Tag Archives: feminism

Sugar daddies and sugar babies arrived in Hungary

A couple of weeks ago several disapproving articles appeared about a website called puncs.hu, which is a meeting place for sugar daddies and sugar babies. Although the site opened its doors for business more than a year ago, it became “the talk of the town” only at the end of August of this year when the company behind the website launched an aggressive advertising campaign. The timing of the placement of large billboards depicting a sensuous, semi-naked young woman was not random. It coincided with the beginning of the academic year. All over the world these sugar daddy/sugar baby websites target university women who are struggling to make ends meet without accumulating enormous debts by taking out student loans. This seems to be true whether these sites operate in Europe or in the United States. The sugar-daddy business is lucrative.

One of the most popular and best known sites, called “SeekingArrangement,” has generated over 10 million sugar daddies, sugar mommas, gay daddies and gay boys from 196 countries. “This site is especially popular in colleges because college students have free access to premium features if they sign up with their .edu email address.” The same is true of a French site called RichMeetBeautiful, whose billboard specifically addresses university students. RichMeetBeautiful is a Norwegian company that gained initial success in Scandinavian countries and has been expanding throughout Western Europe. The Guardian reported about two weeks ago that the company’s large billboards appeared near Belgian campuses, “offering a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ experience.” The Belgian government promised to launch criminal proceedings against the firm for “inciting debauchery and prostitution.”

So, it was inevitable that some enterprising Hungarian businessmen without many scruples would launch a Hungarian version of the sugar-daddy site. Soon after the puncs.hu billboard blitz, Péter Weiler, one of the owners of Dating Central Europe Zrt., was interviewed by HVG. He explained how he and his business partners had gone through several “dating sites” until they hit on the idea of a sugar-daddy site. First, they had a site called “Randivonal.hu” and later the “Szexrandi.hu” (randi is a popular abbreviation of rendezvous/randevú). Apparently, Hungary is behind the times because several large national sites existed before the birth of puncs.hu in Central and Eastern Europe. Since the Hungarian company is alone in the field, for the time being, business is booming. According to Weiler, “ever since its opening users are pouring in.” The site by now has 70,000 customers. The journalists conducted the interview in a matter-of-fact way, remarking only once that “according to most feminist discourse a sugar baby is a prostitute,” which naturally Weiler denied on the grounds that the meeting of the baby with her daddy is not “a casual encounter.” Such abuse of the site would be “incompatible with the moral principles of the company.”

“I date only well-heeled guys”

It looks as if the moral principles of others don’t exactly mesh with those of Weiler. Not only were 20,000 signatures gathered online against the site, several writers and artists started a petition of their own. They demand the removal of all advertising for the site from public places. They consider puncs.hu a “proactive supporter of prostitution” which, on top of everything else, “has received public money.”

Public money? What’s going on? In November 2016 Fruzsina Előd wrote an article for Index titled “Sexy university student is looking for a rich lover.” The article states that there are six owners behind punch.hu, one of which is Dating Central Europe Zrt., a startup that received money in 2014 from “Gran Private Equity” (Gran Kockázati Tőkealap) for an online dating site. Gran Private Equity a year earlier received 4.3 billion forints of EU money, part of which was used to launch Dating Central Europe Zrt. Thus, indirectly, European Union funds are behind the first sugar daddy/sugar baby Hungarian site.

Since in order to get full access to the site one must be a client for about 10,000 forints for a month, I could look around only on the public portion of the site. But an investigative journalist from Átlátszó did sign up for a month in the name of a fictive 20-year-old university student called “Bogi,” who got plenty of offers, including an invitation to a luxury orgy for two million forints. One night costs between 20,000 and 150,000 forints. Men pay a monthly fee of between 150,000 and 400,000 forints. Bogi’s experiences during the month she was pretending to be a sugar baby were truly incredible. She received 800 messages from 142 mostly married men. When she indicated to them that she was not interested in having a sexual relationship with a married man, they informed her that, in that case, she doesn’t recognize “the true purpose of the website.” On the basis of the letters she received, she came to the conclusion that “the site caters to married men in search of lovers for money.”

Several women politicians from the opposition parties objected to this site and looked into the possibility of at least getting rid of the billboards. But Nóra Hajdu of Együtt was unable to find a government organization that is responsible for matters like this. Beáta Hegyesi of Párbeszéd actually pressed charges against Dating Central Zrt., the owner of the site, for promoting prostitution.

Andrea Pető, a professor in Central European University’s Department of Gender Studies and a doctor of science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, wrote an article in Kettősmérce on September 13, a few days after Péter Weiler’s interview appeared in HVG. At that time Átlátszó had not yet unearthed details about the depravity of the site, but it should have been clear to anyone that there was something very wrong with it. Yet HVG’s two journalists, Adél Hercsel and Róbert Németh, gave “free advertising” to the site by inviting Péter Weiler, the owner of puncs.hu. Pető rightly points out that “it is questionable from an ethical point of view when the interviewer doesn’t ask probing questions about the consequences of the assertions of the interviewee.” She argues in the article that the interview, which was supposedly “objective” and “unbiased,” was actually “spurious” and “harmful.”

Andrea Pető’s criticism of the HVG interview is valid. It is impossible to know who asked which question, Hercsel or Horváth, but their total lack of concern over the use of women as sex objects is disconcerting. The two journalists expressed no disapproval of such a practice. There was only one sentence, a quotation from the Criminal Code, that might be applicable to puncs.hu, but otherwise there was not one word about the human rights issues in this case. Moreover, one of the interviewers proposed that mostly feminists would consider a sugar baby a prostitute. This is not a compliment in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, where feminism is frowned upon and labelled outright injurious to the kind of society the powers-that-be find appropriate and desirable.

November 8, 2017

Hungarian politicians support their friends abroad

It seems that members of the Hungarian government don’t have enough to do at home. They feel compelled to get involved in controversies outside of the country. Today I’ll look at two such controversies, one involving a Spanish archbishop, the other the all-important British referendum on EU membership.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the archbishop of Valencia, is not exactly a household name, but in Catholic circles he is well known as an arch-conservative who is described by Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais, asa guardian of orthodoxy with an incendiary personality.” Earlier Cañizares was a typical Vatican bureaucrat and a favorite of Benedict XVI, who in 2008 named him head of the Congregation for Divine Worship. But with the pope’s resignation in 2013 his service in the Vatican came to an end. Pope Francis most likely found Cañizares far too conservative. After retiring from his Vatican job, he had to be satisfied with the archbishopric of Valencia, which is considered to be one of the lesser sees in Spain.

Cañizares often gets into trouble. For instance, in October 2015 he talked about the “invasion of immigrants” and wondered what immigration will do to Spain “in a few years.” Like so many other conspiracy theorists, he wanted to know “who is behind all this.” Earlier, in 2009, he claimed that abortion was worse than child abuse. Most recently, the archbishop lashed out at the LGBT community, feminism and gender ideology. In early June, in a homily titled “In defense and support of the family,” Cañizares said that the family, which is the most valued social institution, “is shaken to its foundations by serious, clear or subtle, threats.” In his opinion, Spanish legislation only aids attacks on the family, which is being threatened by “movements and actions of the gay empire, of ideas such as radical feminism, or the most insidious of all, gender theory.” Soon enough, pro-LGBT and feminist organizations in Spain announced that they intended to charge Cañizares with apologia, a term in Spanish law that means encouraging or defending a criminal act. On June 19 The Catholic Herald reported that Spanish feminist groups had called for the government to prosecute Cardinal Cañizares “for inciting discrimination and hatred.”

Cañizares’s remarks and what followed were reported outside of Spain mostly in Catholic publications, but the eagle-eyed Hungarian Christian Democratic youth organization (Ifjú Kereszténydemokraták or IKSZ) found the story. The president of the organization, who looks close to forty years old, issued an official public statement condemning all those “radical liberals” who objected to Cañizares’s description of the LGBT community as a “gay empire.” Young Hungarian Christian Democrats share the opinion of the cardinal and find it outrageous that “even the justice system assists ‘opinion terror’ of members of a tiny minority that call themselves human rights activists.”

In the opinion of KDNP, “the activities of the radical gay and feminist groups are harmful because they want to limit the freedom of expression and incite hatred.” Zsolt Semjén, chairman, and Miklós Soltész, vice chairman of the party, will extend an invitation to Cardinal Cañizares to visit Hungary sometime in the fall.

As usual, the Christian Democrats overreached. They have an urge to openly support the most orthodox ideas expressed within the Catholic Church. Commentators endorsing Cañizares’s position view this case as “an important, perhaps conclusive, litmus test. Will Pope Francis stand with Cardinal Cañizares?” No word has come so far from the Vatican, as the author sadly announced a couple of days ago. On the other hand, a Hungarian group that calls itself the CitizenGO team is collecting signatures online in defense of the beleaguered cardinal.

While the Christian Democrats are supporting the Spanish cardinal, Viktor Orbán is supporting his friend David Cameron. That “one of Europe’s most Eurosceptic leaders” urged Britons to vote to remain in the European Union was startling enough to warrant coverage by Reuters. The move is especially surprising since it was only a few days ago that János Lázár categorically stated that the Hungarian government will in no way commit itself one way or the other. Whatever the decision is, the Hungarian government will respect it. He added that any negative effect of a Brexit on the Hungarian economy and currency would not require the introduction of any short-term measures. At this point Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, interjected, assuring the audience that the country’s budgetary reserves can take care of all possible contingencies.

Brexit ad

So, great was the surprise when two and a half days later Kovács himself confirmed the news that the Hungarian government would place a full-page ad in the conservative Daily Mail today. In fact, the ad was originally supposed to appear in the Saturday edition, but because of Jo Cox’s murder it was postponed. Kovács’s explanation for the unusual campaign tactic was that a strong Europe can be built only with the cooperation of larger states. He recalled that Hungary was often accused of anti-European sentiment, but “its current pan-European attitude aptly demonstrates how resolutely and firmly [the Hungarian government] believes in the importance of the European Union’s achievements.”

The Hungarian media’s reaction to the contradictory messages was one of puzzlement. As one headline said: “It can only happen here that we don’t know whether we support England’s exit from the European Union or not.” Journalists approached the office of the prime minister for an explanation of the contradiction between Lázár’s announcement of neutrality and Orbán’s ad with his signature attached. The answer was that Orbán, by publishing the ad, is not trying to influence British public opinion. He only expresses “his point of view that we Hungarians are glad we are in an alliance of which the Brits are members. On the one hand, this is an honor because we are talking about a great nation, and on the other, we are also stronger if the Brits stay in the European Union. This is exactly what the ad emphasizes. The decision belongs to the Brits, but we let them know that Hungary is proud to be a member of the European Union alongside of them.”

Meanwhile it is quite clear that the right-wing of Fidesz and Jobbik are keeping fingers crossed for Great Britain to leave the Union. Pesti Srácok with ill-concealed glee announced today that those in favor of Brexit now have a slight lead. The article tries to calm Hungarian nerves by emphasizing that Great Britain’s exit wouldn’t have any serious consequences for Hungary and that those approximately 200,000 Hungarians living in Great Britain have nothing to fear because “those already living there arrived in the country legally.” The question is whether they would want to remain in the United Kingdom, because after Brexit “Great Britain would no longer be the same country they chose at the time of their arrival.” Alfahír, Jobbik’s official internet paper, sympathized with Nigel Farage, who “doesn’t back down.” The article published long quotations from Farage and some of those around him. It pointed to the “almost hysterical atmosphere created by the British media and the pro-EU political elite after Jo Cox’s death.” It doesn’t matter what Gábor Vona says about the party’s changed attitude toward the European Union, Jobbik would still gladly leave the Union and is therefore keeping fingers crossed for the pro-Brexit forces to win the referendum.

So, here we have two cases in which Hungarian reactions are questionable. Hungarian bishops often and in even more forceful terms than Cardinal Cañizares have gone against the wishes of Pope Francis on the refugee issue. Now the Christian Democratic Party, which considers itself the political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church, has so much affinity with the arch-conservative Spanish archbishop that it feels compelled to extend an invitation to him to visit Hungary. At the same time Viktor Orbán has the temerity to get involved in a dispute that concerns only the citizens of Great Britain. I wonder what he would say if the European Union placed a full-page ad in a Hungarian newspaper urging people to vote against the anti-immigrant referendum he insists on holding. Perhaps one of the European prime ministers should try it. It would be fun.

June 20, 2016

Feminism in Hungary

The Central Statistical Office made a surprising announcement today. As a result of car production, a good harvest, and an uptick in the construction industry the Hungarian GDP grew by 1.7% in the third quarter of the year. On the basis of this data the government predicts continuous, sustained growth; a few others expressed fear that the upsurge signals only a short-term improvement. Since I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on this unexpected news, I’ll turn to a totally different topic–feminism.

Let’s start with the fallout from the domestic violence case against József Balogh, a Fidesz member of parliament. Once his immunity from prosecution was lifted at the urging of the prosecutors, he admitted that it wasn’t the poor blind komondor who was responsible for his partner’s broken cheekbones. Consequently, Balogh was ousted from the Fidesz caucus and also lost his membership in the party. However, he didn’t lose his right to remain a member of parliament as an independent.

Demokratikus Koalíció’s female members, Ágnes Vadai and Erika Szűcs, were not satisfied and protested in parliament. The result? László Kövér, president of the House, fined the two the maximum 130,000 forints or $587. The two women are outraged. For anti-Semitic remarks Kövér fined a Jobbik member only 50,000 forints in the first instance and 60,000 in the second. Moreover, the drunk István Pálffy, who disturbed the work of parliament more than they did, wasn’t fined at all. As far as I know, only opposition members were ever fined by Kövér.

But that was not all. The fine had to be sanctioned by the members of parliament. Fidesz members were united. Even the 20 women in the Fidesz caucus voted for Kövér’s very stiff fine. If you recall, a year ago when another Fidesz member of parliament, István Varga, made an outrageous remark about the link between the number of babies in the family and domestic violence, Antal Rogán and Gabriella Selmeczi expressed their strong opposition to the ideas expressed by Varga. Then the women members of the Fidesz caucus still showed solidarity with the female victims of domestic violence. By now this solidarity has vanished: they now follow the lead of the party which, it seems to me, feels somewhat threatened by the women’s issue. The party, especially lately, has acquired the unsavory reputation of being anti-woman. One must also add that József Balogh voted for the stiff fine of the two women!

The accusation leveled against Fidesz is not exactly groundless. Here are a few examples from pro-government sources. A journalist who writes extensively in right-leaning publications finds the worlds of Ágnes Vadai and József Balogh on a par. He is sick and tired of all that talk about women being the victims of domestic violence when a study by a Hungarian female criminologist shows that 40% of the victims are actually male. Moreover, women are the ones, more than men, who physically punish their children, and they are especially harsh on their male offspring. He also accuses the female activists of rendering “the lives of abused women, children and men more difficult.” Men who are being systematically humiliated in this hysterical campaign will “feel a kind of solidarity with those who beat women.” They will think that they are innocent and they were only slandered. He ends his piece by saying that “the whole country would have been better off if Vadai and other amazons of the Demokratikus Koalíció had stayed in the kitchen.”

Let me add here that in the U.S., according to most studies, women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%. I doubt that Hungarian men are meeker and more defenseless than their American counterparts, and therefore the 40% figure the Hungarian female criminologist came up sounds unlikely. Admittedly, it is possible that the number of cases of abuse against males is higher than reported due to men’s reluctance to admit being beaten up by a woman.

Or here is an article in Magyar Nemzet about a women’s congress that was organized by the Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Szövetség (Hungarian Women’s Interest Group). The author is a woman, Ágnes Győr, yet she is absolutely gleeful that fewer people showed up at the conference than expected and therefore, according to her, the organizers had to ask people to sit closer together in order for the crowd to look bigger. She pointed out that the audience came from the same circle of people, intimating the heavily liberal nature of the gathering. Therefore, she “forgets” to mention participants who didn’t come from this “charmed circle.” Actually, all parties were represented. For instance, Ildikó Gáll, neé Pelcz, Fidesz EP member, was also there.

Although she mentions the name of Danuta Hübner, who sent a video message to the conference, she was reluctant to reveal that Hübner is a member of the European People’s Party’s caucus in Strasbourg, the same caucus to which Fidesz belongs. She emphasizes, on the other hand, that Hübner is the “prime minister of the Polish female shadow government.” Let’s make her look ridiculous, I guess.

On the other hand, she did have a few good words to say about the guest of honor, Eve Ensler, the American playwright and activist, author of The Vagina Monologues. Lately Ensler created “One Billion Rising,” a global protest campaign to end violence and promote justice and gender equality for women. Hungary joined the One Billion Rising movement, but as the reporter of Magyar Nemzet put it, “here because the organizers were locals, the verve and vitality disappeared, only the trite messages of liberals remained.”

Naturally, an Internet site called Nőkorszak (Age of Women) had a different take on the gathering. They claim that the congress opened to an audience of 1,000.

Photo: www.facebook.com/IttVagyunkNokongresszus

Photo: www.facebook.com/IttVagyunkNokongresszus

A reporter from 444.hu admitted that he had never seen so many women, and only women, in one place. He also noted that it must be terrible to be a woman in Hungary, “especially if she has some ambitions.” He admitted that he wouldn’t want to be a woman in Hungary.

Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), Együtt14, Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), and Lehet Más a Politika (LMP) would like to see more women in parliament, and therefore they suggested setting up quotas. They believe that without such quotas nothing will change, because the current male-dominated parties will never of their own volition put up a sufficient number of female candidates to have a more gender-balanced parliament. Most likely they are right. The number of women in parliament has actually decreased in the last 23 years. Naturally, Fidesz is dead set against the idea. Although MSZP, which by the way was represented by a man, was less forthcoming on the issue, one got the distinct impression that the socialists are against the idea of strict quotas.

On the other hand E14-PM, which received the right to name candidates in 35 electoral districts, picked 10 women candidates. They announced their resolve to establish a 30% quota for women. DK came out with 106 names, out of which I found 13 women. LMP currently has 4 women members out of the seven-member delegation. As for Fidesz-KDNP, I would be surprised if in the next parliament the party would have more female representatives than it does this year.

Hungarian women, even those who are active supporters of women’s rights, can sometimes seem almost apologetic about their views. Márta Mészáros, a Hungarian scriptwriter and film director who was one of the principal speakers at the congress, told her audience that on the way to the congress the taxi driver, when he heard where she was heading, asked her whether the participants will all be feminists. To which she proudly answered: “I don’t know, but I’m not a feminist. I only fight for the equality of women.” I guess she never bothered to look up the meaning of the word feminism. Any dictionary could tell her that it means “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”