups in the country must adhere to the same restrictions concerning foreign funding and violating federal law and that only Islamic groups had violated either of these restrictions.
The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam, which was established in 2020, continued its research on what it described as politically motivated Muslim extremism. It stated that it made its research available to the general public to promote awareness of Muslim extremism, pluralism, and religious freedom, while also staging workshops and publishing studies relevant to Muslim extremism. In October, the Federal Chancellery hosted the Vienna Forum on Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration, which brought together officials from Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and France as well as experts in the field to find avenues for cooperation on fighting “political Islam.” The four countries agreed to begin joint cooperation projects in fighting radicalization and Islamic extremism, focusing on exchanging best practices and cooperation in research. The Federal Chancellery said it would host the forum annually and seek cooperation with other countries as well.
In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website featuring an “Islam Map” compiled by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Muslim Theological Studies, listing Islamic institutions in the country, including mosques, Muslim associations, and prayer rooms. The Islam Map had already been available through the university’s website, but it only became widely known publicly after the government posted it to the Documentation Center’s website in June. Religious, political, and civil society groups criticized the map. Green Party integration spokeswoman Faika El-Nagashi called it “the opposite of what integration policy and dialogue should look like on an equal footing,” while IGGO President Umit Vural called it dangerous and said attacks against Muslims rose after the posting of the map. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Catholic Church in the country, called it “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious communities is under general suspicion,” and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out. In June, following the posting of the map, individuals began to use the map to “out” certain locations as Muslim with posters and signs reading or “Beware! Political Islam is here.” The government briefly took the map down in June before reposting it online a few weeks later. Also in June, the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria filed a complaint against the University of Vienna professor who compiled the map, the University of Vienna, and the Documentation Office on Political Islam, stating the map violated data privacy rules.
In January, the Federal Chancellery Minister for the EU and Constitution, Karoline Edtstadler, presented a national strategy to combat antisemitism and established an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate measures by all ministries to implement the new strategy. The strategy focused on addressing antisemitism when educating new refugees and establishing security for the Jewish community, guidelines for tracking and prosecuting antisemitic incidents, and standards for EU-wide data comparison. It recommended increasing protection of synagogues, improving education about Judaism in schools and awareness campaigns, more vigorous prosecution of hate speech, and closing loopholes in the law pertaining to right-wing extremist groups and their symbols. Edtstadler stated that combatting antisemitism was a central priority of the government. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said the strategy reflected the country’s historic responsibility to combat antisemitism, and he warned against right-wing extremists exploiting protests against COVID-19 restrictions to spread antisemitism. Jewish community president Oskar Deutsch welcomed the strategy, saying it would ensure the security and continuity of Jewish life in the country.
The Federal Office of Sect Issues offered advice to persons with questions about groups that it considered “sects” and “cults.” The office was nominally independent but government funded, and the Minister of Women, Family, Youth and Integration appointed and oversaw its head.
In June, the government declared it had fulfilled the responsibilities of the Arbitration Panel for In Rem Restitution under the Law on the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism. Parliament unanimously took note of the Final Report of the Arbitration Panel. The Arbitration Panel was established in 2001 under the provisions of the Washington Agreement to decide on applications for in rem restitution of publicly owned property and movable assets for the previous owners and their heirs.
In August, an appellate court in the Styrian provincial capital of Graz ruled that nine police raids against Muslim Brotherhood individuals and associations in 2020 were illegal. The Graz appellate court ruled that raids targeting terrorist financing were illegal because they were not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The court said there was no evidence that every member of the Muslim Brotherhood was “also a member of or promoted a terrorist organization, in particular Hamas.” Individuals detained in the raids, who were reportedly questioned and released, had told media the raids were “mere guesswork by the police” and that there was no evidence of terrorist financing.
Revenue authorities continued to investigate Islamic associations that they said might have evaded taxes, which would result in the loss of charity status for those associations. At year’s end, authorities had not stripped any Islamic associations of their charity status.
The Federal Office for Foreigner Affairs and Asylum (BFA) continued to refuse to issue or renew residence permits for foreign imams financed by foreign sources. There were no reports that other religious groups faced similar problems in obtaining residence permits for their foreign clerics, as those clerics are not financed by foreign sources according to the BFA.
At year’s end, the Vienna-based, Saudi Arabia-funded King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue remained open, despite a foreign ministry announcement in 2019 that it would close the center, consistent with a nonbinding parliamentary resolution calling on it to do so because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. In October, Saudi Arabia announced it would move the center to Lisbon, although it did not indicate a timetable for the relocation.
In January, four online platforms, not publicly identified, sought an exemption from the new law on hate speech, stating it should not apply to them because they had offices in Ireland, but the Vienna Commercial Court rejected the claim. Officials in the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and the Federal Chancellery reported companies were complying to varying degrees, and some proceedings to penalize noncompliant companies were underway, but they did not provide details. By year’s end, KommAustria, an independent telecommunications supervisory authority responsible for monitoring compliance with the law, had not levied penalties on any companies.
Following the IKG’s April presentation of its annual report on antisemitic incidents in 2020, EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler said much remained to be done and that it was important to implement the government’s strategy to fight antisemitism adopted in January. Vice Chancellor Kogler also stated combatting antisemitism remained a major challenge.
In March, Parliamentary President Wolfgang Sobotka presented the results of a survey of citizens commissioned by parliament that found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the circulation of conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic’s origin. Of 2,000 persons polled in late 2020, 28 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews today try to take advantage of the fact that they were victims during the Nazi era.” Another 26 percent agreed that “Jews dominate the international business world.” Forty-nine percent of respondents agreed that it was citizens’ “moral responsibility to stand by Jews” in the country. The study’s authors, the Institute for Empirical Social Research and the Demox research institute, said that, despite better efforts to combat antisemitism in the country, a vocal minority exploited public frustration with health and safety restrictions and demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions as public platforms to make antisemitism more visible and exploit the right to assemble to spread conspiracy theories against Jews. Sobotka praised the study, saying it offered a chance to “grow awareness of the problem of antisemitism, which in turn is the basis for an actual change in the attitudes of Austrians,” adding that the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon in society. Sobotka also criticized opposition Freedom Party (FPOe) Floor Leader Herbert Kickl for his participation at demonstrations in March against COVID-19 restrictions, where Sobotka said right-wing extremists had spread antisemitic messages equating persons affected by COVID-19 restrictions with Holocaust victims. In his speech at a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions, Kickl accused Israel of “vaccination apartheid.”
The international NGO Anti-Defamation League continued to conduct teacher-training seminars on Holocaust awareness in schools in the country, reaching approximately 100 teachers. School councils and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Research continued to invite Holocaust survivors to talk to school classes about National Socialism and the Holocaust.
In September, Parliamentary President Sobotka presented the restored grave of the Epstein family, a renowned Jewish family that lived in Vienna in the 19th century, at the historic Waehring Jewish cemetery in Vienna to the IKG. Parliament had financed and organized the restoration project. Sobotka stated the cemetery was a “unique memorial for Jewish life in Vienna.”
The Vienna Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute the FPOe for incitement after the party posted slogans that equated traditionally dressed Muslims with radical, violent Islamism during Vienna municipal elections in October 2020. The Association of Social Democrat Academics had sought incitement charges against the FPOe.
In May, Education Minister Heinz Fassmann announced the establishment of a research office on right-wing extremism and antisemitism with the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance Movement, an NGO that monitors right-wing extremism. The center also provided schools with material for Holocaust education and supported investigations into right-wing extremists.
The government continued to allow headwear for religious purposes in official identification documents, provided the face remained sufficiently visible to allow for identification of the wearer.
According to statistics presented by Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in September, the government granted citizenship to 6,600 descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes, including persons from the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom.
The city of Vienna continued work on the Campus of Religions, which it financed and launched in 2019. Vienna unveiled the winning design for the campus in September, which contains eight buildings on 2.5 acres of land and is expected to be completed in 2028. The campus is planned as a site where the Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox Churches, as well as Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the New Apostolic Church will exercise their own religious activities, while also working together. Its designated function is to serve to promote faith, respect, diversity, and ideological tolerance. Alongside the interfaith University College of Teacher Education of Christian Churches Vienna/Krems, the campus is designed to be a meeting point that encourages dialogue between religions, science, and education, and it will include access for the general public.
The government did not impose any COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings, relying on religious organizations to regulate their own gatherings. Religious groups worked with government officials to establish COVID-19 guidelines that mirrored each other, which Catholic and Muslim leaders stated helped create unified restrictions that eliminated confusion and risk among their congregations. There were no reports of widespread dissatisfaction among religious community members about the restrictions.
In October, the country opened its redesigned exhibit at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum commemorating the victims and acknowledging the role of Austrian perpetrators in the Holocaust.
The government inaugurated the Shoah Wall of Names Memorial in Vienna in November listing the names of the country’s 66,000 Jewish Holocaust victims.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year. In all of 2020, there were 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six such crimes, respectively, in 2019. The ministry said its figures included only incidents that were reported to it and in which authorities filed criminal charges, and the ministry attributed all the crimes in the three years to right-wing extremists. Most incidents, according to the ministry, involved hate speech. The ministry did not provide details on any of the incidents.
The IGGO’s Documentation Center on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Racism reported that there were1,402 anti-Muslim incidents in 2020 (1,051 in 2019). The 2020 data were the most recent available. In 2015, the first full year in which it collected such statistics, IGGO reported 156 anti-Muslim incidents. The IKG reported 585 antisemitic incidents (550 in 2019) in the same year. From January to June, the IKG recorded 562 incidents, more than twice the 257 in the first half of 2020. Most incidents in 2021 consisted of hate speech or insults on the internet, although there were also 11 cases of violent threats and eight physical assaults. The data were the most recent available. Both groups included incidents regardless of whether they were reported to police or criminal charges were filed. Most 2020 antisemitic and anti-Muslim cases concerned hate speech and insinuations of violence on the internet (1,019 cases), followed by insulting language and property damage. Eight cases involved physical assaults. The IGGO reported men were more likely to experience anti-Muslim behavior on the internet, while Muslim women were more likely to experience it in person in significant part because of their visible face or head coverings.
The IKG reported antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year included eight physical assaults, 58 cases of property damage, 154 mass mailings, and 331 threats. Examples of antisemitic incidents included one in Vienna in May in which a group of teenagers were apprehended for throwing rocks at a Jewish family in traditional clothes, and antisemitic graffiti at the Vienna Jewish Museum in May. The IKG attributed the increase in incidents in part to antisemitic messages at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions.
In July, the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes. The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 2021, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity. The report stated 309 of the cases were religiously motivated.
In May, two days before the annual event commemorating the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp, police disbanded a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions attended by approximately 30 persons in Mauthausen after the organizer played a Hitler video.
In May, on the International Day against Racism and Violence, the Ministry of Interior reported several antisemitic postings on its Facebook site and launched investigations to identify the authors.
In May, demonstrators chanted “Allahu Akbar” and “Child Murderer Israel” and waved Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian rally in Vienna. The IKG appealed to its members to stay away from the area of the demonstration and warned that the political situation in Israel could pose a threat to Jewish communities in Europe. Police launched investigations into the use of antisemitic slogans during the demonstration, while Integration Minister Raab and then Interior Minister Karl Nehammer warned that the right to assemble should not be abused to make antisemitic statements. Authorities arrested and questioned 11 individuals but released them without filing charges.
In May, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel held demonstrations with pro-Palestinian groups to protest Israeli house evacuations in East Jerusalem.
In a video on Twitter that became publicly known in January, Martin Sellner, head of the pan-European nationalist Identitarian movement, widely described as right-wing extremist, called People’s Party member of parliament Martin Engelberg an infamous hypocrite, antipatriotic traitor, despicable person, and “destroyer of the homeland” who has “abandoned any Christian values.” Sellner was reacting to a December 2020 statement in which Engelberg criticized FPOe Parliamentary Floor Leader Kickl for not distancing himself from the Identitarian movement. Sellner also praised Kickl for “taking a stance” against persons like Engelberg. EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler condemned Sellner’s message as antisemitic and also called upon the FPOe and Kickl to distance themselves from the Identitarian movement. In June, Engelberg obtained an injunction from the Vienna Commercial Court that ruled that Sellner must cease the slanderous statements about Engelberg.
In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020. According to the survey, 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews, and 26 percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were: “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (26 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (30 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (28 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (22 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (17 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (19 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (40 percent).
At the July presentation of a Council of Europe survey on online hatred against Muslims conducted among Muslim associations in eight European countries, the council’s special representative on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred cited the country’s “Islam map” as a negative example fueling discrimination. The study stated the authors of hate postings were usually “anti-migration, right-wing groups, and – especially in Austria – the Identitarian movement.”
A counseling center in Vienna managed by the Society Against Sect and Cult Dangers, an NGO that described itself as an organization working against harm caused by “destructive cults” such as Scientology, continued to distribute information to the general public and provide counseling for former members of such groups. All provinces funded family and youth counseling offices that provided information on “sects and cults.”
In October, the Graz Provincial Court for Criminal Matters convicted a Syrian man of assaulting Graz Jewish Community president Elie Rose in Graz in 2020 and vandalizing the Graz synagogue and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community center. The court sentenced him to three years in prison, stating the man could not be dissuaded from his anti-Jewish sentiments. In response to the attack, the Graz Jewish Community continued to receive additional police protection, and the government continued to provide orientation and values courses on antisemitism for refugees.
According to the IGGO report covering 2020, in June of that year a woman insulted and hit a Muslim woman on the head with a newspaper, causing her hijab to slip off on one side. The woman complained that none of several persons sitting in a nearby sidewalk cafe came to help her. In September 2020, a woman assaulted another woman wearing a headscarf on a city bus in Vienna, spitting on her, pulling on her headscarf, and shouting she should go back to Turkey. Property damage cited in the report included an arson attack against a Somali cultural association and prayer room in Vienna in May 2020.
A report presented in June by the NGO Initiative for Discrimination-Free Education listed a total of 186 cases of discrimination in schools in 2020 (403 cases in 2019), of which it attributed 15 percent to anti-Muslim sentiment and 2 percent to antisemitism. While the NGO said the sharp drop in total discrimination cases was due to the reduced physical presence of students in schools due to COVID-19, the percentage of incidents motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment (approximately 31 percent of total discrimination cases in 2019) and antisemitism (approximately 11 percent of total cases) also dropped significantly. Examples included statements by a physics teacher in Vienna who said in 2020 in front of her Muslim students that Muslims were responsible for a November 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna by a man police identified as an ISIS sympathizer. In another example, a sports teacher suggested to a 12-year-old student who was wearing a headscarf that she should go to another country if she wanted to continue wearing it.
The organizers of the annual May gathering of Croatians and Bosnians in Bleiburg, Austria to commemorate Nazi-allied Croatian troops and civilians killed in 1945 canceled the event after parliament passed a resolution in 2020 prohibiting the event.
In June, a court in the Carinthian provincial capital of Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and illegal possession of weapons and sentenced him to a 19-month prison sentence. The man had a Nazi symbol tattoo on his testicles.
In January, the court in Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and sentenced him to 24 months in prison, 16 months of which were suspended. The man had performed the Hitler salute in 2019 and had a swastika tattoo.
In January, the Vienna Criminal Court issued a six-month suspended prison sentence on incitement charges for an imam whom it convicted of making antisemitic statements in a sermon in 2018. The imam said, “Allah hates the Jews; they are the worst kuffars (unfaithful).”
Fourteen Christian groups, consisting of the Roman Catholic Church, various Protestant denominations, and eight Orthodox and Old Oriental Churches, continued to meet twice a year within the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria to discuss religious cooperation. The Christian groups coordinated with other religious groups and the government to create a unified set of COVID-19 restrictions on all religious services in 2020 and 2021. Baptists and the Salvation Army had observer status on the council. Two permanent working groups on “Religion and Society” and “Media” remained in place.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy representatives met regularly with government officials – including from the Federal Chancellery’s Office of Religious Affairs; the Federal Chancellery’s Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration; the Division of Dialogue of Cultures at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Ministry of Interior – to discuss religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities. Topics included the concerns of religious groups, integration of Muslim refugees, cooperation with religious groups in combating terrorism, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with religious group representatives from the IGGO, IKG, and Roman Catholic Church to discuss their relations with the coalition government, instances of discrimination, and interreligious dialogue, as well as how their communities were handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Embassy officers also met with religious youth groups, such as the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria and the Jewish Student Association, to discuss issues such as antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. Embassy officers met with Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to discuss interreligious relations, especially relating to the rise of antisemitism and the government’s strategy combating “political Islam.”
Embassy representatives continued to serve on the International Advisory Board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency to promote Holocaust remembrance and education.
The embassy continued its engagement with the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria (MJOe) to promote religious dialogue and tolerance both in-person and virtually. In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the MJOe featuring an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements. The speaker shared lessons from the U.S. civil rights movement with religiously diverse youth audiences across the country.
In continuing to highlight members of diverse faith groups, the embassy’s Women’s History Month social media campaign featured two Muslim Austrian women, including the president of MJOe, as well as a youth reporter and former participant in an embassy-sponsored exchange program. Their video commentaries were shared across embassy platforms to an audience that is not often exposed either to Muslims or to women from other religious groups.
The embassy also continued to work closely with the Jewish community to promote religious tolerance and fight antisemitism. In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video created as part of World War II commemoration events. In September, together with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust, the embassy hosted a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors. Family stories and personal memories shared during the program are to become part of a podcast project to reach younger audiences. The embassy amplified the event on social media, which garnered attention from several influential Jewish entities in Vienna.
In July, embassy staff hosted an event with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education. In May, the embassy again supported the annual commemoration of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp through messages on its social media channels that focused on the importance of religious freedom and Holocaust remembrance.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplement to the constitution, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and states everyone has the right to change, abstain from, and freely practice religion. The Ministry of Culture (MOC) registered one religious group; a second registration application submitted in January remained pending with the MOC at year’s end. The Prague Municipal Court rejected a religious group’s appeal of the MOC’s denial of its registration application, and another religious group’s appeal remained pending with the same court. An appellate court upheld the Zlin Regional Court’s conviction of Jaroslav Dobes, the leader of the Path of Guru Jara (PGJ), and another PGJ member on six charges of rape and also upheld their acquittal on a seventh charge. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) granted subsidiary protection, which prevents the forced return of persons found ineligible for refugee status, to some of the Chinese Christians whose applications for asylum it rejected in 2018. The government continued to compensate religious groups for communal property confiscated by the communist regime. The opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) Party and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to publicly criticize Islam and Muslim migrants and initiated a petition against accepting migrants from Afghanistan following the departure of allied forces in order to restrict the immigration of Muslims to the country.
A local nongovernmental organization (NGO), In IUSTITIA, said it received reports of one religiously motivated incident in the first half of the year – an antisemitic hate crime – compared with seven (four against Muslims, two against Jews and one against Christians) in the first half of 2020. The government reported 27 antisemitic and nine anti-Muslim incidents in 2020, compared with 15 and eight incidents, respectively, in the previous year. The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) reported 874 antisemitic incidents in 2020, almost all of which were internet hate speech, but which also included one case of assault, six of harassment, and one of vandalism, as well as antisemitic graffiti. The number of incidents in 2020 was 26 percent higher than in the previous year and 252 percent higher than in 2018. In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 21 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Czech Republic said they had negative feelings towards Jews. The MOI reported two “white power” concerts in which participants expressed antisemitic views in the first half of the year.
U.S. embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including property restitution for religious groups and religious tolerance, with MOC officials and the envoy for Holocaust issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Embassy officials met with Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders to reaffirm U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.7 million (midyear 2021). According to the 2021 census, of the 70 percent of citizens who responded to the question about their religious beliefs, approximately 48 percent held none, 10 percent were Roman Catholic, 13 percent listed no specific religion, and 9 percent identified with a variety of religious faiths, including the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, other Christian churches, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Academics estimate there are 10,000 Jews, while the FJC estimates there are 15,000 to 20,000. Leaders of the Muslim community estimate there are 10,000 Muslims, most of whom are immigrants. According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center based on a 2015 survey of 1,490 adults, 72 percent of persons do not identify with a religious group, 21 percent identify as Catholic, 3 percent as Protestant, 1 percent as Orthodox Christian, and 3 percent as other or did not know or refused to answer.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution does not explicitly address religious freedom, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplementary constitutional document, provides for freedom of religious conviction and the fundamental rights of all, regardless of faith or religion. It states every individual has the right to change religion or faith; to abstain from religious belief; and to freely practice religion, alone or in community, in private or public, “through worship, teaching, practice, observance.” The charter defines religious societies, recognizing their freedom to profess their faith publicly or privately and to govern their own affairs, independent of the state. It stipulates conscientious objectors may not be compelled to perform military service and that conditions for religious instruction at state schools shall be set by law. The charter states religious freedom may be limited by law in the event of threats to “public safety and order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.”
The law states the MOC Department of Churches is responsible for religious affairs. Religious groups are not required by law to register with the government and are free to perform religious activities without registering. The law establishes a two-tiered system for religious groups which choose to register with the ministry. The ministry reviews applications for first- and second-tier registration with input from other government bodies such as the Office for Protection of Private Data and from outside experts on religious affairs. The law does not establish a deadline for the ministry to decide on a registration application. Applicants denied registration may appeal to the MOC to reconsider its decision and, if denied again, to the courts.
To qualify for the first (lower) tier, a religious group must present at least 300 signatures of adult members permanently residing in the country, a founding document listing the basic tenets of the faith, and a clearly defined structure of fiduciary responsibilities to the Department of Churches. First-tier registration confers limited tax benefits, including exemptions from taxes on interest earned on current account deposits, donations, and members’ contributions.
For second (higher) tier registration, a group must have been registered with the Department of Churches as a first-tier group for 10 years, have published annual financial reports throughout the time of its registration, and have membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population, or approximately 10,700 persons. The group must provide this number of signatures as proof. Second-tier registration entitles religious groups to tax benefits granted to first-tier groups and to the exercise of special rights, including conducting weddings, teaching religion at public schools, and conducting chaplaincy in the army and prisons. Prisoners may receive visits from their own clergy, regardless of registration status. Second-tier religious groups registered prior to 2002 are entitled to government subsidies. The law phases out direct state subsidies to second-tier religious groups over a 17-year period ending in 2029.
Religious groups registered prior to 2002 received automatic second-tier status without having to fulfill the requirements for second-tier registration. These groups must publish an annual report on the execution of special rights, including conducting weddings, teaching religion at public schools, and maintaining chaplaincy in the army and prisons.
There are 42 state-registered religious groups, 21 first- and 21 second-tier.
Unregistered religious groups are free to assemble and worship but may not legally own property. Unregistered groups may form civic associations to own and manage their property.
The law authorizes the government to return land or other property that was confiscated during the communist era and is still in the government’s possession to 17 religious groups (the largest of which are the Roman Catholic Church, FJC, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and Hussite Church). The government estimates the total value of property in its possession eligible to be returned at 75 billion crowns ($3.5 billion). The law also sets aside 59 billion crowns ($2.8 billion) in compensation for property – mostly in possession of private persons or entities or local or regional governments – that cannot be returned, payable over a 30-year period ending in 2043. Based on an agreement among the affected religious groups, the law allocates approximately 79 percent of these funds to the Catholic Church and 21 percent to the other 16 groups. The law prescribed a one-year deadline ending in 2013 for religious groups to file restitution claims for confiscated property. The government agency in possession of a property for which a group has filed a restitution claim adjudicates that claim. If the government agency rejects a property claim, the claimant may appeal the decision in court.
The law permits second-tier religious groups to apply through the MOC to teach religion in state schools if there is a demand for such classes. Eleven of the 21 second-tier groups have permission to teach religion classes. The religious groups provide the teachers and the state pays their salaries. If a state school does not have enough funds to pay for its religious education teachers, religious groups pay for them. Student attendance at religious classes is optional. According to law, if seven or more students register for a particular religion class at the beginning of the school year, a school must offer that class to those who registered.
The government does not regulate religious instruction in private schools.
The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on religion, as well as the denial of Nazi- and communist-era genocides and crimes. Violators may be sentenced to up to three years in prison.
Religious workers who are not from European Economic Area countries or Switzerland must obtain long-term residence and work permits to remain in the country for more than 90 days. There is no special visa category for religious workers. Foreign missionaries and clergy are required to meet the conditions for a standard work permit.
The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In December, the MOC registered the Religious Society of Slavs, which had applied for registration in 2020. In August, the Municipal Court in Prague denied an appeal, pending since 2017, of the MOC’s 2016 rejection of the registration application from the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown. The Ecclesia Risorum’s (Church of Laughter) 2020 appeal against the MOC’s 2019 and 2020 denials of its application remained pending with the Municipal Court in Prague. The Essenic Christian Church’s application for registration, submitted to the MOC in January, was pending at year’s end.
In January, the Olomouc Appellate Court upheld the Zlin Regional Court’s 2020 conviction of PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and member Barbora Plaskova of the rape of six women and acquitted them of a charge of rape of a seventh woman. Dobes and Plaskova continued to seek asylum in the Philippines, where they were in immigration detention, and international arrest warrants by Czech authorities for the pair remained outstanding.
In March, according to the PGJ, the Prague Municipal Court ruled that the government’s Office for Personal Data Protection’s investigation of the group’s registration application had been conducted improperly and instructed the office to reexamine the case. PGJ officials reported that the office declined to further investigate the group’s registration application procedures and returned the fine it had levied on PGJ representative Martin Krajca for what the office had said was negligence in the collection of personal data of PGJ members. The PGJ had filed a lawsuit with the Prague Municipal Court in 2017 against the Office for Personal Data Protection, alleging abusive investigation of its registration application and arguing against the MOC’s rejection of its registration application. Also in March, the PGJ said it filed an appeal of the MOC’s denial of its registration application with the Administrative High Court after the Prague Municipal Court rejected the group’s appeal of the MOC’s registration denial. That appeal, according to the PGJ, remained pending in the Administrative High Court at year’s end.
According to an article published in April by the NGO Center for Studies on New Religion, the Appellate Court in Olomouc ruled that 190,000 euros ($215,000) seized by the Zlin Regional Court in 2010 should be returned to the Poetrie esoteric yoga school, which was tied to the PGJ. The Zlin court had seized the funds as part of the prosecution against Jaroslav Dobes and Barbara Plaskova. According to the PGJ, the group was seeking additional compensation for losses due to inflation during the 11 years the funds had been withheld.
The MOI reported that as of June, it had granted subsidiary protection to all the remaining Chinese citizens who applied for asylum in 2016 citing fear of persecution as Christians. Subsidiary protection prevents forcible return to their country of origin of persons who have been found ineligible for refugee status. An NGO representing some of the applicants, however, reported that its clients still had pending applications but had stopped communicating with the Czech government out of fear of reprisal from the government of China.
The government provided second-tier religious groups approximately 3.2 billion crowns ($149.41 million): one billion crowns ($46.69 million) in government subsidies to 17 groups and 2.2 billion crowns ($102.72 million) to 16 groups as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned. Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined the government subsidy and were not eligible for compensation payments for lost property. The Baptist Union accepted the state subsidy, but while eligible to receive it, opted not to accept compensation for unreturned property. In addition, the MOC provided 11.9 million crowns ($556,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from various religious groups.
The government paid the annual allotment of 20 million crowns ($934,000) of the total of 100 million crowns ($4.67 million) earmarked for 2019-2023 as contribution to the Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims for projects focused on Holocaust remembrance and education, welfare for Holocaust victims, and care for Jewish monuments.
In November, the Kolel Damesek Eliezer Foundation (a U.S. charity), the FJC, the U.S. Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and the Hanacky Jerusalem Association met with the municipal council of Prostejov to continue discussions on the plan to restore a former Jewish cemetery in that city that the MOC had designated a cultural monument. Later in the month, the Prostejov municipal assembly approved the 2022 municipal budget that earmarked 350,000 crowns ($16,300) to conduct a preparatory study for the restoration project.
The SPD and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to criticize Islam and Muslim migrants. In November, Okamura stated on his Facebook page that “It has been fully confirmed that Islam is not compatible with freedom and democracy. There will either be democracy here, or Islam. There is nothing in between.” In October, Okamura stated on Facebook that the “SPD submitted bills that ban the promotion of hateful Islamic ideology and Islamic veiling in public.” Also in October, he stated on Facebook that the “SPD does not want us [the Czech Republic] to end up like the Islamized Western Europe where people often fear to go outside as they do not want to be stabbed or killed by the migrants.” In September, the SPD initiated a petition against accepting migrants from Afghanistan after the departure of allied forces. The petition, which had no legal force, was part of an action by the Identity and Democracy faction in the European Parliament, of which the SPD is a member, stated that “the new migration wave from Afghanistan can bring various risks, including Islamization and terrorism.”
In June, the government approved the 2020 Report on Extremism and Hate Crime, the 2021-2026 Strategy to Combat Extremism and Hate Crime, and the 2021-2022 Action Plan to Combat Extremism and Hate Crime that defined as one of its three strategic goals improving protection and assistance to victims of crimes, including religiously motivated crimes. The action plan outlined specific tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, MOC, and Ministry of Finance, in fighting extremism and hate crimes, including those against religious groups. Steps the document outlined included “raising public awareness about extremist activities, initiatives by state regulatory and security bodies to reduce hate speech on the internet, strategic communication to combat xenophobia and racism, education and prevention programs at schools, specialized training for law enforcement, and assistance to victims.”
On January 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Equality, organized an online commemoration of International Holocaust Memorial Day entitled “Remembering, Perpetuating and Pursuing Justice.” Speakers included Czech President Milos Zeman and then Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and the U.S. Secretary of State. Speakers stressed the importance of recalling past tragedies and fighting Holocaust denial.
Also on January 27, the Senate, in cooperation with the FJC, again organized a ceremony to honor victims of the Holocaust. Speaker of the Senate Milos Vystrcil, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Radek Vondracek, Holocaust survivor Michaela Vidlakova, and FJC Chairman Petr Papousek delivered remarks and called for religious tolerance. The event was broadcast live on state-owned television.
In April, the 16th annual public reading of Holocaust Victims’ names – Yom Ha-Shoah – took place online. Public figures who participated in the reading included then Foreign Minister Petricek, Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib, and members of the diplomatic community.
In April, organizers cancelled the annual Culture Against Antisemitism Festival and march due to the COVID-19 pandemic and held an online event in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague in memory of victims of the Shoah entitled “We All Are People 2021.” Speaker of the Senate Vystrcil and director of the Jewish Museum Oto Pavlat spoke out against hatred and violence based on ethnicity and religion, and Vystrcil cited the importance of the continued fight against antisemitism, stating that any form of hatred, including hatred against Jews, was dangerous to persons all over the world. The event also included the testimony of a Czech Holocaust survivor and a telecast of the commemoration ceremony from the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem.
The government provided grants for religiously oriented cultural activities, including the annual Night of Churches held in several cities; the National Commemoration of the 1,100th Anniversary of St. Ludmila’s death; a liturgical festival of St. Cyril and Methodius in Velehrad; the annual Concert in Memory of Holocaust Victims; an exhibition entitled Musical Treasures of the Jerusalem Synagogue; a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Hussite Church, part of which had been postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Litomysl Days of Baroque Tradition (a festival consisting of liturgical music, masses, and readings).
According to the FJC, the MOI continued to provide security to the Jewish community and Jewish sites based on a memorandum of cooperation signed in 2016.
The government-funded Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims, established by the FJC, contributed four million crowns ($187,000) to 14 institutions providing health and social care to approximately 450 Holocaust survivors.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The NGO In IUSTITIA stated it received reports of one religiously motivated hate crime during the first half of the year – an incident against Jews – compared with seven such cases – four against Muslims, two against Jews, and one against Christians – in the same period in 2020. The incident concerned an employee of the Jewish community’s school, who was part of a government on-line hate free campaign. Someone posted “Juden raus” (“Jews out”, a common antisemitic slur) under his profile in the campaign.
In 2020, the most recent year data were available, the MOI reported 27 criminal offenses with antisemitic motives and nine with anti-Muslim motives, compared with 23 and 11 offenses respectively, in 2019. The MOI reported only incidents that it investigated.
The FJC, which monitored the internet for instances of antisemitism, reported 874 antisemitic incidents in 2020, an increase of 26 percent over the 694 incidents in 2019 and 252 percent over the 347 incidents in 2018. The FJC attributed this increase to improved digital monitoring tools, rising political polarization, and a move from the real to the virtual world because of COVID-19-related restrictions. The 2020 incidents included one of physical assault, one of property damage, and six of harassment.
In one incident, an unidentified person assaulted an Israeli student in a bar in Brno during the Purim holiday in March 2020 after he requested the disk jockey play an Israeli song. The victim, who received medical treatment, did not report the incident to police. In May 2020, the front gate of the synagogue in Krnov was doused with a sticky liquid. The other 866 incidents included graffiti, videos, articles, and online comments. According to the FJC, the largest increase was in antisemitic hate speech on the internet, which accounted for 98 percent of the incidents. It stated 84 percent of incidents involved stereotypical statements and conspiracy theories about Jews, such as allegations Jews controlled the economy and government. In 9 percent of the cases, the writers criticized Israel (the FJC did not classify all criticism of Israel as antisemitic) and wrote in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, while 4 percent denied the Holocaust. The FJC stated that although the country remained safe for the Jewish community, online antisemitism should not be underestimated, as an analysis of attacks in other countries showed that violent acts were preceded by online radicalization.
In June, police charged four individuals and two companies associated with the publishing firm Guidemedia with Holocaust denial for producing a Czech translation of Germar Rudolf’s book Dissecting the Holocaust, which denies gas chambers were used in Nazi camps. At year’s end, their trial had not begun. Police continued to investigate Guidemedia for publishing an antisemitic children’s book, Poisonous Mushroom, first published in Germany in 1938 as part of antisemitic Nazi propaganda. In January, police charged Emerich Drtina and the Nase Vojsko company with promoting a movement suppressing human rights and freedoms for publishing a 2021 calendar featuring Nazi figures. As of October, the case was pending review by the District Court in Prague. In September, police charged the Bodyart Press publisher and another person for publishing and distributing The Myth of the Six Million, a Holocaust denying book authored by a deceased U.S. historian. In November, the state prosecutor indicted the publisher. The case was pending at year’s end.
The MOI reported two private “white power” concerts were held during the first half of the year in which participants expressed antisemitic and neo-Nazi views, compared with nine such concerts in 2020. The ministry estimated approximately 50 to 100 persons attended each concert.
A report published during the year on 2020 hate crimes in the country from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) cited five antisemitic incidents, one of physical violence, two of threats, and two of vandalism. In one case that ODIHR sourced to the FJC, a television presenter received an anonymous letter containing antisemitic and xenophobic insults and threats of physical violence. ODIHR also cited the FJC as the source of one report of vandalism against a Jewish synagogue in 2020 and In IUSTITIA as reporting vandalism against a street sign pointing to a Jewish cemetery damaged by gunshots.
The ODIHR report, citing In IUSTITIA, included five incidents against Muslims – one of physical violence, one of a threat, and three of vandalism. In one incident, five persons subjected a woman wearing a headscarf to anti-Muslim and misogynist insults and death threats on the street. In another incident, a woman wearing a headscarf was repeatedly subjected to anti-Muslim insults. The perpetrators ripped the hijab from her head.
In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020. According to the survey, 21 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Czech Republic said they had negative feelings towards Jews. Twenty-seven percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (24 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (23 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (14 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (22 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (14 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (15 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (20 percent).
In July, the Olomouc Appellate Court issued a two-year suspended sentence to Benedikt Cermak for online comments expressing approval of the deadly attacks on two mosques in New Zealand in 2019. The court reversed a verdict of the Regional Court in Brno that had sentenced Cermak to six years in prison in May.
The Jewish community said it hoped to complete by 2022 a memorial that would include Jewish gravestone fragments. The communist government took the fragments from a 19th century Jewish cemetery in the 1980s and cut them into cobblestones to be placed across the capital. The Prague mayor’s office returned the fragments to the Jewish community in 2020.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy representatives continued to engage government officials from the MOC on issues including religious tolerance and compensation in lieu of property restitution to religious groups, as well as developments on restoration of the Prostejov Jewish cemetery. Embassy officials also met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs special envoy for Holocaust issues, Robert Rehak, regarding compensation for confiscated property of religious groups. Embassy officials expressed support for the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Prostejov, meeting jointly in November with Mayor Frantisek Jura and the groups involved in the project.
The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials continued to meet with representatives from the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish communities to reaffirm U.S. commitment to religious freedom and tolerance and to hear their views on interfaith relations.
The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose, change, or manifest religion or belief, cites “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood,” and values “various religious traditions.” The Law prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community and stipulates the autonomy of religious communities. There are four tiers of religious groups, all of which may receive state funding and income tax allocations from taxpayers, provided they have concluded cooperation agreements with the state. In January, the government informed the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) that it was “no longer possible” to pay restitution for heirless Jewish property. The WJRO and the government resumed discussions on the issue in October. The Church of Scientology (COS) said the Data Protection Authority (DPA) raided its office in Budapest and confiscated its files, and the National Tax Authority (NAV) raided the homes of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud. The Constitutional Court rejected a COS appeal related to the seizure of documents from the COS office in 2017. In June, a court ordered a newspaper to pay a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Christian Democratic People’s Party compensation and issue an apology for publishing a satirical cartoon of the government’s chief medical officer and the crucified Jesus. The newspaper published the apology but said it had asked the Supreme Court to review the decision. Senior government officials, including Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban, continued to make statements in defense of what they called a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration. In September, Orban said present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe. Other politicians made antisemitic and anti-Muslim statements.
The Action and Protection Foundation, which monitors antisemitism, reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 35 incidents in the previous year. These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech. In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 13 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Hungary said they had negative feelings towards Jews. Muslim leaders said that physical assaults against Muslims were rare, but verbal insults were frequent, and there were cases of anti-Muslim discrimination. In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.” In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.
In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated for restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups. In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of over 62,000 Hungarian Jews. The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns. During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.7 million (midyear 2021). According to the 2011 national census (the 2021 census was postponed because of COVID-19), which included an optional question on religious affiliation, of the 73 percent of the population that responded, 51 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 16 percent as Hungarian Reformed Church (Calvinist), 3 percent as Lutheran, 2 percent as Greek Catholic, and less than 1 percent as Jewish; 23 percent reported no religious affiliation; and 2 percent said they were atheists. Other religious groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Greek Orthodox, the Faith Congregation (a Pentecostal group), the COS, Russian and other Orthodox Christian groups, other Christian denominations, Buddhists, Muslims, and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness. The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET or the Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood) has approximately 8,500 members, according to a 2013 news report, and the Hungarian Pentecostal Church approximately 9,300 members, according to the 2011 census. Local Jewish organizations estimate approximately 100,000 citizens with Jewish heritage live in the country, primarily in Budapest. Other religious groups are distributed throughout the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of conscience and religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief, and freedom – alone or in community with others and in public or in private – to manifest religion or belief through religious acts or ceremonies, or in any other way, in worship, practice, and observance. It prohibits religious discrimination, as well as speech “aimed at violating the dignity” of any religious community.
The constitution’s preamble states, “We recognize the role of Christianity” in preserving the nation and “value the various religious traditions” in the country. The constitution stipulates separation between religious communities and the state, as well as the autonomy of religious communities. According to the constitution, the state may, at the request of religious communities, cooperate with them on community goals. A 2020 constitutional amendment states that children must be guaranteed an “upbringing based on values stemming from our country’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.”
Per a 2019 amendment to the 2011 law on religion, the law establishes a four-tier system of, in descending order, “established (or incorporated) churches,” “registered churches” (also called “registered II”), “listed churches” (also called “registered I”), and “religious associations.” The term “church” in the law refers to any religious community, not just Christian ones, and religious groups in any category may use “church” in their official names. All previously incorporated religious groups retained their status in the first tier of the system as established churches. Parliament must approve recognition of churches as established. The Budapest-Capital Regional Court has jurisdiction to rule on applications for registration within the other three categories. Religious groups in all four tiers have legal personality, which grants them legal rights, such as the right to own property.
Religious entities that do not apply for legal status in one of the four tiers are still able to function and conduct worship but are not eligible to receive state funding or income tax contributions from taxpayers. The law states constitutional protection of freedom of religion also applies to unregistered groups.
To qualify for established church status, a religious group must first have registered status and then conclude a comprehensive cooperation agreement with the state for the purpose of accomplishing community goals. The government submits the comprehensive agreement to parliament, which must approve it by a two-thirds majority vote. A registered church becomes an established church from the day parliament approves the comprehensive agreement. Established churches are eligible to benefit from significant state subsidies for the performance of public service activities.
To qualify for registered church status, a religious group must have received tax allocations from an average of 4,000 persons per year in the five-year period prior to the application. This status also requires that the group either have operated as a religious association for at least 20 years in the country, or at least 100 years internationally, or have operated as a listed church for at least 15 years in the country or at least 100 years internationally.
To qualify for listed church status, a religious group must receive tax allocations from an average of 1,000 persons per year in the three-year period prior to the application for status and have operated as a religious association for at least five years in the country or for at least 100 years internationally.
To qualify for religious association status, a religious group must have at least 10 members.
The law allows the government to negotiate individual cooperation agreements with all four tiers of religious groups for the performance of public service activities and support of faith-based activities. The agreements’ duration depends on the status of the religious community, ranging from a five-year maximum for religious associations to 10 and 15 years for listed and registered churches, respectively, and unlimited duration for established churches. These agreements may be prolonged.
Religious groups that agree not to seek state (including personal income tax allocations) or European Union (EU) funding for their religious activities may qualify as registered or listed churches without fulfilling the requirement regarding the number of personal income tax allocations. The applicant religious community must perform primarily religious activities and may not be a criminal defendant or have been convicted of a crime during the previous five years, under sanction for “repeated violation of accounting and management rules,” or considered a national security threat. The court decides whether to grant status as a registered or listed church based on an examination of the criteria above. In reviewing these applications, the court may consult church law, church history, or ecclesiastical or academic experts, and may also seek the opinion of the national security services.
Religious groups that agree not to seek government or EU funding but accept financial support at a later stage must report it to the court within 15 days of the disbursement of the aid. To avoid losing its status or a reclassification to the lower association tier, the religious group has eight days to declare to the court that it has returned the funds, requested cancellation of its religious registration status, or complied with the individual tax allocation requirement to become a registered or listed organization. The religious group or prosecutor’s office may appeal the court’s decision on the status of the group to the Budapest-Capital Court of Appeal.
The law stipulates the minister responsible for church issues, based on information received from the court, shall manage an electronic database of religious groups with legal status, accessible to the public free of charge. The database is publicly accessible at the government’s central webpage, kormany.hu.
The law allows taxpayers to allocate 1 percent of their income taxes to any religious community in any of the four tiers, starting with the 2020 tax year. Religious groups may use these funds as they wish. Only established and registered churches (the two highest tiers) are eligible to receive a state subsidy supplementing the 1 percent tax allocations.
According to the law, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court may dissolve a religious community with legal status – with the exception of established churches – if its activities conflict with the constitution or law or if the court rules its registration should have been denied. Parliament may dissolve an incorporated church if the Constitutional Court finds it is operating in violation of the constitution. If a religious community is dissolved without a legal successor, its assets, after satisfying creditors, become the property of the state and shall be used for public interest activities.
Thirty-two churches have established (previously known as “incorporated”) status. These include the Roman Catholic church; a range of Protestant denominations; a range of Orthodox Christian groups; other Christian denominations such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Salvation Army; three Jewish groups, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), and the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community; two Muslim organizations; a Buddhist umbrella organization; and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness, the sole Hindu group registered as a church.
By law, the state may neither operate nor establish any institution for controlling or monitoring religious groups. Their doctrines, internal regulations, and statutes are not subject to state review, modification, or enforcement. Copyright law protects their names, symbols, and rites, while criminal law protects buildings and cemeteries.
The constitution establishes a unified system for the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (ombudsperson). The ombudsperson investigates cases related to violations of fundamental rights – including religious freedom – and initiates general or specific measures for their remedy. These measures do not have the force of law.
Treaties with the Holy See regulate relations between the state and the Roman Catholic Church, including financing of public services and religious activities and settling claims for property seized by the state during the Communist era. These treaties serve as a model for regulating state relations with other religious groups, although there are some differences in the rights and privileges the state accords to each of the religious groups with which it has agreements. The state has also concluded formal agreements with the Hungarian Reformed Church, Hungarian Lutheran Church, Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), and four Orthodox churches.
According to the law, established, registered, and listed churches may perform pastoral services in prisons and hospitals. Other laws indicate religious associations may also have the right to provide services at these facilities.
Military and law enforcement personnel may freely practice their religion in private and also at their workplaces if their religious practice does not violate their mandatory service duties. The Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches, and Jewish congregations (which the government generally calls “historical churches”) may provide chaplain services to the military without seeking permission. Other religious groups must seek permission to offer such services.
Penitentiaries generally allow inmates free practice of religion and provide them with special diets, such as kosher, vegetarian, and pork-free meals. Historical churches may provide pastoral services in prisons without special permission, but other religious groups may do so only within official visiting hours as outlined in individual agreements and with permission from the penitentiary. Similarly, historical churches receive automatic access to patients in hospitals to provide pastoral services, while other groups may do so only under certain conditions, such as providing services only during visiting hours.
One hour per week of education in faith and ethics or general ethics is mandatory through the first eight grades of public school. Parents and students choose between the faith and ethics class offered by an established church of their choosing or a secular ethics course taught by public school teachers. Other religious groups are not entitled to provide religious education as part of the mandatory curricula in public schools but may offer extracurricular, optional religious education in public schools at the request of parents or students. Private schools are not required to offer faith and ethics or general ethics classes.
All religious groups registered in one of the four categories have the right to open their own schools. The state provides a subsidy, based on the number of students enrolled, for employee salaries at all such schools. Only established churches automatically receive a supplementary subsidy for the schools’ operating expenses. Other religious groups may apply for a supplementary operational subsidy, and the Ministry of Human Capacities (MHC) may sign an individualized contract with them to cover these costs.
The law also affords all religious groups with legal status the right to assume operation of public schools if more than 50 percent of the parents and adult students enrolled at the school sign a petition to do so and the MHC approves the change. In these cases, the state may continue to fund the schools. Whether newly established or converted from public status, religious schools are free to conduct their own religious teaching without government input and to make faith education mandatory and not substitutable with an ethics class. The state inspects both religious and public schools every two years to ensure they conform to legal standards.
The constitution prohibits speech that violates the dignity of any religious community. The law prohibits both incitement to violence and incitement to hatred against a religious community or its members, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides a maximum punishment of three years in prison for impeding others through violence or threats from freely exercising their religion or abusing individuals because of their religious affiliation.
Assault motivated by the victim’s actual or presumed religious affiliation is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison. Violence against a member of the clergy is classified as violence against an “individual providing public service” and is also punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years. Any person who engages in preparation for the use of force against any member of a religious community is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
The law prohibits public denial, expression of doubt, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes against humanity committed by the National Socialist or Communist regimes, punishing such offenses with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The criminal code makes wearing, exhibiting, or promoting in public the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, or the symbol of the Arrow Cross – a fascist, antisemitic party that allied with Nazi Germany – in a way that harms the human dignity or the memory of Holocaust victims a misdemeanor, punishable by five to 90 days’ detention.
The law provides for the lifting of official immunity of an MP who incites hatred against religious groups or publicly denies crimes of the Communist or National Socialist regimes. No MP has been the subject of such a proceeding.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
During the year, the government provided 134 billion forints ($410.64 million) to established churches (compared with 216.4 billion forints – $663.15 million – during 2020), of which 91 percent – 122.3 billion forints ($374.79 million) – went to the four historical churches. The Roman Catholic Church received 80 billion forints ($245.16 million), the Reformed Church 34.1 billion forints ($104.50 million), the Evangelical Church 5.2 billion forints ($15.94 million), Mazsihisz 2.2 billion forints ($6.74 million), EMIH 524 million forints ($1.61 million), and the Jewish Orthodox community 260 million forints ($797,000). The religious groups that received the bulk of the government’s financial support used the funds for such activities as building maintenance; public educational and social services; religious instruction and cultural activities; community programs and investments; employee wages, and faith-based activities for citizens living abroad.
According to statistics the tax authority published on September 13, 136 churches and religious groups received 1 percent personal income tax allocations during the year. As in previous years, the churches receiving the most allocations were the Roman Catholic Church, with 740,326 persons contributing 4.3 billion forints ($13.18 million); Hungarian Reformed Church, with 309,825 persons contributing 1.8 billion forints ($5.52 million); and Lutheran Church, with 82,701 persons contributing 508 million forints ($1.56 million). The Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness ranked fourth, with 73,890 persons contributing 472 million forints ($1.45 million). MET, which collected 1 percent personal income tax allocations for the first time since the 2011 modification of the religion law, ranked fifth, with 39,815 persons contributing 315 million forints ($965,000). Among Jewish groups, Mazsihisz received the largest allocation.
According to the PMO, during the 2021-2022 school year, churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 19.6 percent of elementary and secondary schools (compared with 17.1 percent in 2019-20), and religious associations operated 0.4 percent. Churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 9.2 percent of preschools (with students aged three to seven), compared with 10 percent run by incorporated churches in the previous year, and religious associations operated 0.2 percent. There were 217,169 students – 52.6 percent of whom were in Catholic schools – studying at preschools and elementary and secondary schools operated by churches and religious organizations, compared with 222,944 in the previous year.
Independent media reported in August that the government provided 10 billion forints ($30.64 million) to the preschool development program of the Roman Catholic Church during the year. The government also allotted an additional 3.5 billion forints ($10.73 million) for educational development projects of the Reformed Church and the Catholic Churches.
For the school year beginning in September, the MHC withdrew complementary funding from MET’s educational institutions, attended by approximately 2,200 mostly Roma children.
Works of writers widely viewed as antisemitic, including member of the Arrow Cross Party Jozsef Nyiro and convicted war criminal Albert Wass, remained mandatory reading material in elementary and secondary public schools.
In a program broadcasted by public Kossuth Radio in March, a historian discussed the Numerus Clausus Law of 1920 and stated the law was not about the deprivation of rights, but only the limitation of rights. The law, enacted under Regent Miklos Horthy, capped the number of Jews allowed to attend universities and is regarded by the Jewish community as the first antisemitic law in the country’s interwar period. (Horthy was the leader of the World War II-era Hungarian state. He allied the country with Nazi Germany and deported more than 400,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.)
In January, the first instance Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected a complaint filed by MP and deputy faction leader of the Christian Democratic People’s Party Imre Vejkey regarding a cartoon by Gabor Papai published by the daily independent Nepszava in 2020. The cartoon showed the chief medical officer, who oversaw the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, looking at Jesus on the cross and saying, “his underlying conditions caused” his death. According to media commenters, the cartoon satirized what critics viewed as the chief medical officer’s attempt to minimize the number of deaths in the country that were attributable to COVID-19. The appeals court stated on June 3 that the cartoon infringed the plaintiff’s right to human dignity as a member of the Christian community. The ruling also ordered the newspaper to pay 400,000 forints ($1,200) plus court costs to Vejkey and to publish an apology on the front page. The newspaper published the apology on June 25, but it announced on July 2 that it had requested the Supreme Court (Curia) to review the lower court’s decision. At year’s end, there was no information on whether the Supreme Court had agreed to review the case.
On February 5, the Constitutional Court ruled in a seven-year-long case involving the cover page of independent weekly newspaper HVG, entitled “Nagy Haracsony” (a play on words with the terms “Great Christmas” and “great grab-all”). The Constitutional Court ruled that the cover was protected by freedom of speech and was not intended to offend the Christian community.
In February, media reported a local municipality in Budapest did not extend a property use agreement with the town’s only Jewish broadcaster, Heti TV (Weekly TV). The municipality said that due to financial difficulties, it intended to make the space available to bidders. Station founder Peter Breuer criticized the move and the station continued to operate at a new location.
In March, Deputy PM Zsolt Semjen signed a cooperation agreement with the Hungarian Jewish Prayer Association (Zsima), a Jewish organization established in October 2020. The agreement entailed state funding in the amount of 51 million forints ($156,000) annually until 2025.
The COS reported that on April 28, the DPA raided the storage facility of its Budapest mission and seized one-third of its religious files on its members. The DPA confiscated the remaining folders on May 26. These raids were the continuation of the DPA’s 2017 investigation into the COS’s alleged criminal abuse of personal data, in which the DPA seized COS documents at the group’s offices in in Budapest and Nyiregyhaza and fined the COS 40 million forints ($123,000). The Constitutional Court rejected the appeals petition of the Nyiregyhaza COS mission of the DPA’s 2017 seizure of its documents, while a similar appeals petition of the Budapest COS mission remained pending at year’s end.
On May 27, the NAV raided the homes of dozens of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud. The NAV took four persons to its headquarters in handcuffs. The COS also reported that the NAV put a lien on the building of the Central Church. According to the COS, its appeals of government decisions to revoke the residence permit of a Russian Ukrainian missionary couple in 2019 and expel a Kazakh missionary in 2020 were unsuccessful and the decisions became final.
The list of religious associations and listed churches was available at a dedicated webpage maintained by the PMO. Court decisions regarding the registration process for registered churches, listed churches, and religious associations were available at the central website of the courts, birosag.hu.
The PMO reported that some religious groups were eligible for a simplified registration procedure. Under the simplified procedure, religious groups did not need to establish the number of persons making income tax allocations to them in prior years or allocations from before 2012, the year when the religion law entered into force. A total of 15 groups reapplied under the simplified procedure. At year’s end, there were 234 groups registered as religious associations and 12 listed as churches, including 10 groups which had had applications pending before the amendment to the religion law entered into force in 2019. According to the PMO, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected two applications, and one remained pending. The two rejected religious groups were registered as religious associations. The number of established churches remained unchanged at 32.
The PMO also stated no religious groups qualified for registered church status during the year because they could not meet the requirement of receiving income tax allocations from an average of at least 4,000 persons per year in the previous five years, a period which could only begin in 2019 or later. The number of registered churches therefore remained zero. MET appealed the Budapest-Capital Regional Court’s decision to register it as a listed church and requested classification as a registered church. That appeals process was ongoing at year’s end.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) – or TASZ in Hungarian – an NGO that represented some religious groups deregistered following the 2011 adoption of the religion law that established a new reregistration process and a tiered system for churches, reported it would not continue domestic or international legal challenges after the Constitutional Court in 2020 rejected its petition that the amended religion law was discriminatory and did not sufficiently address concerns related to its 2011 version.
The HCLU continued the monitoring of, and international advocacy for, the enforcement of the 2014 European Court of Human Rights ruling that the religion law violated freedom of religion and caused monetary damages to the deregistered churches. The 2014 judgment required the government to reach an agreement with the applicant churches on the restoration of their status and on just compensation for any damages. The HCLU said it was also assessing whether state financing for certain churches led to their overrepresentation in educational and social institutions, thereby compromising the state’s neutrality in religion.
In February, the NAV debited MET’s bank account for what it said were tax and social security arrears in the amount of approximately 250 million forints ($766,000). MET’s leader, Pastor Gabor Ivanyi, stated MET would be able to pay its outstanding bills if the state would compensate it for damages sustained in 2016-2019 stemming from the group’s loss of church status. The pastor added that losing its established church status had also made MET ineligible to receive a government supplement matching the 1 percent personal income tax allocations from Church members. Separately, in September 2020, MET concluded an agreement with the state-owned utility company to delay payment of outstanding bills until April. The company had threatened to disconnect MET’s institutions from the gas network in 2020 due to nonpayment. MET stated that its deregistration as a state-recognized church in 2011 and state administrative measures against the Church in 2020 and 2021 were a retaliation for MET’s leader and Pastor Ivanyi’s public criticism and questioning of PM Orban’s claims that he governed by Christian principles.
The government concluded a research project it had been conducting for several years regarding the value of Jewish heirless and unclaimed property, but in January, in a letter addressed to the WJRO, the government stated for the first time that its 2007 settlement with the WJRO represented “definitive satisfaction of compensation claims” and that under the constitution adopted by the government in 2011, it was “no longer possible to pay restitution for any abandoned Jewish property, whether in or outside Hungary.” The WJRO disagreed with the government position and sought further negotiations. Discussions between the government and the WJRO on the compensation issue resumed in October, but by year’s end, the government had not proposed a negotiation roadmap or target date.
In April, Mazsihisz announced that two Orthodox Jewish groups, EMIH and the Hungarian Orthodox Jewish Community, had requested the revision of the government-paid restitution annuity for confiscated Jewish properties, and sued Mazsihisz at the Jerusalem Supreme Rabbinical Court. In June, the court (which holds no legal jurisdiction in Hungary), in a nonbinding injunction, called on the government to freeze the payments until new criteria for the division of the annuity were defined. At year’s end, the government had not changed the distribution of the restitution annuity.
According to the COS, the Csongrad County Government Office again failed to act on a certificate of occupancy application by the COS for its headquarters in Budapest. The application had remained pending since 2017, despite a 2017 Budapest Administrative and Labor Court ruling that the county office process the COS’s application by March 2018. The COS said it had received no explanation for the continued delay. An extant court order allowed the COS to continue to use the building.
The Organization of Muslims in Hungary (OMH) reported that the municipality-owned Budapest Funeral Institute provided cemetery space for Muslims, but that Islamic burials required a permit issued by the Hungarian Islamic Community (HIC), the other Muslim organization, for which the HIC charged a fee of approximately 50,000 forints ($150). OMH members expressed concerns about this practice. Other than in the capital, OMH reported there was a limited amount of cemetery space in the city of Pecs. The restoration of the state-owned Yakovali Hasan Mosque in Pecs, ongoing since 2019, remained pending, which prevented the local Muslim community from using the mosque as a place of worship.
On June 10, the renovated Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest – which served as a Jewish deportation point in 1941 – reopened as a place of worship and culture for the first time since the 1950s. The government supported the renovation with 3.2 billion forints ($9.81 million). Senior officials of the World Jewish Congress attended the opening ceremony.
On August 29, a ceremony marked the completion of the renovation of a Mazsihisz-operated Jewish hospital in Budapest. Minister of Human Capacities Miklos Kasler stated at the opening ceremony that the government provided five billion forints ($15.32 million) for the reconstruction of the hospital as part of its efforts to ensure that hospitals run by faith-based groups played a significant role in the national healthcare system. The facility was the only Jewish hospital in the country and served both Jewish and non-Jewish patients, some of whom were Holocaust survivors.
According to the OMH, Muslims serving prison sentences continued to receive meals containing pork meat or pork fat regularly, despite complaints that it violated their religious dietary practices.
On May 1, Fidesz cofounder and media personality Zsolt Bayer wrote in the government-aligned newspaper Magyar Nemzet that the U.S. Secretary of State, who has Hungarian ancestry, was a “rootless Hungarian” and a “rootless American,” which many interpreted as a classic antisemitic trope. Bayer has a long history of antisemitic writings and statements. He has high profile platforms on government-aligned media outlets and received a prestigious government award in 2016.
In June, Laszlo Toroczkai, president of the Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) Party, which is widely described as extreme right and has seats in parliament and in local municipalities, wrote that European nations should stand on their own feet and needed “neither Jews nor Palestinians.” In August, he commemorated the members of Ragged Guard, a paramilitary unit active in the interwar period, whose leader Ivan Hejjas was responsible for killing and robbing hundreds of Jews. On his social media channel, he said in October that certain influential businessmen and politicians with Jewish roots were using the COVID-19 pandemic to create a new world order. In February, the deputy president of the Mi Hazank Party, Elod Novak, gave a speech at an event commemorating Regent Horthy.
In September, the Hungarian Baptist Church signed a cooperation agreement with the government to carry out religious, educational, social, and cultural activities.
On September 12, Prime Minister Orban met with Pope Francis, who celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, a week-long gathering of the Roman Catholic Church held in Budapest. Following their meeting, PM Orban wrote on his Facebook page, “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.”
At an international conference on antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance on October 13 in Sweden, Minister for Family Affairs Katalin Novak said that [Holocaust] remembrance was “extremely important” for the government. She called for a continuous fight against manifestations of antisemitism.
Government officials continued to make statements in defense of a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration. On September 1, PM Orban stated at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia that present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe. On September 9, he said at the opening of the academic year at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, a private educational institution, that during the “Muslim flood [of immigrants],” the West was unable to confront its own historical mission. On September 27, Orban stated at a church consecration, “Hungarians can only survive as Christians, and each new church is a bastion in the nation’s struggle for freedom and greatness.” He added that since 2010, there had been 150 new churches built and more than 3,000 churches renovated in the country and in the Carpathian basin (former Hungarian territories currently inhabited by ethnic Hungarians).
On October 14, head of the PMO Gergely Gulyas stated at a government-sponsored conference organized in the framework of the country’s Council of Europe presidency, “In Western Europe, we can no longer speak of Christian democracy in its original and Central European sense.”
In October, Peter Barnabas Farkas, deputy mayor in the town of Ozd and member of the Jobbik Party, resigned from his position after two photos of him from 2018 emerged in which he appeared to be giving a Nazi salute in front of the Holocaust Museum in Poland. Farkas later apologized and visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest.
On October 23, the anniversary of the 1956 revolution, PM Orban accused the opposition of competing to represent the interests of a certain Jewish-American financier and the EU, who were aiming to “take Hungary from the hands of Mary and place it at the feet of Brussels.”
In November, the Chief Rabbi of EMIH, Slomo Koves, told press that the House of Fates, a proposed new Holocaust museum and education center in Budapest owned by EMIH, would likely be ready to open by 2024. Leading Jewish groups and Holocaust scholars have criticized the museum concept as an attempt to obscure the role of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust.
In a report on the instrumentalization of antisemitism in European politics issued in February, the Anti-Defamation League, an international NGO, stated the government used coded antisemitism in campaigns – beginning at the end of 2015 – against EU migration policies, following the arrival of more than a million migrants from the Middle East. The report cited what it described as the government’s demonization of a well-known Jewish-American financier of Hungarian origin.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In January, the independent online news outlet 444.hu published a documentary about the crimes committed by a group of Hungarian Arrow Cross Party members against Jewish inhabitants of Budapest’s twelfth district during World War II, and about the controversial turul statue erected in the district in 2005. While the statue officially commemorates civilian victims of the Allied bombing and the Soviet siege of Budapest in 1944-45, experts have stated that the turul bird (a large, mythical bird of prey) was a well-known symbol of right-wing extremist groups during the interwar period and that the statue continued to serve as a gathering place for such groups. Historians said in 2019 that the names carved into the statue contain at least 22 Arrow Cross gang members who massacred Jews in Budapest, including current Fidesz district mayor Zoltan Pokorni’s grandfather. In a press conference on February 1, Pokorni, who in 2020 had ordered that his grandfather’s name be removed from the statue, rejected historians’ suggestion that the memorial be turned into one for fallen World War I soldiers. He proposed that the statue remain but that it should include “a very detailed guide” to the turul symbol.
In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020. According to the survey, 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Hungary said they had negative feeling toward Jews. Thirty-six percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were: “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (34 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (39 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (28 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (30 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (27 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (16 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (31 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (39 percent).
The Foundation reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, the most recent data available, compared with 35 in the previous year. These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech.
In July, Mazsihisz president Andras Heisler presented the results of a 2019-2020 survey prepared by Median independent public opinion pollster and commissioned by Mazsihisz. Heisler stated that while the number of physical attacks and vandalism cases was low compared with Western Europe, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and antisemitism in public life increased between 2019 and 2020, and the Mi Hazank Party, widely described as extreme right, was among the most common perpetrators of antisemitic incidents and hate speech. According to the survey, there were 70 antisemitic incidents in 2020, up from 53 in the previous year. Citing 2019 data, head of the Median public opinion pollster Endre Hann said that 36 percent of Hungary’s adult population could be characterized by some degree of antisemitism, including antisemitic prejudice and attitudes toward Jews.
Muslim organizations stated they did not collect statistical data because, according to one member, they lacked the capacity to do so. However, OMH reported that while physical assaults were rare, verbal insults and hateful emails and phone calls were frequent, in particular against persons wearing headscarves or who had darker skin and spoke a foreign language. For instance, according to OMH, individuals often referred to Muslims as “terrorists” and told them to “get out of here.”
OMH also reported a higher number of online insults on social media during the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. According to OMH, the majority of the population regarded Muslims with suspicion.
As in previous years, domestic and international extreme-right and neo-Nazi groups marked the anniversary of the breakout attempt by Hungarian and German troops on February 11, 1945, during the Soviet Red Army’s siege of Budapest. Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, approximately 100 persons took part in an organized reenactment hike along the route of the attempted siege-breakers in Budapest. The Hungarian chapter of the international neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor organized the event. Ahead of the event, one of its organizers published an opinion piece in the government-aligned media outlet Magyar Nemzet entitled “Glory to the Heroes.” In the article, the author compared Hungarian and German soldiers who attempted the breakout to the great heroes of Hungarian history.
In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.” In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.
In July, TEV reported that swastikas were painted on a company’s building in Szeged and on the pavement in Szolnok. Also in July, a private property in Leanyfalu displayed a picture of Hitler with the text “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.” Police initiated an investigation. In 2020, an SS flag was hung from the facade of the same house. Police first dismissed that case, but the prosecutor’s office reopened it as involving public use of a totalitarian symbol. In June, a passerby told two Jewish teenagers in Budapest to “go to Auschwitz,” and in May, a guard at a drugstore in Budapest was fired for calling a customer a “filthy Jew.”
According to press reports, a team of international volunteers was working to restore the neglected Kozma Street Cemetery in Budapest, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, with an area of 77 hectares (190 acres) and containing approximately 300,000 graves. At midyear, the volunteers had reportedly cleaned up 20 percent of the cemetery.
In October, the Christian-Jewish Council, an informal platform for discussion among Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist Churches and Jewish groups, held a conference on the role of families in religion, with the participation of members of Christian and Jewish groups.
During a visit to the country in September, Pope Francis met with representatives of Christian churches and Jewish communities and said that antisemitism is a “fuse which must not be allowed to burn.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups.
The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officials also discussed heirless property restitution with the WJRO.
In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of more than 62,000 Hungarian Jews. As a Swiss vice consul, Lutz operated out of the building, likely from the room where the ceremony was held, while Switzerland looked after U.S. property and interests between 1942 and 1945. Members of the Jewish community attended the event, which the embassy also highlighted on its social media accounts.
In August, the Charge d’Affaires delivered a speech at an event commemorating the birth of Swedish diplomat and honorary citizen of the United States Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews while serving in Budapest between 1944 and 1945. His speech emphasized the importance of education about the Holocaust and the rejection of antisemitism, and the embassy highlighted it on its social media accounts. In November, the Charge d’Affaires joined the global initiative of the International March of the Living, an international educational program on the history of the Holocaust, to call attention to the anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, the 1938 Nazi pogrom. In his remarks delivered in front of the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, he highlighted the U.S. commitment to Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, racism, and intolerance.
Embassy officials also facilitated cooperation between U.S. and Hungarian authorities regarding proper handling of Jewish historic artifacts stolen from Jewish communities in the country during World War II, including from Hungary, that were set to be auctioned in the United States.
The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns. During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith. Registration requirements for religious groups include the need to present a petition with signatures of at least 50,000 adherents, which members of some religious groups considered discriminatory. A group lacking the minimum 50,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may register as a civic association to function; in doing so, however, it may not identify itself officially as a religious group. Some groups registered as civic associations in order to function. Government officials and members of parliament (MPs) from both the government coalition and opposition parties continued to make anti-Muslim statements. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented restrictions on the freedom of movement and public assembly throughout the year that some religious leaders stated violated freedom of religion. A former deputy prime minister asked the Prosecutor General’s office to formally request that the Constitutional Court assess whether these restrictions violated the right to freedom of religion. The court confirmed that the state of emergency accorded with the constitution. The government’s ombudsperson separately concluded that while COVID-19 measures introduced by the government in 2020 did restrict fundamental rights, the measures were substantiated and proportional and “did not interfere with the core of religious freedom.” State authorities continued to prosecute some members of the Kotlebovci – Ludova strana Nase Slovensko (Kotleba’s – People’s Party Our Slovakia) (LSNS) for defaming minority religious beliefs and denying the Holocaust. The party chairperson’s appeal against a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence for an act of antisemitism remained pending before the Supreme Court. The government adopted a formal resolution apologizing for crimes committed by the Slovak fascist state and denouncing the adoption of an antisemitic “Jewish Code” in 1941 that enabled the deportation of Slovak Jews. The government created the position of Plenipotentiary for Freedom of Religion or Belief charged with promoting religious freedom at home and abroad.
The Muslim community continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media, which it mostly attributed to public statements by politicians portraying Muslim refugees as a threat to the country’s society. According to a survey by a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), a majority of Slovaks, citing the religion as “very dangerous,” held negative attitudes toward Muslim refugees and migrants; 43 percent believed Islam should be banned in the country. Organizations that media described as far right continued to publish material on and to commemorate the World War II-era, Nazi-allied Slovak state, and to praise its leaders. In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 20 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Slovakia said they had negative feelings towards Jews. Unregistered religious groups said the public tended to distrust them because of their lack of official government recognition.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers raised with government officials the treatment of religious minorities and the difficulties those groups faced regarding registration, as well as measures to counter what religious groups and others described as widespread antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The Ambassador and other embassy officers also repeatedly raised public awareness of the importance of religious freedom, using private and public events, as well as social media, to highlight the need for tolerance in society and the importance of countering hate speech. Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and NGOs to raise the issue of hate speech and to highlight the role of churches and religious groups in countering extremism and promoting tolerance. The embassy continued to support efforts aimed at combating anti-Islamic sentiment and antisemitism and increasing tolerance through public diplomacy grants.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.4 million (midyear 2021). According to the most recent census in 2021, Roman Catholics constitute 55.8 percent of the population, more than 300,000 members fewer than in the previous census (2011), when they constituted 62 percent of the population. Members of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession constitute 5.3 percent, and Greek Catholics 4 percent; 23.8 percent did not state a religious affiliation – almost 600,000 persons more, compared with 13.4 percent in 2011. There are smaller numbers of members of the Reformed Christian Church, other Protestants, members of the Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Baha’is. In the 2021 census, 3,862 persons self-identified as Muslim, more than double the number in 2011, while representatives of the Muslim community estimate their number at 6,000. According to the census, there are 2,007 Jews, although the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic estimates the Jewish population at 5,000. Greek Catholics are generally ethnic Slovaks and Ruthenians, although some Ruthenians belong to the Orthodox Church. Most Orthodox Christians live in the eastern part of the country. Members of the Reformed Christian Church live primarily in the south, near the border with Hungary, where many ethnic Hungarians live. Other religious groups are equally distributed across the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation, as well as the right to change religious faith or to refrain from religious affiliation. It prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. The constitution states the country is not bound to any particular faith, and religious groups shall manage their affairs independently from the state, including in providing religious education and establishing clerical institutions. The constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s faith privately or publicly, either alone or in association with others. It states the exercise of religious rights may be restricted only by measures “necessary in a democratic society for the protection of public order, health, and morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The law prohibits establishing, supporting, and promoting groups dedicated to the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as “demonstrating sympathy” with such groups, which courts have interpreted to include Nazis and neo-Nazis. Violators are subject to up to five years’ imprisonment.
The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Church Affairs to employ spiritual leaders to perform officially recognized functions. Clergy from unregistered religious groups do not have the right to minister to their members in prisons or government hospitals. Civil functions such as weddings officiated by clergy from registered groups are recognized by the state, while those presided over by clergy from unregistered groups are not, and couples must undergo an additional civil ceremony. Unregistered groups may apply to provide spiritual guidance to their adherents in prisons, but they have no legal recourse if their requests are denied. Unregistered groups may conduct religious services, which the government recognizes as private, rather than religious, activities. Unregistered groups lack legal status and may not establish religious schools or receive government funding. The law exempts registered groups from the duty to notify public authorities in advance of organizing public assemblies – an exemption that does not apply to unregistered groups.
According to the law, organizations seeking registration as religious groups must have a minimum of 50,000 adherents. The 50,000 persons must be adult citizens with permanent residence in the country and must submit to the Ministry of Culture an “honest declaration” attesting to their membership, knowledge of the articles of faith and basic tenets of the religion, personal identity numbers and home addresses of all members, and support for the group’s registration. All groups registered before these requirements came into effect in 2017 remained registered without having to meet the 50,000-adherent requirement; no new religious groups have attained recognition under the revised requirements. According to the law, only groups that register using the title “church” in their official name may call themselves a church, but there is no other legal distinction between registered “churches” and other registered religious groups.
The 18 registered religious groups are: the Apostolic Church, Baha’i Community, The Brotherhood Unity of Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Brotherhood Church, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Evangelical Methodist Church, Greek Catholic Church, Christian Congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Old Catholic Church, and Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities. Registered groups receive annual state subsidies. All but the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Greek Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, and Roman Catholic Church have fewer than 50,000 members, but they registered before this requirement came into effect.
The Department of Church Affairs oversees relations between religious groups and the state and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations. The ministry may not legally intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups or direct their activities.
In 2020, a legislative amendment took effect that increased the total state subsidies to registered religious groups, basing the funding on the number of adherents reported in the most recent census. Under the law, the state adjusts annual subsidy payments for inflation.
A group lacking the 50,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may register as a civic association, which provides the legal status necessary to carry out activities such as maintaining a bank account, entering into a contract, or acquiring or renting property. In doing so, however, the group may not identify itself officially as a religious group, since the law governing registration of civic associations specifically excludes religious groups from obtaining this status. The group must also refrain from carrying out activities related to practicing religion, which from a legal perspective are reserved for registered religious groups only, or face possible dissolution by authorities. To register as a civic association, three citizens must provide their names and addresses and the name, goals, organizational structure, executive bodies, and budgetary rules of the group.
A concordat with the Holy See provides the legal framework for relations among the government, the Roman Catholic Church in the country, and the Holy See. Two corollaries cover the operation of Catholic religious schools, the teaching of Catholic religious education as a subject in public schools, and the service of Catholic priests as military chaplains. A single agreement between the government and 11 of the 17 other registered religious groups provides similar status to those groups. These 11 religious groups may also provide military chaplains. The unanimous approval of all existing parties to the agreement is required for other religious groups to obtain similar benefits.
The law does not allow burial earlier than 48 hours following death.
All public elementary school students must take a religion or ethics class, depending on personal or parental preferences. Schools have some leeway in drafting their own curricula for religion classes, but these must be consistent with the Ministry of Education’s National Educational Program. Representatives of registered religious communities are involved in the preparation of the National Education Program. Although most school religion classes teach Roman Catholicism, if there is a sufficient number of students, parents may ask a school to open a separate class focusing on the teachings of one of the other registered religious groups. All schools offer ethics courses as an alternative to religion classes. Alternatively, parents may request that teachings of different faiths be included in the curriculum of the Catholic religion classes. There are no clear requirements as to course content when teaching about other faiths in the Catholic classes. Private and religious schools define their own content for religion courses and may teach only their own religion, but they are required to offer ethics courses as an alternative. Registered religious groups approve textbooks used for religious classes and the state finances the textbooks. In both public and private schools, religion class curricula do not mention unregistered groups or some of the smaller registered groups, and unregistered groups may not teach their faiths at schools. Teachers normally teach about the tenets of their own faith, although they may teach about other faiths as well. The Roman Catholic Church appoints teachers of Catholic classes. Depending on the registered religious group and the school, other religious groups may appoint the teachers of their classes. The government pays the salaries of religion teachers in public schools.
The law criminalizes issuance, possession, and dissemination of materials defending, supporting, or instigating hatred, violence, or unlawful discrimination against a group of persons on the basis of religion. Such activity is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment.
The law requires public broadcasters to allocate program time for registered religious groups but not for unregistered groups.
The law prohibits the defamation of a person’s or group’s belief, treating a violation as a criminal offense punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. If such crimes are committed with a “special” aggravating motive, which includes hatred against a group or individuals for their actual or alleged religious beliefs, the defamation and incitement crimes are punishable with sentences of up to five and six years, respectively.
The law prohibits Holocaust denial, including questioning, endorsing, or excusing the Holocaust. Violators face sentences of up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits denial of crimes committed by the Nazi-allied, WWII-era fascist and postwar communist regimes.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Ministry of Culture again did not reconsider its repeated rejections of the 2007 registration application of the Grace Christian Fellowship, despite Supreme Court rulings in 2009 and 2012 ordering it to do so. In the past, the ministry said it based its rejections on assessments by several religious affairs experts that the group promoted hatred toward other religious groups. In June 2020, the Bratislava Regional Court dismissed the Grace Christian Fellowship’s legal action contesting the legality of the ministry’s 2018 decision. The group appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was pending as of December.
Representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities reported that authorities were generally willing to make exceptions on grounds of religious belief and allow burials to take place within 24 hours, rather than requiring community members wait the legally mandated 48 hours. According to a representative of the Muslim community, authorities generally tolerated Islamic burial customs such as ritual washing and draping of the deceased, and burial without a coffin.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented restrictions on freedom of movement and public assembly throughout the year, as well as several hygienic measures concerning religious practices. A state of emergency, introduced in October 2020, was in place until May, during which a curfew, a ban on public assembly, and internal travel restrictions applied. According to several religious groups, these violated the right of religious freedom in the country. In February and March, Jan Figel, a former deputy prime minister and former European Union (EU) special envoy for promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, filed three motions with the Prosecutor General’s Office asking it to formally request that the Constitutional Court assess whether the government’s measures violated the right to freedom of religion.
According to Figel, in practice these measures prevented individuals from exercising religious freedom and manifesting their religious beliefs – fundamental rights the constitution guarantees may be exercised publicly through worship. Figel also challenged the legality of what he termed restrictions on fundamental rights, stating that the relevant decree issued by the Public Health Authority lacked legal backing, legitimacy, and proportionality. Although the Prosecutor General did not act on these motions, on March 31, the Constitutional Court confirmed that the state of emergency accorded with the constitution, and on December 1, the court ruled against a separate motion submitted by the Prosecutor General in May in which he had challenged the power of the Public Health Authority to issue antipandemic measures as mere decrees. In February, Figel submitted a religious freedom rights violation motion in the European Court of Human Rights, which accepted the motion; a ruling in the case was pending as of December. The Conference of Slovak Bishops, which is composed of Roman and Greek Catholic bishops, together with leadership of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession and the Orthodox Church, expressed support for Figel’s initiative.
In May, the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsperson) published her annual report, in which she concluded that while the COVID-19 measures introduced by the government in 2020, including a temporary suspension of services and restrictions on attendance, restricted fundamental rights, the measures were substantiated and proportional and “did not interfere with the core of religious freedom.” The ombudsperson said that the restrictions were aimed at safeguarding public health, not at limiting the freedom of religious belief. She noted that religious groups were allowed to make religious services available to the public via televised and online broadcasts. She also said that a regulation introduced by the Public Health Authority in May 2020 that listed religious activities that were exempted from restrictions on public events did, however, discriminate against some registered religious groups, since it specifically included first holy communion and confirmation as exempted activities – rites that not all religious groups in the country perform.
In November, the government reintroduced a state of emergency, coupled with restrictions on freedom of movement and public assembly. Under the rules in place, the government exempted religious services from the ban on mass events but initially limited exemptions to individual pastoral care only, while restrictions allowed citizens to visit churches only individually. Following protests by several religious and political groups, the government relaxed the restrictions as of December 10, allowing the fully vaccinated and those who had recovered from COVID-19 to attend religious services in limited numbers proportional to the size of the place of worship.
A representative of the Muslim community again stated that Muslims faced increasing difficulties in finding suitable burial grounds for their adherents, since a cemetery they had used for these purposes in Bratislava was close to reaching its maximum capacity, and the city council had not provided a new suitable location that would allow funeral services and burial according to Islamic traditions. They also said the lack of registration meant it was difficult to establish a mosque in the country; they pointed to the rejection of an application to build a mosque and cultural center years earlier by the then mayor of Bratislava, who had cited the lack of registration as one reason for the rejection. Although Muslims had registered as a civic association, they continued to state that the lack of recognition as a religious group made obtaining the necessary construction permits for other sites for religious worship such as prayer rooms difficult. They said the officials would utilize technical grounds, such as zoning regulations, to reject their applications or fail to act on them.
The government allocated approximately 52 million euros ($58.96 million) in its annual state subsidies to the 18 registered religious groups, compared with 51.7 million euros ($58.62 million) in 2020. Up to 80 percent of each group’s subsidy was used to pay the group’s clergy and operating costs.
Some members of religious groups continued to state their groups’ reliance on direct government funding limited their independence and religious freedom, and they said religious groups self-censored potential criticism of the government on sensitive topics to avoid jeopardizing their relationship with the state and, consequently, their finances. There were no reports, however, that the government arbitrarily altered the amount of subsidies provided to individual religious groups.
The Ministry of Culture’s cultural grant program continued to allocate funding for the upkeep of religious monuments and cultural heritage sites owned by religious groups. In 2020, the ministry allocated approximately five million euros ($5.67 million) for these purposes, compared with 6.5 million euros ($7.37 million) in 2019.
Many political parties, including the largest opposition party in parliament, Smer-SD, continued to express anti-Muslim views in their public statements, and leaders from across the political spectrum engaged in rhetoric portraying Muslim migrants as threats to society in their public communications throughout the year.
In August, former prime minister and Smer-SD chair Robert Fico published a post on his Facebook page entitled, “It is terrific to be a Muslim,” where he responded to criticism against his party by a political commentator who is a Muslim convert. Fico expressed his lack of understanding for the commentator’s motivations in becoming a Muslim and stated that the commentator “should not work as a political scientist in a Christian country.” Smer-SD MP and former European Affairs Committee chair Lubos Blaha echoed Fico’s criticism in a post on his Facebook page in which he labeled the commentator’s criticism of Smer-SD as the “primitive spluttering of an offended Muslim.” Both Fico’s and Blaha’s Facebook accounts had more than 160,000 followers.
During an April press conference on the EU’s new migration and asylum pact that introduced new common migration and asylum procedures, as well as a flexible burden-sharing mechanism, representatives of the ruling coalition’s Sme Rodina party warned of a possible threat of 70 million migrants, including “illiterates,” flooding Europe and leading to the creation of “Muslim communities” that would, according to them, ruin parts of cities and irreversibly change Europe.
Representatives of the LSNS party, which received 7.97 percent of the vote in the 2020 parliamentary election and secured 17 of 150 seats in parliament, continued to make antisemitic statements and faced criminal prosecution for past statements. According to local experts on political extremism, party members and supporters frequently glorified the Nazi-allied World War II-era fascist government and its leaders and downplayed the role of that regime in wartime atrocities.
In 2020, the Specialized Criminal Court convicted LSNS chairman Marian Kotleba of supporting and promoting groups aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms for a 2017 ceremony in which he gave three checks, each worth 1,488 euros ($1,700), to families with children with disabilities. Prosecution experts testified the amount was a well-known neo-Nazi code that represented the white supremacist “14-word” slogan (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”) and a numerical representation of “Heil Hitler,” with “h” being the eighth letter of the alphabet. Witnesses also testified that organizers played the unofficial anthem of the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state at the ceremony and that the event was held on March 14, the anniversary of the founding of that Slovak state. The court sentenced Kotleba to four years and four months in prison. The defense appealed to the Supreme Court, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
In October, the Specialized Criminal Court approved a plea bargain for Michal Buchta, former LSNS regional chairman and a former leader of the LSNS youth wing Ludova mladez (Popular Youth). The court handed down a three-year suspended sentence and a 600-euro ($680) fine to Buchta and also ordered him to undergo mandatory psychological counseling for distributing extremist materials. He had been arrested by the National Criminal Agency in 2018, along with two other individuals, including neo-Nazi singer Jaroslav “Reborn” Pagac. The Specialized Criminal Court convicted Pagac in June of producing and distributing clothes and other items bearing extremist symbols and sentenced him to four years in prison.
In April, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of LSNS regional chairman Anton Grno after he appealed a 2020 verdict of the Specialized Criminal Court that found him guilty of supporting a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms. During a 2018 Supreme Court hearing, Grno shouted the greeting of the World War II-era Slovak fascist state’s paramilitary force. The court fined Grno 5,000 euros ($5,700) and sentenced him to six months in prison if he failed to pay. Media reported that Grno’s social media profiles contained several openly racist and antisemitic posts.
On March 14, on the 82nd anniversary of the founding of the wartime Slovak state that deported more than 70,000 of its citizens to Nazi extermination camps, several groups commonly characterized as far right, including the People’s Youth organization, published commemorative social media posts. On the same date, LSNS chairman Kotleba posted a Slovak flag on his social media account that experts said was an acknowledgement of the anniversary. In December, following an investigation of a case of a street named after Slovak fascist state president Josef Tiso, located in a village of Varin, the National Criminal Agency pressed charges against 10 of 11 local councilors for the crime of expressing sympathies with a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms. The charged councilors, one of whom was absent, refused to vote in favor of changing the name during an August municipal council meeting, citing plans to call a local referendum once police and the courts closed the case. All councilors objected, and the charges were under the Special Prosecutor’s review at year’s end. In April, the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities publicly protested a decision by the city of Ruzomberok to present an award to a historian they said was an advocate of the wartime Slovak state who also relativized the Holocaust.
On September 12, during Pope Francis’s four-day visit to the country, President Zuzana Caputova hosted an official welcoming ceremony in the presidential garden for selected guests, including political representatives, representatives of state and public institutions, members of academia and the scientific community, health professionals, media, representatives of minorities and NGOs, and representatives of religious communities, including the Muslim community. The President did not invite representatives from other unregistered churches and religious communities to the event.
In September, President Caputova, Prime Minister Eduard Heger, and several cabinet ministers commemorated the country’s Holocaust and Ethnic Violence Remembrance Day at the Holocaust memorials in Bratislava and Sered. They condemned attempts to disparage the Holocaust and its victims, as well what they stated was growing antisemitism. Prime Minister Heger’s speech on the occasion noted the 80th anniversary of the “Jewish Code” that was adopted by the World War II Slovak fascist state in 1941 and that led to the deportation of more than 70,000 Slovak Jews and other citizens to Nazi extermination camps. Heger expressed remorse for adoption of the code, apologized for the injustice and deaths it caused, and asked for forgiveness. On September 8, the government adopted a formal resolution apologizing for crimes committed by the Slovak fascist state, and it denounced the adoption of the “shameful” Jewish Code 80 years ago.
In October, Prime Minister Heger participated in the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism, where Slovakia pledged to take concrete steps in the fight against antisemitism and anti-Roma attitudes and to continue to address the legacy of the Holocaust. Specific steps included completion of a Holocaust museum, use of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definitions, and application of IHRA recommendations for enhanced teaching and learning about the Holocaust, including targeted awareness-raising efforts among youth regarding the Holocaust and the dangers of distorting it.
On July 13, President Caputova attended an opening ceremony for a renovated Jewish cemetery in the city of Namestovo that had been vandalized in 2019 when unknown persons knocked over more than 75 gravestones. In her speech, she remarked, “If we are not considerate of our past, it may happen that our future will not be considerate of us.”
On September 8, the government created the new position of Plenipotentiary for Freedom of Religion or Belief, established in response to the “growing seriousness of the problem of violations of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in the world” that the government identified in its manifesto. The government appointed a coalition MP, Anna Zaborska, to the position the same day. The new plenipotentiary will act as an advisor to the government, functioning as part of the Government Office, and will have a mandate to protect religious freedom abroad and at home. Duties will include proposing and implementing selected government measures, submitting legislative and nonlegislative proposals to state authorities pertaining to education and training of members of religious groups, monitoring the status of religious freedom in the world, and engaging with religious groups and communities and other state institutions.
In the 2021 census, individuals could for the first time select Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism as their religion. The census also applied to persons with temporary residence in the country for the first time, a measure that was praised by the Muslim community. Previous censuses had counted only persons with permanent residence, while Islam could be declared only under the “other religions” category.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
A representative of the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia stated the Muslim community continued to encounter difficulties in countering negative public attitudes partly because of the social stigma associated with not having the same legal benefits accorded to registered religious groups. Representatives of other unregistered religious groups also stated that the public tended to view their activities with mistrust and perceive them as “fringe cults” because of their lack of official government recognition as a religious community.
The Islamic Foundation in Slovakia again reported continued online hate speech toward Muslims and refugees, which it attributed mostly to the social controversy ensuing from the 2015 European migration crisis and inflammatory anti-Muslim public statements by local politicians. In October, in response to an invitation to a public discussion on Muslim history in the country, the organization received several hateful social media comments and direct messages. One of the comments called for ban on “pedophilic, unconstitutional Islam, mosques, and prayer rooms” and for putting all sympathizers and organizations cooperating with Muslims on trial, while another message read, “Tick tock you…scabs.” Muslim community leaders said they continued to perceive increased anti-Muslim sentiment compared with 2015 and earlier, and leaders continued to maintain a low profile regarding their activities and prayer rooms to avoid inflaming public opinion.
Police reported six cases of defamation of race, nation, or religious belief and four cases of incitement of national, racial, and ethnic hatred during the year, compared with 13 cases of defamation and 11 cases of incitement of hatred in 2020. Police provided no further details. According to the NGO Human Rights League, foreigners, refugees, and Muslims very rarely report hate-motivated incidents to police or to civil society organizations.
According to a survey regarding hate crimes against refugees and migrants in the country conducted from April to August by the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia and published in an August report by the Human Rights League, more than 65 of respondents believed it was more likely they would become victims of hate-motivated incidents than before the 2015 migration crisis. Almost 60 percent of the 127 predominantly Muslim respondents surveyed said they or their family members had been victims of a hate crime, discrimination, bullying, threats, or intimidation because of their national origin or faith. Half of them stated these incidents happened often. Almost 20 percent of the respondents said they had encountered hate-motivated incidents in the past month. According to the survey, only 59 percent of the respondents said they felt safe in the country.
The Center for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture released a study in May that showed an increasingly negative public attitude toward migrants in the country, including Muslim migrants. A majority of respondents believed foreigners contributed to higher crime rates (65 percent) and worsened safety (62 percent). According to the study, a majority also held negative attitudes toward a “refugee from Syria” (68 percent) and a “Muslim family” (64 percent). A majority (54 percent) stated foreigners could practice their faith but should do so in private only, while 28 percent said non-Christian religions should not be allowed in the country. Almost 82 percent of respondents perceived Islam as different, suspicious, or dangerous, with 43 percent, citing the religion as “very dangerous,” believing it should be banned.”
A survey conducted in July by pollster Focus Agency for the Milan Simecka Foundation, a local NGO, found that more than 56 percent of respondents believed that no Muslims from other countries should be allowed to move to or live in the country, with more than 46 percent believing the same for Hindus, while approximately 20 percent considered it “very important” that foreigners who move to Slovakia come from a Christian background. According to an October survey among youth ages 15-29 and commissioned by the Youth Council of Slovakia, 42 percent of respondents would not like to have a Muslim as their neighbor, while 13 percent would not like their neighbor to be a Jew.
Sociologists and Jewish community leaders said antisemitism was increasing, citing repeated references by public officials to antisemitic conspiracy theories, consistent electoral support for extremist parties, hate speech on social media, and polling trends that found a steadily growing share of the population would have a problem with a Jewish family moving into their neighborhood.
In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019 to January 2020. According to the survey, 20 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Slovakia said they had negative feelings towards Jews, and 25 percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were: “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (29 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (34 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (22 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (28 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (19 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (19 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (26 percent).
In October, the Supreme Court confirmed a verdict of the Specialized Criminal Court, which in 2019 found Tibor Eliot Rostas, editor in chief of Zem a vek (Earth and Age) magazine, guilty of defamation of race and nation for his antisemitic article titled, “Wedge of Jews Among Slavs.” The court upheld the original 4,000 euro ($4,500) penalty, which Rostas paid in December, thus avoiding a three-month prison sentence. Both Rostas and the prosecutor had appealed originally in 2019. In the article, published in 2017 in Earth and Age, which several international supermarket chains removed from shelves following an initiative by local experts that labeled it a “conspiracy magazine,” Rostas wrote about centuries-long efforts of Jews to drive wedges among Slavs and destroy their traditions, culture, and values, using selected antisemitic quotes of prominent political figures from the country’s history.
Organizations the media characterized as far right – including the civic organization Museum of the Slovak Armed Forces 1939-1945 – continued to publish material and issue statements praising the antisemitic, Nazi-allied Slovak state government. In July, members of the Associations of Slovak Intelligence – Roots, an umbrella platform for several nationalist civic associations that regularly praises government officials associated with the World War II Slovak state, rebutted criticism of the wartime state. The group, whose Facebook page features a photograph of the wartime state president Jozef Tiso, organized a commemorative cleaning of Alexander Mach’s grave. The associations also honored Mach, a supporter of Nazi Germany – who served as an interior minister in the wartime Slovak state government and was a commander of the Hlinka Guard, a paramilitary organization of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party that was also directly involved in deportations of Jews from the country – as “one of the most important Slovak nationalists in modern history.”
Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church continued an effort revived in 2019 for the beatification of Jan Vojtassak, a Slovak bishop whom the communist regime imprisoned and tortured. Several experts and historians highlighted Vojtassak’s collaboration with the World War II fascist Slovak state, his active involvement in the Aryanization of Jewish property, and his antisemitic views. A previous case for Vojtassak’s beatification, which was stopped by the Vatican in 2003, also led to protests by several Israeli historians and the Slovak Jewish community.
In July, President Caputova officially opened a renovated Jewish cemetery in Namestovo after volunteers from the local Pamataj (Remember) civic association completed their work on its restoration, following a 2019 incident during which unknown persons knocked over 75 gravestones. The restoration was partially financed by funds volunteers collected through a crowdsourcing campaign.
On September 13, Pope Francis met with representatives of the Jewish community at the site of the Holocaust memorial in Bratislava, along with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. During the event, participants stressed the importance of continuing mutual dialogue of the two faiths in the country.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local NGO, together with the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia, continued to organize a series of public debates and school lectures across the country with a variety of religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Augsburg Lutheran, and Roman Catholic communities to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance. A public discussion took place on September 22 in the city of Martin for students of the local evangelical high school with an evangelical priest, rabbi, and imam as speakers.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador and other embassy officers repeatedly raised with government officials and lawmakers from across the political spectrum the treatment of religious minority groups and the continued presence of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment. Embassy officers continued to express to government officials their concerns that requiring religious groups to have 50,000 members in order to register impeded these groups from having the rights and benefits accruing from official recognition.
In January, the Ambassador commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day and laid a stone at the Holocaust memorial in Bratislava, with the embassy highlighting the occasion on its social media accounts.
In July, the Ambassador met with representatives of a local Jewish community, including several Holocaust survivors, in the city of Trencin. The Ambassador encouraged the community in its efforts to renovate the local synagogue and expressed the need to stand up against hate and antisemitism.
The embassy used its social media channels to commemorate the country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and International Religious Freedom Day. In September, the Ambassador laid a wreath at the Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava and participated in a commemorative event at the Sastin-Straze Synagogue, while an embassy officer attended a remembrance event at the Sered Holocaust Museum alongside Holocaust survivors. Through its social media channels, the embassy emphasized that hatred and anger among persons can lead to inhuman acts, and it called on individuals to actively engage in the fight against evil and hatred.
In September, the Ambassador attended events organized as a part of Pope Francis’s visit, including the official welcome event in the presidential garden and the Pope’s Mass in the pilgrimage city of Sastin-Straze, and she highlighted the Pope’s message on interfaith tolerance and cooperation through embassy social media.
During the year, embassy officers met with registered and unregistered religious organizations, including the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia, and civil society groups, including the Forum of World’s Religions, to raise the issue of hate speech directed against Muslims, antisemitism, the impact of COVID-19 on religious services, and the negative impact on religious minorities of membership and other registration requirements.
The embassy continued to support efforts aimed at combating anti-Islamic sentiment and antisemitism and at increasing tolerance. It financially supported a project by the Human Rights League aimed at empowerment of migrant women and awareness raising on hate crimes against migrants as well as a project by the Milan Simecka Foundation educating teachers how to teach Holocaust history. Several NGOs continued implementing projects supported by the embassy in 2020 aimed at helping migrants in the country throughout the year.