Tag Archives: gender equality

Fidesz and gender inequality

A fascinating article appeared yesterday in 24.hu about József Szájer’s voting habits in the EU parliament. István Ujhelyi, an MSZP member of the EU parliament, noticed that Szájer, who is one of the nine vice-chairmen of the European People’s Party (EPP), often refrains from voting, although he is the one who instructs members of EPP to vote for or against an issue. Szájer explained that he, as vice-chair of EPP, in order to avoid self-contradiction, refrains from voting when the Fidesz caucus within the EPP cannot support the delegation’s majority decision. Thus, from Szájer’s non-votes one gets a fair idea of how often Fidesz members stray from the majority opinion. The resulting count revealed that in the last two years there have been 58 occasions when Szájer had to resort to this practice, which means that for the EPP leadership the Fidesz caucus must be a royal pain in the neck. It’s no wonder that a few months ago there was talk of their expulsion from the delegation.

A careful study of those issues on which Fidesz went against its own delegation is by itself a fascinating undertaking. No one will be surprised to hear that many of the contrary votes were about issues connected to migration. But the Fidesz delegation also went against the majority opinion on anything related to Turkey. Fidesz members didn’t quite dare to vote against the resolution condemning the repressive measures introduced by President Erdoğan; instead, they consistently abstained on all issues related to Turkey. The same was true of any piece of legislation connected to the rights of NGOs.

József Szájer at work / MTI / Photo: László Beliczay

Given the Orbán government’s views on migration, its outright friendly relations with Turkey, and its antagonism toward NGOs, none of these “nay” votes or abstentions is surprising. What is startling, however, is the Fidesz MEPs’ consistent anti-women stance. Fidesz MEPs either vote against or abstain when gender equality is at stake. In April of this year they abstained when the European Parliament approved the Arena report on female poverty. They did the same when it was the question of the Kuneva report on domestic workers. They also abstained on accepting the Honeyball report on sexual exploitation and prostitution. All this hasn’t gone unnoticed, and István Ujhelyi learned that the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) will send a delegation to Hungary soon to learn more about the situation on the spot. A similar delegation visited Poland just lately, and therefore I assume that the trip to Hungary is not far off. I should mention that FEMM has only one Hungarian member, Jobbik’s Krisztina Morvai.

Here are some of the women-related issues on which Fidesz members voted “nay” or abstained: (1) supporting girls’ education in the EU, (2) the implementation of the principle of equal opportunity and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation, (3) the enforcement of gender equality in the work of the European Parliament, (4) strengthening gender equality and women’s rights in the digital age, (5) preventing and combating human trafficking and defending the victims, (6) the development of labor market conditions favorable to a balance between work and private life, (7) the promotion of gender equality in mental health and clinical research, (8) the Report on Equality between men and women in the European Union—2014-2016, and (9) the Report on EU subsidies for promoting gender equality. As you can see, they wouldn’t even support the fight against human trafficking or research on the mental health of women.

What emerges from this list is a consistent and deliberate government policy against anything that would promote gender equality. It is not just Viktor Orbán’s ambivalent feelings toward women in politics, as expressed a couple of years ago at his meeting with students. And it is certainly not the delicate nature of women that would make them unsuitable for political life in Hungary, as Orbán claimed at the time. It is a hard political decision. As long as Viktor Orbán and his ilk are in power in Hungary, the situation of Hungarian women will not improve. Mind you, as far as the number of women in politics is concerned, the situation wasn’t exactly rosy even before 2010. Their numbers in parliament have been hovering around 9-10%. Hungary is close to the bottom of a list of 189 countries comparing the percentage of women in the legislative process. It is among countries like Gambia, Samoa, Botswana, and Belize. Nothing to be proud of. But at the same time Hungarians, on the whole, share Viktor Orbán’s belief that the reason for the scarcity of women in parliament is their unsuitability for the profession.

Hungarian women don’t fare well in general. The European Institute for Gender Equality, an EU agency situated in Lithuania, published its latest report on gender equality in the European Union. Since 2005 three such reports were published, and the report noted that progress in this area has proceeded at a “snail’s pace” in general.

The report ranked all 28 states on an index score from one to 100 in terms of work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health. It also looked into the issue of violence. Sweden heads the list with an overall score of 82.6, followed by Denmark (76.8), Finland (73), and the Netherlands (72.9). At the bottom is Greece with a score of 50. And where is Hungary? Second to last with a score of 50.8. Over time scores increased in most member states, though some were stagnant (Czech Republic, Lithuania, Finland, Slovakia). There were, however, a few that managed to lose ground: Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Spain, and the UK. The 2017 interactive equality index is available online.

Hungary’s low scores were predictable, as was the fact that in the last few years Hungarian scores have decreased. The worst score Hungary received was in the political, economic, and social power category. Here are some figures: for women’s political power Hungary received a score of 14.3, while the EU average is 52.7. That put Hungary last on the list. The same is true of women’s social power (20.9). Hungary did somewhat better in the economic sphere, where the EU average is 39.5 and Hungary received a score of 22.1. That better score, however, didn’t make up for the very low scores in the other two categories, and thus Hungary ended up at the bottom of the list with an overall score of 18.7 as opposed to 48.5 for the 28 member states.

It is depressing to see Hungary at the bottom or very close to the bottom in comparative lists. It is especially jarring in light of the constant bragging of Fidesz politicians about the fantastic achievements of the country. I wonder when the people of Hungary will notice that something has gone very wrong and that a better future is not likely any time soon.

October 14, 2017

The war between the Hungarian government and the NGOs continues

I’m sure that most readers of Hungarian Spectrum are familiar with the tug-of-war between the Norwegian and the Hungarian governments over the disbursement of the Norwegian Civic Funds. These funds are specifically designed to support non-governmental organizations that are involved with issues like democracy and human rights, gender and equal opportunity, youth and children’s issues, the environment, basic services to vulnerable groups, and the empowerment of minority groups, including the Roma. These issues are not exactly high on the priority list of authoritarian governments like the present one in Hungary. Hence the Hungarian government’s harassment of NGOs.

It was about a year ago, right after the election, that attacks on the Hungarian distributors of these funds began. Since that time I wrote three or four posts on the ups-and-downs of the negotiations between János Lázár, the minister in charge of the prime minister’s office, and Vidar Helgesen, the minister in charge of European affairs in the Norwegian government. The Norwegians, unlike officials of the European Union, have refused to cave in to Hungarian demands.

Why did I decide to return to the topic of the Norwegian Civic Funds? Because in the last three months two different independent firms looked over the Hungarian NGOs that are in charge of disbursement and found everything in order. The first firm the Norwegian government hired, Creda Consultinggave high marks to the consortium that handled the disbursement of the funds. It was praised for its “most innovative elements among the 15 NGO programs assessed across Europe.” I’m sure that Creda’s praise for “Ökotárs,” the fund operator, didn’t impress the Hungarian government, which over the last year came up with charges against it–“one for every season,” as Veronika Móra, director of Ökortárs, put it in a recent op/ed article in HVG.

In January the Norwegian government asked the accounting firm PKF Littlejohn to take a look at Ökotárs’s books because, among other things, the Hungarian government accused it of embezzlement. PKF Littlejohn found no evidence of any wrongdoing. Moreover, the accountants didn’t just look at the fund operator’s financial dealings; they also checked on the activities of several recipients of the funds. They didn’t run into any major problems.

After receiving the final results, the Norwegian foreign ministry announced that “Norway stands ready for a dialogue.” The question is whether the Hungarian government is willing to engage in such a conversation. One would think that after two independent expert assessments, the Hungarian government would give up and not risk losing the substantial amount of money the Hungarian government itself receives from the Norway Funds. But I’m not at all sure that the government in Budapest will retreat any time soon. I assume that Norway is satisfied with the way their funds are being dispersed to the NGOs and that a dialogue with János Lázár on this topic would not be a bargaining session. For Lázár to accept the current arrangement would mean defeat for the Hungarian government.

Veronika Móra in her op/ed piece rightly pointed out that the attack on Ökotárs and the Norway Civic Fund is only part of a general assault against NGOs in general. They are the victims of “a deliberate political strategy” aimed at their elimination. Viktor Orbán in his infamous speech that included a reference to “illiberal democracy” called NGOs “paid political activists.” Of course, there are “good NGOs,” those that are involved only in charitable activities. By definition, the Norwegian Civic Fund belongs to the “bad NGO” category. All of the targeted areas defined by the managers of the fund involve public policy. Lázár at one point accused the Norwegian government of deliberately trying to topple the Hungarian government. A few months later Orbán in an interview with Bloomberg talked about registering NGOs that receive funds from abroad. Just the kind of procedure Vladimir Putin introduced.

Normally, after a while, the Hungarian government retires from direct fights of this sort. For example, lately neither Lázár nor his assistant undersecretary, Nándor Csepreghy, speaks about the NGO issue. They assigned the job to the leaders of their own creation CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum/Civic Collaboration Forum), the group that organized the pro-government marches every time Viktor Orbán felt that he needed a show of force for his political survival. Although the leaders of CÖF hotly deny it, the organization is most likely financed by the Hungarian government.

CÖF’s “legal adviser,” Zoltán Lomniczi, Jr., who calls himself a “constitutional expert,” is now the designated spokesman for the government strategy. He is being touted as “one of the most eminent experts” on the subject. According to him, four-fifths of Hungarian NGOs are financed in whole or in part by George Soros. As for the causes these NGOs are involved in–the Roma, drug prevention, and the disabled, according to Lomniczi these are not the most burning issues in today’s Hungary. “The defense of mental hygiene” as a result of the negative influence of the media or the “disfranchisement of Hungarians” in Slovakia or in Serbia are causes that deserve attention. The “eminent expert” accused the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, TASZ, of not raising its voice at the time of the police attack on “innocent demonstrators” in 2006 October. In fact, it was TASZ who took up the defense of those who were the victims of unnecessary force.

Zoltán Lomniczi, Jr. listening to Veronika Móra at ATV's program, Csatt

Zoltán Lomniczi, Jr. listening to Veronika Móra on ATV’s program “Csatt”

Lomniczi’s recent preoccupation with NGOs prompted Egon Rónai of ATV to invite him and three other NGO leaders for a conversation on a program called “Csatt.” Veronika Móra represented Ökotárs and Miklós Ligeti, Transparency International. András Székely, an economist and teacher of religion, spoke on behalf of the “Három Királyfi és Három Királylány Mozgalom” (three princes and three princesses movement). The movement’s aim is to promote a higher birthrate to produce large families. I highly recommend taking a look at the program. Most educational.

Meanwhile, we can wait to see what the Hungarian government’s next move will be to “remedy” the situation with those pesky NGOs.