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Shared activities strengthen identity – Guest of the Month is Kinga Marjatta Pap

Who?
Name: Kinga Marjatta Pap
Education: organist, MA in English and Estonian, MEd in English, MEd in music
Professional background: freelance translator and interpreter, senior translator at an international localisation company, counsellor at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, event manager at the music collection of the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library
Hobbies: reading, choirs, other positions of trust
Home towns in Hungary: Budapest
Recommends travellers in Hungary to see: smaller towns, such as Kaposvár, Kőszeg and Sárospatak

 

Your mother is Finnish and your father is Hungarian. Have you lived in Hungary your entire life? What is your relationship with Finland like? 

I was born in Finland but I live permanently in Hungary. I am a second-generation Finnish expatriate, and Finland is my second home. On the one hand, my being Finnish is reflected in everyday things: I enjoy reading Finnish literature and there is a drying cabinet in my kitchen. Also my attitude towards certain questions such as equality and womanhood is also very Finnish.

Has your relationship with your homelands changed during your life? 

When I was younger I thought that at a certain point I will have to choose between them. However, I have noticed that the line between the two identities is constantly moving: Both sides are always present although one might come across stronger at different times.

You have a lot of experience in cooperation between Lutheran churches in Finno-Ugric countries. Do you see a difference in the role of the church in the society in those countries? What could we learn from each other? 

In Finland, the church still has a strong presence in society, which is evident in the practical diaconia or in the recent case when Bishop of Oulu, Jukka Keskitalo, visited factories that were being shut down in Kemi. In Estonia, the church has a more marginal position in the society, but during the era of Socialism it has learned to operate under difficult circumstances. In a way, this has motivated the church to clarify its message and communicate in a negotiating manner. From the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, one could also learn ways to deal with the past: For the past 16 years, the church has done thorough but delicate work in uncovering the kinds of cooperation between different governmental bodies and representatives of the church during Socialism.

The Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Tapio Luoma will visit Hungary mid-September. To honour the visit, on September 15th FinnAgora will arrange a seminar on the role of minority religions in multicultural Europe. What is your impression of the status of minority churches in Hungary and its neighbouring countries?

It depends on how you define a minority church. In a way all churches are in a minority, as the majority of the population does not belong to them. On the other hand, one can refer to churches that are smaller than the biggest denomination in each country.

If we focus on Lutheran churches, their social status varies greatly between different countries. In Slovenia, the Lutheran church is small but it has a very visible role. In Slovakia, Hungarian- and Slovakian-speaking Lutherans are part of the same church, whereas in Romania the Hungarian and Saxon Lutheran churches are independent actors.

In Hungary, the Lutheran church is the third largest denomination and it takes part in the state’s negotiations regardless of being a ‘minority church’. The membership of a church and its societal significance do not always go hand in hand: in Hungary, for example the Lutheran church has a larger visibility compared to its size as over 17,000 students study in Lutheran schools on different levels.

What is the significance of international cooperation between churches today?

International church relations operate on many different levels. The contextual interpretation of the Bible and theological questions in different countries may provide a new, enriching perspective to one’s personal faith. Bilateral relationships between churches – such as the exchange of theology students between the Lutheran churches of Hungary and Finland since 1927 – strengthen these experiences.

On the structural level, international church organisations – whether they are ecumenical or within the same denomination – also handle questions pertaining to church politics that have more to do with the church’s operations than its message. Cooperation is also significant in the field of church aid. The Lutheran World Federation, for instance, maintains refugee camps – these are projects that might be too big for a local church to handle.

You are also the president of Kalevala Friendship Association. How did you become involved in the organisation?

In a way I grew into it: my parents were founding members of the organisation during the time when founding NGOs was not yet allowed in Hungary. The Kalevala Friendship Association was founded in 1984 under the umbrella of the Patriotic People’s Front, using the Finnish national epic’s upcoming centennial jubilee as a cover. The name of the association refers to Kalevala because at the time it was only allowed to form Hungarian–Soviet friendship societies. I have attended the association’s events ever since but I never actively pursued the presidency.

 

How has the association developed during your presidency? Do you cooperate with other Hungarian–Finnish friendship societies as well?

Our communication has evolved: During my time, we have created a webpage, Facebook and Instagram profiles. The significance of social media is much greater than before, even though our followers are not necessarily the same as the people who attend our events.

The venues of our events have also become more varied and we aim to offer interactive programs. For example, we arranged a city game in which the participants completed activities at Finnish-related landmarks in Budapest. Our 35-year celebration was also interactive with many options to choose from – such as a quiz, crafts and a Finnish fairytale corner. There was only one celebratory speech which is quite untypical for a feast in Hungary.

We gladly cooperate with other friendship societies. For example, our annual midsummer event is often organized with one of the local friendship societies, or we might go on an excursion together. We also attend the meetings of the national Hungarian–Finnish society together. The Kalevala Friendship Association also tries to mediate between the local friendship societies and the Finnish stakeholders in Budapest.


You are also actively leading Laulujoutsen, a female ensemble founded by yourself. Has music always been an important part of your life?

Yes, I first joined a choir when I was 11 years old. I have been active in church choirs, experimental choirs as well as theater music. I also play the piano and the organ but choirs are my most important instrument. I am more of a person bringing people together than a soloist.

Laulujoutsen was founded in 2009, when Finnish ladies with a choir background started asking me to form a choir. The group changes constantly because many people are here for a shorter period of work or study. There is only one singer who has been involved since the beginning. I also have a liturgical choir that sings every Sunday –with them, we celebrate our 25th anniversary this year.

 

Why is it important to foster organizations for Finns and friends of Finland abroad? 

Shared activities strengthen our Finnish identity. The Independence Day and Mayday celebrations create new networks, and the Finnish school supports the children’s linguistic development.

For friends of Finland, belonging to a friendship organisation might be important for a variety of reasons. During the Communist times, Finland was sort of a window to democracy. People were motivated by linguistic relatedness, a penpal or their hobbies, such as music. Nowadays many people are interested in studying or working in Finland. Besides community building, the function of friendship societies is to share timely and relevant knowledge about Finland in a politically independent way.

 

Written and translated by
Salla Hiltunen
FinnAgora