The Hungarian parliament recently passed the “paedophilia law” – as it is called by government sources – claiming to install stricter action against offenders of paedophilia. But the law, a crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights in the country, is really the latest political tool for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to consolidate support ahead of a major election.
Following the lead of Russia’s 2013 “gay propaganda” law, Hungary’s right-wing, populist Fidesz government effectively groups homosexuality with paedophile offenders, and prohibits the dissemination of content the government views as promoting gender segregation, gender reassignment or homosexuality.
The Hungarian constitution already contains clauses that “Hungary protects the right of children to self-identity according to their gender of birth and ensures education in accordance with the values based on Hungary’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.” The new legislation adds to this framework, stating that teaching of sexual culture, sex life, sexual orientation and sexual development should be aligned with the constitution.
This is the fourth law introduced to curb LGBTQ+ rights in the country since 2018. In 2020, Hungarian Parliament amended its constitution to inscribe in its basic law that the father is a man and mother is a woman. This was the ninth amendment to the constitution since its complete rework in 2012, which specified that a family can only mean a matrimony between a man and a woman.
Constructing an enemy
The law is another example of how the Fidesz government, led by the populist Orbán, has honed in on fringe issues in order to consolidate its voter base before the parliamentary election next year. Since 2010, Orbán’s method of constructing threat by appealing to public insecurities and fears has been a driving principle in Hungarian politics.
Hungary’s next parliamentary elections in April 2022 will be a big test for Orbán, who has been prime minister since 2010 and won three national elections in a row. Since his first election, Orbán has targeted liberal and progressive politics, vowing to make Hungary an illiberal democracy.
Identifying new enemies seems to be an overarching quest for Fidesz. This time, the party is depicting the LGBTQ+ community as a target to consolidate its voter base.
The Hungarian culture wars reached a low point amid increasing arrivals of asylum seekers in 2015. The threat perception that Orbán managed to generate around Muslim migrants and their left-liberal supporters helped him to consolidate his power before the 2018 parliamentary election. An earlier victory by a joint opposition candidate at a by-election in Veszprem in 2015 failed to turn into a tide against his rule.
However, in 2019 local elections, the opposition parties were able to build electoral coalitions despite their ideological differences, with the sole aim of removing Fidesz from power. The newly-elected Budapest mayor, Gergely Karácsony, reached victory on a cross-party platform that even brought together the former extreme-right Jobbik and green left parties. Karácsony may be the opposition candidate against Orbán in the next parliamentary election.
In its original form, the new “paedophilia bill” was supported by the opposition parties. However, once Fidesz tacked on homophobic clauses by copy-pasting Russian anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, it sealed the end of a deal for the majority of the opposition, who ultimately boycotted the vote by not showing up. Yet, Jobbik broke from the ranks of the other opposition parties and voted with the government, fracturing the opposition coalition at a critical time before the election next year.
What the law means
This legislation is a great threat to LGBTQ+ people in Hungary. Members of this community had already lost their rights to marry, adopt children, and for transgender individuals, obtain legal gender recognition. Now, they will be connected to paedophilia as well. Fidesz member and speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary, László Kövér said “morally, there is no difference” between same-sex couples wanting to adopt or marry and paedophiles. “We have to fight against these western ideas and keep Christian values,” he added.
LGBTQ+ rights organisation Háttér Society responded to the bill by stating the majority of LGBTQ+ students have been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation or self-expression. School campaigns and education programmes have been paramount in raising awareness on equality, but the new legislation puts an end to all this, while restricting basic human rights such as freedom of speech and expression.
According to the most recent survey data, 46% of Hungarians support same-sex marriage and 56% support adoption rights for same-sex couples. Polarisation in Hungarian politics affects views over LGBTQ+ rights as well. With this law, Fidesz attempts to consolidate its camp, but the opposition supporters may find this law simply too fringe to act on, given their political diversity.
While the implementation of the law will depend on the vigilance of the courts and prosecutors, the legislation puts yet another nail on Hungarian democracy, as Fidesz continues to infringe into basic rights and freedoms.
Still, if activists can consolidate the opposition to this law as well as the ongoing mobilisation against the building of the Chinese Fudan University campus in Hungary, they may secure enough momentum to open up new fronts against Fidesz.