Hungarian Church Protests Bible Smuggling

In a protest declaration at the World Conference of Bible Societies taking place in Chiang Mai/Thailand from September 28 to October 5, 1980, the chairman of the Hungarian Bible Society, Bishop Tibor Bartha, reported that in the past 30 years their society has published 320,000 Bibles in the old Karoli translation. Since 1975, an additional 80,000 Bibles have been published in a new translation.


Concerning the distribution of Bibles among Hungarian Protestants, the Bishop referred to the fact that local congregations have 1,200 book tables where Bibles can be purchased. A Protestant bookstore in the center of Budapest has been involved primarily in the sales of Bibles since 1977. In addition, the Reformed churches annually observe a “Bible Sunday”.


In closing, Bishop Bartha referred to the specifics of his church’s protest: “In the past 30 years, certain Christian circles in the West have been using any means possible to smuggle Hungarian Bibles into our country. They justify their activity with the erroneous claim that Hungarian churches are hindered by the state from publishing and distributing Bibles in a satisfactory manner. They spread the news that Bibles are in short supply in Hungary. It was most recently called to our attention in the spring of 1980, that our new translation - which is protected by internationally-recognized copyright laws – had along with a new translation of the Psalms been printed in a Western country without our knowledge and was being smuggled regularly into Hungary.”


A letter by the Hungarian Bible Society addressed to the conference in Thailand mentioned three points:


“1. The distribution of these smuggled Bibles means a considerable financial loss for the Hungarian Bible Society. What should we do? Should we stop distributing our Bibles and rely solely on the smugglers?                                                  


2. The smuggling of Bibles is a serious infraction against the laws of state agencies, who have cooperated positively with us in the production of our new Hungarian translation. How are we to approach these state officials concerning such illegal activities which are being justified on false premises?              


3. How could we in the future enforce copyright laws concerning Bibles published in Hungary?”                                                                              

Appeared in the journal “Standpunkt” in East Berlin, issue of January 1981, page 10      


Translated by Bill Yoder, West Berlin, February 1981, 345 words


Appeared in the Mennonite “Gospel Herald”, Pennsylvania, March 24, 1981


Note from January 2022: Tibor Bartha (1912-1995) was bishop of Hungary’s Reformed Church from 1958 until his retirement in 1986. He was one of the fathers of Prague’s “Christian Peace Conference”, founded in 1958.