Last year was the first time in Hungary that far-right groups attacked members of the gay festival held in early July, a day designated for the event worldwide. At that time I wasn’t terribly surprised because physical violence had became commonplace in Hungary ever since the fall of 2006. Initially the police managed to keep order and guard the safety of the participants. At that time (July 7, 2007) I wrote a piece praising the Hungarian police about a job well done. Two days later I had to change my mind: the police left the scene too early, and these extreme homophobic groups attacked people after the official celebration ended. Blood was flowing.
This year we might expect much greater trouble. First of all, the police have become weak-kneed. The gay community went to the the Budapest police to request a permit for their planned parade on Andrássy út. To the utter surprise of everybody, the police announced that, unlike in previous years when the gays didn’t unduly interfere with traffic, this year they would. So the police chief refused permission. An outcry followed. A day later the police chief changed his mind. (I suspect after some pressure from above.) Most likely the Budapest police simply didn’t feel like getting involved and, suspecting trouble, thought that the best course of action was simply to ban the event and save everybody a lot of trouble. But, let’s face it, this is a cowardly and in the final analysis an unacceptable way of handling extremist outbursts.
While a year ago the anti-gay groups were mostly satisfied with verbal abuse and only at the end was there physical violence, this year at least one attack has already taken place. Not just a few guys bloodying the faces of some of the participants but a very dangerous incident that might have ended in tragedy. What happened is the following. A far-right internet site apparently listed a number of gay bars in Budapest. A few days later, the best-known such establishment received a telephone call asking about their hours. That happened around 2 o’clock in the morning. One of the owners informed the caller that they were still open. The callers appeared and threw some Molotov cocktails into the bar while there were still about a dozen customers inside. Fire broke out. The people inside managed to contain the fire and luckily no one was hurt. So that’s where we are at the moment, and there is at least another week before the actual parade. I’ll bet the Budapest police are not happy.
In western Europe, on the whole, these gay pride parades usually take place without serious trouble. There are exceptions, but normally the police manage to handle the few dozen muscle-bound guys who take pleasure in such activity. One cannot say the same thing about eastern Europe: there were troubles a couple of days ago in Bulgaria. If I recall, similar problems occurred in Bucharest a year ago. Until last year Hungary seemed to be closer to Vienna than to Bucharest or Sofia. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
One reason for the eastern European vehemence against gays is ignorance. Just as in so many other things, information in the one-party dictatorships was practically nonexistent. In perhaps all of the former Soviet bloc countries, homosexual acts even among consenting adults were punishable offenses. Even people from whom one expected some rudimentary knowledge of homosexuality said such stupid things that I couldn’t believe my ears. Almost fifteen years ago there was a Hungarian-language list on the internet where the topic was discussed. There was a doctor on the list. He claimed that he was a psychiatrist. He came up with the brilliant idea that homosexuality is like smoking: one can get addicted to it. However, a homosexual can quit his homosexuality just as a smoker can overcome his addiction. Not long ago a Catholic bishop offered another fantastic theory: homosexuality has become fashionable so young people decide to become gay. A Fidesz local politician who is a member of the committee on health issues in a Budapest district just announced that he would like to find out whether homosexuality is an illness or not. He knows nothing about it.
Thus one cannot be surprised that guys with an eighth-grade education attack participants of the gay parade or throw Molotov cocktails into a gay bar when the doctor, the bishop, and the politician say such extraordinary things.