There are some people who just don’t know when to shut up. László Kövér is one of them. In the last two or three days he has managed to create both a domestic and an international scandal and, instead of staying out of the limelight for a while and refraining from running from one radio station to the next or giving one interview after the other, he has been adding fuel to fire while trying to explain the inexplicable. His speech at the Fidesz Congress turned out to be so embarrassing that it wasn’t even summarized on Fidesz’s official website. Someone, presumably someone higher up, wanted to bury it. The site published summaries of the speeches of everybody who is anybody in Fidesz, with the exception of Kövér’s.
The speech contains a number of objectionable statements, but what especially infuriated people, especially women, were the following sentences:
We don’t want to make Hungary a futureless society full of man-hating women and feminine men terrified of women who see in children and in families only obstacles to self-fulfillment. We would like it if our sons not only learn but also understand Petőfi’s poem “If you are a man, be a man” and if our daughters would consider it the culmination of self-fulfillment to bear grandchildren for us.
The saddest part of the story is that the 2,000 Fidesz delegates, in appreciation of Kövér’s message, broke out at this point in thunderous applause. Critics of Fidesz in general and of the party’s attitude toward women in particular had an entirely different reaction to the speech. There are only eight countries where there is no female member of the cabinet. Hungary is one of them. Hungary has the dubious distinction of occupying last place in the European Union when it comes to the number of women in the country’s parliament. A woman from Kolozsvár/Cluj “translated” Kövér’s message:
If you’re a woman, forget about self-fulfillment. Don’t dare to dream of your own goals, studying, career, professional success, societal recognition. Bear children on an assembly line for László Kövér and Fidesz. Don’t ask questions, don’t think, don’t plan, don’t take into consideration rational considerations such as what about if daddy leaves his uneducated wife and his children?… I hate this primitive view of … people like Comrade Kövér and his fellow misogynists.
In Budapest Adrienn Csepelyi wrote a scathing editorial with the title “Asszonyállat,” which in today’s Hungarian means “woman/female animal,” giving the impression that a woman is not quite a human being. The word comes close to capturing the essence of Kövér’s attitude toward women as expressed in his speech: a woman’s most important function is to give birth to as many children as possible.
Csepelyi suggests that Fidesz politicians talk honestly instead of trying to hide what they really mean. She accuses them not only of looking upon women as second-class citizens but also of considering them to be not full human beings. She also charges them with hiding their real feelings behind their concern for the nation. Her final warning: in the animal world it is the female who chooses her partner. And there are dozens and dozens of comments like Csepelyi’s.
Kövér took his critics on directly. The scandal he created is actually a positive development, he claimed. At least people will now talk about the demographic situation “because this is about our lives, about our future,” Kövér said on InfoRádió. If Europe is unable to stop this demographic disaster then “those people will overrun [the continent] who see Lebensraum (élettér) here for themselves. These people will lay waste to the civilization that was built … through our 1,000-year struggle.” Those people who “at least in theory agree with us that it is our business to remain a nation in this world” should serve as examples by having children. Then perhaps the voices of those who are “the trumpeters of the culture of death” and who declare that “there is no tomorrow, only today” would no longer be dominant.
I heard two Fidesz politicians trying to explain away Kövér’s speech. Even the extremely skillful Gergely Gulyás failed at the task, although he can spin almost anything. And the best Mrs. Pelcz, née Ildikó Gáll could do, by the end of her conversation with György Bolgár, was to promise to explain Kövér’s words to her followers on Facebook. In the last few hours I heard that Katalin Novák, undersecretary in charge of family affairs, was brave enough to say that Kövér was wrong and that the government’s goal is to create an ideal environment for working women to be able to have children.
This unfortunate speech was not the only recent misstep of László Kövér. He gave an interview to the Czech newspaper Právo a few days ago. He talked mostly about the migrant crisis, and in this connection he expressed his satisfaction about the excellent relationship that has developed among the Visegrád countries concerning this issue. Kövér added that this new friendly relationship might help to solve the long-standing differences of opinion on the question of the Hungarian minorities. At that point the reporter asked whether this means that Hungary still insists on the abrogation of the so-called Beneš doctrine (1945) that made the German and Hungarian minorities collectively responsible for the destruction of Czechoslovakia. The law that resulted in the deportation of and discrimination against Germans and Hungarians was allowed to lapse a few years later but was never officially abrogated. Kövér’s answer was that the Czech Republic and Slovakia shouldn’t have been admitted to the European Union as long as there was a law on the books that referenced collective guilt. A most unfortunate comment at a time when the Orbán government desperately needs the help of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in its opposition to the quota system that is being contemplated in Brussels.
Lubormír Zaorálek, the Czech foreign minister, immediately called in Tibor Pető, the Hungarian ambassador in Prague, who had the uncomfortable task of explaining that “neither the president nor the Hungarian government has any intention of bringing up such a question” He assured the foreign minister that “it is in Budapest’s interest to maintain and strengthen the relationship between the two countries.” Soon enough the Hungarian ambassador to Bratislava was also asked to pay a visit to the Slovak foreign ministry. The communiqué the Slovak ministry published stressed the excellent relations between the two countries and continued: “we don’t understand why László Kövér feels compelled to ruin this excellent atmosphere…. We expect László Kövér to refrain from such statements and to leave the evaluation of historical matters to well-prepared professionals.”
Kövér is an embarrassment at home and abroad. He runs the Hungarian parliament as if it were a jail and he its jail keeper. And he speaks publicly as he would to a few uncouth buddies in the local pub. The man is incorrigible, so the only solution would be his removal from political life altogether. But we can wait for that for a very long time, I’m afraid.