Tag Archives: homophobia

A town council on the Serb-Hungarian border takes care of Muslims and gays

At the end of November a bizarre news item appeared: the council of Ásotthalom, a village of 4,000 inhabitants adjacent to the Serb-Hungarian border, passed a series of ordinances that forbade building mosques, wearing the burka, all activities of muezzins and, for good measure, the “propagation of gay marriage” and any publicity given to “opinions about the family different from the definition in the constitution.” Just to remind readers, the so-called “Fundamental law”–that is, the new Fidesz constitution–states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”

The mayor of Ásotthalom is the infamous László Toroczkai, who ten years ago led the assault against the headquarters of MTV, Hungary’s public television station. He even has a brief English-language Wikipedia entry in which he is described as “the founder of the far-right 64 Counties Youth Movement (HVIM).” He is, as the name of his organization demonstrates, a Hungarian irredentist, who as a result of his activities in the neighboring countries has been banned from Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia. I wrote several times about Toroczkai and his involvement in a host of far-right, neo-Nazi organizations. His affiliations and activities were obviously not viewed as a political liability in the village, however. He was elected mayor of Ásotthalom in a by-election in 2013.

Once the liberal media recovered from the shock that this man could become a mayor with over 70% of the votes, his name pretty much disappeared from the national press. But then came Toroczkai’s chance for renewed fame/infamy: the arrival of the refugees, whose escape route went through Ásotthalom. Toroczkai was in his element, organizing civic groups that were supposed to help the police and later the military in guarding the fence. I suspect that some of the atrocities against the refugees were actually committed by Toroczkai and his men.

The immediate reaction of the liberal media to Toroczkai’s ban was hilarity. A local ordinance against mosques and gays? One doesn’t have to be a legal expert to know that Ásotthalom’s ordinance is unconstitutional. Article VII of the constitution states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Moreover, “this right shall include the freedom to choose or change one’s religion or other belief, and the freedom of everyone to manifest, abstain from manifesting, practice or teach his or her religion or other belief through religious acts, rites, or otherwise, either individually or jointly with others, either in public or in private life.” It seems that of the six members of the village council two had the good sense to abstain while one had a valid reason to be absent. Thus only three council members voted for the resolution.

The locals learned about the decision from the papers and television and eventually came to the conclusion that these steps had been taken only as preventive measures in case the European Union forces Ásotthalom to accept Muslim migrants. As for the mosques, on TV they can see all those mosques in western cities; it is perhaps a good idea to spell out that no mosque will ever be built in their village. After all, as Toroczkai told Olga Kálmán on ATV the other day, “practically next door there is a mosque already.” It turned out that he was talking about Subotica in Serbia where there has been a mosque since 2007 to serve a community of 22 Muslims, all Serbian nationals.

Interestingly enough, there might actually be two Muslims living in Ásotthalom. One is a man from Kuwait who is married to a Hungarian Christian. After living in Kuwait for a while, they returned to Hungary 16 years ago. When asked, Toroczkai claimed that the ordinance is not directed against this man and his four children, who are Christians. He seemed to be more worried about a shadowy young woman no one really knows who apparently studied abroad and converted to Islam as the result of a romance with an Algerian man.

This incident created quite a headache for Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, who in a surprise move had recently asked Toroczkai to be one of his deputies. Toroczkai’s appointment followed the removal of Előd Novák, a far-right member of the Jobbik leadership who became an unwelcome burden with his radicalism and anti-Semitism. Vona has been trying to transform Jobbik into a right-of-center party that can be seriously considered to lead the country either alone or in a coalition. What no one could understand is why Vona thought that Toroczkai was less of an extremist than Novák. They are cut from the same cloth. When Novák learned about Toroczkai’s ordinance, he wrote on his Facebook page: “Hats off!” But otherwise, the Jobbik leadership didn’t appreciate Toroczkai’s move, about which he hadn’t notified his party. As Toroczkai complained, he had expected severe criticism from Muslims and gays but what surprised him was that “the most vehement attacks came from my own camp, the so-called national (radical) side.”

Gábor Vona, soon after the news of Ásotthalom’s ordinance reached the national media, paid a visit to the border town and had a long conversation with Toroczkai, which apparently led nowhere. Vona told N1 TV, an internet television station with ties to Jobbik, that he considers “the ordinance stigmatizing Muslims and gays irresponsible and unnecessary. Jobbik will guarantee freedom of religion to everyone” once in power.

László Toroczkai and Gábor Vona in Ásotthalom

Meanwhile, two gay organizations, Budapest Pride and the Hungarian LGBT Association, began organizing a trip to Ásotthalom for this afternoon to test Toroczkai’s ordinance. Toroczkai considered the demonstration a “provocation.” The homophobic elements of Toroczkai were considering a counter-demonstration, but the mayor wisely decided against it. He was, however, well prepared. He asked the Szeged police force to be on hand for the occasion and had one of the town employees standing by with a video camera. Toroczkai promised a careful examination of the video to ascertain whether anyone in the group of about a dozen men and women had “propagated gay marriage,” for example. There is the possibility that Toroczkai will consider the poster with the message “egy papa meg egy papa plusz egy gyerek” (one daddy and one daddy plus one child) a violation of the ordinance. If so, Toroczkai wants to fine the owner of the poster 150,000 forints. That’s unlikely ever to happen.

A few locals gathered to look at the spectacle. A yellow van normally used to take workers to the fields came by three times, and its passengers yelled through the open windows “filthy faggots.” One has the feeling that the locals are more preoccupied with gays than with Muslims. Interestingly enough, although the people of Ásotthalom encountered several thousand migrants last year, fewer people voted on the day of the referendum in the village than in the region as a whole.

♦ ♦ ♦

Finally, here is something that might cheer you up. You may recall that in my post on the PISA results I quoted Árpád W. Tóta, who said in his opinion piece that Orbán had managed to create “a school system for sheep.” That reminded Henk, who lives in Hungary and learned Hungarian very well, of a poem by Sándor Weöres (1913-1989) from his volume of poetry for children titled Bóbita (Tuft). Henk translated it into English. I’m very pleased to share his translation with the readers of Hungarian Spectrum.

A birka-iskola

Egyszer volt egy nagy csoda,
Neve: birka-iskola.
Ki nem szólt, csak bégetett,
Az kapott dicséretet.

Ki oda se ballagott,
Még jutalmat is kapott,
Így hát egy se ment oda,
Meg is szűnt az iskola.

The School for Sheep

Once there was a marvel great;
it was called: a school for sheep.
Who didn’t talk, but only bleat,
he was highly praised indeed.

Whoever refused to go,
was rewarded even more.
So, no one went to school of course,
and it had to close its doors.

December 10, 2016

Viktor Orbán: “Hungary is a serious country” where gays are patiently tolerated

First, some background to today’s post. May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Governments in Europe and North America usually release a statement on the occasion, just as President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry did. Obama and the First Lady reaffirmed that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights are human rights” and said that they wanted “to underscore that all people deserve to live free from fear, violence, and discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love.” According to Kerry, “the human rights of LGBTI persons are fundamental and enshrined in the Universal Declaration,” and he reasserted the United States’s “unwavering commitment to advance the human fights of LGBTI persons here at home and around the world.” In Europe, similar sentiments were expressed by leaders of the European Union. Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, promised the European Union’s support for the LGBTI community. Vera Jourová, commissioner for justice, emphasized that “we are all born equal in dignity and rights.”

I assume that nobody will be surprised to hear that no member of the Hungarian government offered such pledges to the LGBTI community in Hungary. So, on May 18, a day after the International Day Against Homophobia, a reporter from Index decided to ask a provocative question of Viktor Orbán. I am using here a somewhat modified translation of that conversation, provided by the blogger of Congress of Baboons, an English-language site.

Index: As today is the International Day Against Homophobia, politicians worldwide, including conservatives, declared their “Respect for the Gays.” Your government did not make a statement on this subject. Therefore, my question is: As prime minister, what message would you send to the homophobes, and what actions will the government take to ensure that in Hungary non-heterosexual couples can hold hands in public without fear?

Viktor Orbán: This is a question that makes one want to joke around, but I should spare us from anything of the sort. So, . . . I would suggest that anyone who makes public statements about this matter . . . do so with reasonable care. Hungary is a serious country. It is fundamentally based on traditional values. Hungary is a tolerant nation. Tolerance, however, does not mean that we would apply the same rules for people whose life style is different from our own. We differentiate between them and us. Tolerance means patience, tolerance means an ability to coexist, this is the basis of the Hungarian Constitution which clearly differentiates between a marital relationship between a man and a woman and other, different forms of cohabitation. We are going to keep this. By the way, I am grateful to the Hungarian homosexual community for not exhibiting the provocative behavior against which numerous European nations are struggling and which results in an outcome that is the exact opposite of what they want to achieve. I believe that in Hungary, even though the constitution clearly differentiates between marriage and other forms of cohabitation, the people with lifestyles different from our own outlook on life are safe, they are given the respect of basic human dignity that they deserve. I believe that . . . foreigners don’t feel that in this respect Budapest is a dangerous city. This is good, this is how we can live together. If we … make more stringent regulations or the community of homosexuals starts being more provocative, I think that the current peaceful, calm equilibrium will be no more. No one would benefit from this. Everyone benefits from being able to coexist. I believe that as we now are, we can live together.

In brief, people whose sexual orientation is different from the “norm” are not equal to the heterosexual members of society. They are only tolerated, and they are tolerated only as long as they don’t rock the boat.

Orban Debrecen

Of course, Orbán didn’t answer the reporter’s question about the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the International Day Against Homophobia. Instead, in his statement, he tried to explain the place of LGBTI people in Hungarian society and their rights as full members of a national community. In this answer, which he delivered with obvious discomfort, he revealed that their status in Hungary is anything but comfortable. An umbrella organization of LGBTI people in Hungary, Budapest Pride, immediately announced that “the LGBTI people living in Hungary are not at all grateful to Viktor Orbán. Instead of joking about it, perhaps the Hungarian government should do something against the discrimination this community suffers.” Magyar Narancs summarized Orbán’s message well: “A Hungarian doesn’t harass anyone, unless he is forced to harass him in a tolerant manner with mercy in his heart.”

The above exchange prompted some interesting responses. Because of Hungarian intolerance, few people ever admit that they are gays or lesbians. One exception is Klára Ungár, former SZDSZ politician and a member of parliament, who, it seems, got mad enough to out two Fidesz politicians who are closet gays. She was heavily criticized for the indiscretion, but she doesn’t regret her decision. The conversation above also prompted András Léderer, another former SZDSZ politician, to “confess” his homosexuality. In the article he wrote for HVG he accuses Orbán of not too well hidden homophobia.

Orbán’s words also elicited explicitly homophobic outbursts. Zsolt Bayer, a great friend of Orbán and one of those handful of students who established Fidesz, wrote a most disgusting article in Magyar Hírlap, which was openly and viciously homophobic. The article begins: “I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t wear a sheer pink tutu, but I still liked it. It was truly European, and unfortunately there is no cynicism in this. Because today this is Europe.” Bayer was talking about the wedding of Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel. He is the first European prime minister to marry someone of the same sex.

The beginning of the article is actually mild in comparison to what comes afterward. “Let’s stop and say it proudly: The hell with the International Day Against Homophobia!” (In the original, “leszarjuk a homofóbia elleni világnapot!”) And, “we have as much right to be homophobes as anyone else.” The prime minister made a mistake by even answering this “European provocation.” The proper answer would have been: “I don’t send any message because I have nothing to do with it.” But because he didn’t tell the reporter to get lost, the “provocation was successful.” As a result, “the domestic Europeans are whining, seething, gnawing.”

A less vituperative article appeared in Napi Gazdaság, which is quickly becoming as unreadable as Magyar Nemzet was a couple of months ago. Péter Szikszai, a young actor, lists all those sitcoms and films with gay or lesbian themes. According to him, there is a steady pro-gay propaganda through television and movie theaters. It is spreading rapidly and occupies “the beachheads of the entertainment industry.”

Jobbik a few weeks ago wanted to forbid the Pride’s demonstration, coming up in July, but “forbidding Pride can no longer help.” And “the International Day Against Homophobia is neither here nor there.”

For the prime minister and his defenders, it’s always them (where the “them” are alleged to be somehow inferior) against us. Their problem is that the “them” are growing and the “us” are shrinking. Perhaps one day in the not too distant future individual rights will be respected in Hungary, not merely tolerated.

Imre Kerényi and Lajos Kósa: boorishness and prejudice in Orbán’s Hungary

A couple of days ago I wasn’t quite sure whether I should mention a distasteful episode in the “cultural life” of Hungary. I use quotation marks here because what I’m going to talk about has nothing to do with culture. In fact, the topic is the total lack of civility and proper behavior. And here I’m not talking about the man on the street but rather about the boorishness and vulgarity of Hungarian politicians and those who are ready to serve them.

I will be focusing on  two public figures here. One is a former theater director who, according to many, is “not quite normal” and therefore cannot be taken seriously. That may be, but he was appointed by Prime Minister Victor Orbán to be his personal representative responsible for cultural matters. So, when he opens his mouth one must assume he speaks in the name of his boss. And that is the problem. Imre Kerényi, the man in question, would be unacceptable in any civilized society, especially as a spokesman for the prime minister of the country. This is not the first time that his words create consternation and dismay in the civilized half of Hungarian society. He comes out with outlandish, often laughable, plans, and unfortunately receives money from the government to execute them. The subject of his ire this time around was the theater world, where he finds the influence of gays intolerable.

The other person is a key Fidesz politician, Lajos Kósa, deputy chairman of Fidesz, member of parliament, and mayor of Debrecen. He is an important man in Fidesz’s inner circle, and now that members of parliament cannot be mayors at the same time, he was persuaded by Viktor Orbán to relinquish his post as mayor despite the fact that he has ruled Debrecen ever since 1998. Viktor Orbán obviously finds him useful to himself and to the party.

A few days ago, in interview on HírTV, he had a few words to say about Jean-Claude Juncker, the candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. The exchange revealed that Kósa knows absolutely nothing about Juncker or what’s going on in Brussels at the moment, but that didn’t prevent him from speaking of the matter in the most boorish, crass, and vulgar manner. The behavior of these two, and they are naturally not alone, is symptomatic of the atmosphere that has been created by the uncouth characters who managed to win an election and who have been working furiously ever since to ensure that they will stay forever and bring the country down to the level where they feel comfortable. In the gutter.

So, let’s start with Kerényi. I have written about him several times, so anyone who’s not familiar with him can easily catch upstarting with my summary of his earlier life. Kerényi, the former communist party member, discovered his real right-wing roots and became an ardent admirer of Viktor Orbán. Those in the theatrical world who do not share his convictions are his enemies who must be purged from the nation’s theaters.  He has outlandish ideas about the theater in general. According to him, 80% of all Hungarian plays are “sacred works” inspired by Christianity, and therefore it is important that the director himself be a Christian. Kerényi finds the present state of affairs abominable. What Hungary needs is “Christian” theater,” whatever that means. He would like to see a Christian Theater Festival. After all, there are festivals galore: Festival of the Mangalica (a hairy Hungarian pig), Jewish Festival, and what not. Therefore, there should be a Christian Theater Festival. The theatrical world should be liberated from the “lobby of the fags.” And while we are at it, why not establish an “anti-college of the performing arts” and let the present one rot.

The reaction was predictable. Several people demanded an explanation from Viktor Orbán. After all, as I said, Kerényi is his personal representative in matters of culture. Well-known actors and the president of the College of the Performing Arts bombarded Orbán with letters demanding an explanation. Some people called for Kerényi to be sacked. To date they have received no answer, although one of the many spokesmen for Fidesz said that Kerényi’s language was not to his liking. When asked whether Kerényi should leave his government post, the spokesman answered that “it is the decision of the person who appointed him.”

Kerényi is not the kind of man who can be easily intimidated. A few days later in an interview he reiterated his opinion on the subject and proudly announced that his opinions coincide with the views of the majority. Well, actually, attitudes toward gays are changing in Hungary, especially among young people. Moreover, what kind of a government is it where one of its members incites base prejudice against a minority? Yes, that kind!

The story was reported in Der Spiegel by Keno Verseck, a German journalist fluent in Hungarian. The title of his article was “Cultural representative stirs up hatred against gays.” As for Kerényi’s style, Verseck compared it to “graffiti in public toilets.”

Now let’s move on to another illustrious member of Fidesz, Lajos Kósa. As far as I know, Kósa does not know any foreign languages and therefore his knowledge of the outside world is based solely on the Hungarian media and his party’s interpretation of the news. (An aside, the Hungarian Parliament’s webpage has been redesigned. Earlier we could find out, among other things, what language skills the MPs have. Currently no information of any kind about the members is available.)  Two days ago Kósa was a guest on HírTV’s Friday evening political program called P8. He gave a 45-minute interview in which the conversation turned to, among other things, the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker for the post of president of the European Commission. Regardless of what one might think of Juncker as a man and as a politician, Kósa’s remarks were unacceptable by any standard.

Sours: commons.wikipedia.org

Source: commons.wikipedia.org

As we know, Viktor Orbán, along with the heads of state of Great Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands, indicated that he would vote against Juncker’s candidacy. Let’s look at Kósa’s opinion of the man. Not surprisingly, he does not think that Juncker is suitable for the job because he is not a “characteristic” politician. What one needs today is a man of exceptional talent. Someone who can be accepted by all Europeans, from the Portuguese to the Greeks. It was appropriate for Viktor Orbán to raise his voice against Juncker because if “everybody keeps his mouth shut and we keep looking at each other, if we all just ask  ‘Lord Almighty who the hell imposed that joker on us’… Otherwise, this is how things are normally. Let’s take a look at the commissioners. One of them is a greater loser than the next. We have had experience with them. Up and down from Neelie Kroes and through Olli Rhen who after three years admitted that ‘sorry, I was wrong.’  What a great guy and in the meantime Europe goes to shit. Enough of that. What we want to say is that one cannot talk seriously about the European Union as long as everybody shuts up and exports domestically discredited people and acts as if all that was okay.”*

These kinds of people are in charge of Hungarian politics and culture. György Dalos quoted in Der Spiegel is right. Such “tirades are only reflections of the political atmosphere under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.”

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*In the Hungarian original: “Ha mindenki kussol meg nézzük egymást, azt gondoljuk, hogy: Úristen, ezt a jóembert – aki lehet, hogy tényleg jó ember, de – ki a bánat tette a nyakunkra? Egyébként mindig ez van, nézzük ezeket az európai biztosokat, hát egyik nagyobb gáz, mint a másik. Azért volt ebben tapasztalatunk, nem? Neelie Kroestól kezdve lefele-felfele, Olli Rehnen át… és akkor egy európai pénzügyi biztos majd három év múlva azt találja mondani, hogy „bocsi, nem volt igazam”. Hát nagyon jó fej, közben meg Európa gajra megy. Elég volt ebből. Pont azt akarjuk mondani, hogy nem lehet az Európai Unióról komolyan véve beszélni, ha mindenki sumákol és exportálja az otthon már levitézlett embereket és úgy csinálunk, mintha ez nagyon rendben lenne.”

Homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Hungary

György Bolgár’s Let’s Talk It Over is a liberal talk show with a huge fan club. I myself rarely miss it. Bolgár comes up with topics that he finds interesting or important and usually adds a comment with a question mark at the end. Today I learned that Ferenc Gyurcsány visited Viktor Orbán’s old dormitory, the István Bibó Kollégium, yesterday. Only students of the college could attend the informal talk. Soon enough a recording of the talk was in the hands of Magyar NemzetThe paper made sure that at least one minute of Gyurcsány’s talk was shared with the readers and presented it as a second Balatonőszöd speech.

What was it that, according to Magyar Nemzet, was such a sin that it can only be compared to the speech that effectively ended Gyurcsány’s premiership? The former prime minister told his audience that his views on cultural matters, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and choice of identity are extremely liberal. “Just to shock you, we are the only party that supports the marriage of same-sex couples and their right to adopt children.” He added that the only reason DK didn’t propose a bill to this effect was because “the socialists would have had hiccups” if they did. The conclusion of Magyar Nemzet was that just as Gyurcsány didn’t reveal the whole truth about the state of the economy before the 2006 election he isn’t revealing the whole truth about the opposition’s position today. If they win the election the Unity coalition will introduce an outrageous bill on same-sex marriage and will have the majority to pass it.

György Bolgár tacked on his usual question to this piece of news, asking his audience whether it was a wise move of Gyurcsány to touch on this “delicate” subject in the middle of the election campaign. The current constitution states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”

The discussion of the subject even in the relatively moderate right-wing press, for example Heti Válasz, shows such a combination of ignorance, antagonism, and false information that one is inclined to think that bringing up the subject was anything but wise politically. Only yesterday Heti Válasz came out with an article headlined “Two Fidesz EU members voted for the proposal of the gay lobbyists.” One can sense surprise or perhaps even outrage that such a scandalous vote could occur in the EU’s Fidesz caucus. The story is a bit old since it was on February 14 that the proposal was endorsed by a large majority of the European Parliament, but I guess better later than never. In the article, according to the short description of it available on the Internet, the proposal among other things “would make it compulsory to spread the popularity of homosexuality already in kindergartens and the member states would be forced to adopt same-sex marriage.” The article mentions that a most likely homophobic civil group, CitizenGO, was collecting signatures to make sure that the proposal would never be adopted. They failed. The rapporteur of the proposal was Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green EP, who is a lesbian activist. Heti Válasz revealed the names of the two Fidesz renegades who voted for the bill. They turned out to be József Szájer and Lívia Járóka. I’m not surprised. Although Szájer is  married, it seems to be widely known that he is actually gay. And Járóka, who is of Roma origin, might be more sensitive to discrimination than the average Fidesz EP.

Source: www.algbtical.org

Source: www.algbtical.org

If the so-called moderate Fidesz outlet, Heti Válasz, takes the unfounded rumors about the propagation of homosexuality and compulsory introduction of gay marriage in the member states at face value, you can imagine what the other right-wing publications say on the subject. But when you actually look at the “Report on the EU Roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” it is a moderate document designed to have easy passage. It simply opposes discrimination and wants to ensure the equality of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. Heti Válasz‘s reporter obviously didn’t even bother to read the document.

So, Bolgár’s question was justified. Was it wise for Ferenc Gyurcsány to bring the topic up at all? Was he again careless and rash? After all, he is now a member of a team that is supposed to show unity. And one of the problems of “Összefogás” is that voters don’t see the kind of unity its name implies. So, I would say, no, it was not a wise thing to do. Not that I don’t sympathize with his position. I do, but with this statement he is opening himself up for another attack from Magyar Nemzet. One can say that it really doesn’t matter what he says or doesn’t, his opponents shower the most outrageous attacks on him anyway. One could say that politicians don’t always have to cater to public sentiment. But there’s a reason that most politicians try to align themselves with the views of their potential voters.

In the United States where state governments and courts as well as the federal government and the Supreme Court are moving to extend rights to the LGBT community, the majority supports the idea of same-sex marriage (54% in 2013). In Hungary according to the latest poll (2007) it is only 30%. If I had to guess, due to Fidesz and Christian Democratic propaganda that number may be lower by now. For instance, anti-gay propaganda can be heard on M1 (Kossuth Rádió) where a long conversation took place about whether homosexuality is a sin. Heti Válasz severely criticized the United States for launching a campaign aimed at Putin’s anti-gay Russia It was no more than hysterics, the paper claimed. An innocent sporting event became the victim of politics. Heti Válasz was on solid political ground on two fronts. It could support the conservative religious position advocated by the government and, now that Hungary and Russia are such good friends, it could come out squarely on the side of Putin’s discriminatory laws against gays.

In any case, Gyurcsány felt that he had to explain himself more fully and therefore gave a press conference today. He didn’t retreat. He repeated that his party is in favor of same-sex marriage but they are in the minority within Összefogás. Just as they are in the minority on the issues of dual citizenship and Hungary’s current arrangement with the Vatican. He added that, if Összefogás wins, DK will not put in a draft bill on the issue of same-sex marriage because they disapprove of the Fidesz practice of legislation by individual MP’s proposals. The government will prepare draft bills to be discussed in parliament and DK there will be in the minority. On the other hand, he added, if Fidesz wins DK in opposition following their heartfelt conviction will put in a such a proposal.

As for the callers to Bolgár’s program, there was one who disapproved of Gyurcsány’s comments and not just for political reasons. He thought that children who are brought up in same-sex households will become homosexuals themselves. On the other hand, a father phoned in who told his family’s story. They found out when their son was 18 years old that he is gay. He has been living with his partner. A friend of theirs, a woman, was left high and dry by the man who impregnated her. It was his son who was present at the birth and the two of them are something of father substitutes for the little boy. He almost wept, and when Bolgár suggested that gay people are just as good as heterosexuals, he said, “No, they are better.”

Friendly advice: “Leave culture alone! Not your thing”

It was unexpected, but Imre Kerényi’s notion of national culture is even too much for the saner members of the Hungarian right. Both Magyar Nemzet and Heti Válasz consider his activities outright injurious to the government and the reputation of Fidesz. Not just because of what he had to say about the repertoire of the National Theater but because of his untenable views on “national culture.” The piece by Bálint Ablonczy in Heti Válasz goes even further. He pretty well tells Fidesz and the government “to get off culture.” It is not their thing.

I wholeheartedly agree with Ablonczy. Viktor Orbán should stick with football. Culture is not his forte; if it were, he surely would not have picked Kerényi as his “cultural commissar.”

To backtrack a bit. The first reaction to Kerényi’s homophobic words came from members of the Hungarian theater world. János Kulka, a former member of the National Theater who agreed to play a part in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull next season when Attila Vidnyánszky will be the director of the theater, led the charge. He wrote a sharply worded letter after he learned that Vidnyánszky had been present when Kerényi delivered his outrageous opinions about the repertoire of the theater under the directorship of Róbert Alföldi. The president of the University of Performing Arts followed suit. Then came the president of the Association of Theaters. And finally Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP) demanded an explanation from Viktor Orbán. She is expecting an answer in about two weeks.

Vidnyánszky, who is apparently a talented director, in order to get the job as head of the National Theater cast himself as an ideologically committed man, a man he thought this Christian, national regime would find desirable. Lately he has been wearing a white shirt and black vest, a kind of Hungarian folk costume or a more modern version of it, the uniform of the Hungarian Guard. He also announced that the new theater building is a sacred site and that he will have to find a way to consecrate it. People have been shaking their heads at the transformation of the man.

Although it seemed from the video of the encounter that Vidnyánszky considered Kerényi’s reference to faggots too much, he said nothing on the spot. Moreover, a day after the video became public he repeated on one of the commercial television stations that he also thinks that there were too many plays with homosexual themes in the National Theater’s repertoire. I did find one, the 1993 play of Tony Kushner, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. In fact, the play will open this weekend and will continue its run throughout June.

But then something happened. The very next day, Vidnyánszky suddenly apologized for not speaking up when he heard Kerényi’s homophobic remarks.

It is possible that Kerényi may be removed from his position. Or at least there are signs that someone may have convinced Viktor Orbán that Imre Kerényi is a burden. A few hours after Vidnyánszky’s apology an incredible statement entitled “Nine sentences about one Kerényi” appeared in Magyar Nemzet written by the editor-in-chief, Gábor Élő. He talked about the excrement that left Kerényi’s mouth that was spattered all over the national heroes. For a Christian and a nationalist (nemzeti) his behavior is especially disgusting. What he said is unacceptable to anyone who subscribes to the basic principles of human dignity.

As a media outlet from the other side of the political spectrum said, if an editorial like that can appear in Magyar Nemzet it means that Kerényi no longer enjoys the protection of Viktor Orbán.

But let’s move on to perhaps the most interesting article that appeared in the right-wing media, Bálint Ablonczy’s “The case of the lemony banana with orange which is actually a peach.” This title will need a bit of an explanation. “Banana” is used in Hungarian conversations for a case which may end in a disaster of sorts. Something someone can slip and fall on. “Orange” naturally is the symbol of Fidesz. Well, the “peach” is something new. Another atrocity the Hungarian government came up with. This time Tibor Navracsics’s Ministry of Public Administration and Justice is the culprit. They gave their blessing to a theme song for the Day of National Togetherness, June 4, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.

But before Ablonczy gets to the Song of National Togetherness he expresses his total rejection of any kind of “national culture.” There is good and bad art, good and bad literature. He pretty well admits that on the right there are not too many first-rate artists, but the couple he can think of will be discredited by Kerényi and his ilk.

Dancing under the tree /Flickr

Dancing under the tree /Flickr

The Song of National Togetherness, according to Ablonczy, is “horror itself  … which after three years one can say unfortunately manifests the government’s utter confusion, its total misunderstanding of what culture is all about.” Here are a few lines from the “masterpiece.” “I dreamed of a peach tree under which everybody dances / I stood in a large circle with you, in the soft grass on a dewy field / Our hands touch, the soles of our feet step on each other / The light of happiness burns in our eyes./ Join the circle! / Dance as your blood dictates, feel the heart of the earth beating with you because we are all in one together.”

I guess I don’t have to point out how stupid and confused these lyrics are. I especially like the line about the soles of our feet stepping on each other. And then, of course, there’s the music. Ablonczy suggests that the government “leave that culture thing alone.”

Yes, there are signs that certain people even on the right, especially those with some artistic sensitivity, are starting to realize that this government, in addition to all its other sins, is becoming a laughingstock.

And speaking of laughingstocks, here is another brilliant government idea. Miklós Soltész, undersecretary in charge of social policy in Zoltán Balog’s Ministry of Human Resources, decided that young men and women have neither the time nor the opportunity to find spouses. The government ought to assist them in their quest. And so Soltész, a Christian Democrat who found his wife at a Catholic church function, decided that the ministry should organize “mixers.” In Budapest and in larger cities young adults can attend these events, called “Are you free for a dance? The first step toward each other.” They’re sure to be a roaring success.

The Orbán government’s swift move toward the far right

I wrote about some of the people who received high awards from the Orbán government on March 15, one of the official national holidays in Hungary. They were either racist, antisemitic neo-Nazis or representatives of unscientific, bogus “scholarship” whose numbers have been growing in Hungary in the last twenty years or so. The greatest attention was showered on Ferenc Szaniszló, who received the Táncsics Prize from Zoltán Balog.

I left the story at the point that Zoltán Balog claimed that he knew nothing about Szaniszló’s program on EchoTV. He simply accepted the recommendation of the committee appointed by the Orbán government and made up of right-leaning journalists. Balog also insisted that he couldn’t withdraw the prize. Either Szaniszló gives it back on his own volition or everything remains as is. (I might mention here that when the writer Ákos Kertész made the mistake of saying something derogatory about Hungarians his honorary citizenship of Budapest was withdrawn without the slightest difficulty.) In any case, Balog wrote a letter to Szaniszló in which he practically begged him to return the prize. He did, but only after he delivered another of his harangues on March 18 in an extra edition of Világ-Panoráma. This extra edition was just as long as his other programs, but this time it dealt only with all the indignities he had to suffer from the “szocik” and the “liberok.” One shouldn’t have expected anything else, but at least at the end he announced that he would return the prize–but not to the ministry but to the U.S. Embassy!

Balog might have thought that his troubles were over, but then came the revelation in Heti Válasz, a right-wing, pro-Fidesz publication, that Balog hadn’t told the truth earlier. The committee didn’t recommend Szaniszló for the prize. In fact, as Ágnes Osztovits, who is on the staff of Heti Válasz, revealed, the committee endorsed only one person, a reporter for Magyar Rádió, out of the three who eventually received the awards. In addition to Szaniszló, Márta Ágnes Vertse of Vatikán Rádió was also picked by the ministry against the advice of the nominating committee. Moreover, Heti Válasz learned who promoted Szaniszló and Vertse. None other than the new undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs, János Halász. Balog doesn’t seem to have much luck with his undersecretaries. He couldn’t get along with László L. Simon, who after eight months was fired, and now here is Balog’s own man who immediately gets him into trouble. Both the American and the Israeli embassies officially protested and demanded immediate action in connection with the case.

Szaniszló became an international cause célèbre, although he wasn’t the only one whose recognition by the Hungarian government was questionable. Let’s start with the award of the “Magyar Érdemrend középkeresztje” to Gábor Széles, who is the owner of the very EchoTV that employs Szaniszló in addition to Zsolt Bayer. Széles is also the owner of Magyar Hírlap where Zsolt Bayer is senior editor. Or there is Kornél Bakay, the “archaeologist” who received the “Magyar Érdemrend Tisztikereszt (polgári tagozat)” on March 15. When he was the director of the museum in Szombathely in 2003 Bakay organized an exhibit entitled “Soldiers of Horthy, Arrowmen of Szálasi.” On the basis of this exhibit it became clear that Bakay is “an enthusiastic propagandist of the Szálasi cult.” After a huge outcry the exhibit was dismantled.

The government claims that these awards, decorations, and prizes demonstrate the “Hungarian nation’s recognition of and gratitude to those who represent the best of the nation.” So, let’s see what János Petrás, lead singer of the “nemzeti” rock band, represents because he also received the “Magyar Arany Érdemkereszt (polgári tagozat).” This pride of the nation said at the “Magyar Sziget” neo-Nazi gathering in 2009: “Those people–who are really not human as far as we are concerned–are misfits, inferior somethings. They are gay and they are proud of it….One day this breed will become extinct. They should go somewhere and live together but separately. We will pass a law that will state that we don’t tolerate this perversity.”

It is hard to imagine that all these awards, prizes, and decorations given to people belonging to the far right are simply mistakes. There is a concerted effort to court the Hungarian neo-Nazis. It is government policy. So is the whipping up of nationalist sentiment.

Orbán imitates members of the Magyar GárdaPhoto MTI / Attila Kovács

Orbán imitates the uniform of the Magyar Gárda
Photo MTI / Attila Kovács

This morning I was reading about Viktor Orbán’s latest Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió when I noticed something that might be significant. Normally on such an occasion Orbán wears a suit but no tie. This morning it was brisk in Budapest. During the day, around 6°C. At 7:00 a.m. it was most likely close to O°. Yet Orbán appeared in a white shirt with a black vest. An outfit preferred by people who are close to Jobbik or the far right in general. Journalists noted, for example, that Attila Vidnyánszky, the new director of the National Theater, began wearing this type of outfit lately; he seems to have committed his career to creating a truly “national” theater.

I suspect that Orbán’s choice of clothing this morning was a conscious decision to be identified with the Hungarian far right. The outfit was certainly appropriate, given the content of the speech in which he made no bones about his determination not to accept lectures or limits on Hungary’s national sovereignty from Brussels. As one of the headlines in a paper reporting on the speech read, “Orbán: They shouldn’t phone here from Brussels.” And that was before it became known that José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, will in the future personally oversee all contested issues concerning the amendments to the Hungarian constitution. Perhaps it is not only telephone calls that should stop coming from Brussels. What about money?