Tag Archives: sexism

Tit for tat: The Orbán government retaliates against Magyar Telekom

László Kövér’s “unenlightened” remarks at the Fidesz congress the other day caused quite an uproar, as I reported earlier. Here, to refresh everyone’s memory, is what the president of the Hungarian parliament had to say:

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.

This is not the first time that a member of the Hungarian legislation contends that the defining role of a woman is to give birth, in large part because it is her duty to keep the nation alive. In 2012 István Varga (Fidesz) said the following:

The most important calling for women and ladies, especially for young ladies, is to give birth. It is obvious that if everybody gave birth to two, three or four children, a gift to the fatherland, everybody would be happy. After that task is over, every woman can fulfill herself and may work at different jobs.

Kövér was still making his rounds to explain away his remarks when an aging rock star, Ákos Kovács, known simply as Ákos, in an interview on the far-right Echo TV said:

A: It is not the task of women to make as much as men do. That’s how I feel.

Q: Not their task?

A: No, not their task.

Q: What is their task?

A: Well, let’s say, it is the fulfilment of their primary function, no? Let’s say to belong to someone. To give a child to someone.

These are the most often quoted sentences from a fairly long exchange, but it is worth taking a look at the video of at least the first part of the interview.

During the interview Ákos alluded to the fact that he comes from upper-middle class families who were “ruined” by the communists. He made sure that the audience learned about his ancestors’ distinguished legal careers, going back to 1785. He talked about his father’s Biedermeier desk and his grandfather’s silver cigarette case. His parents were poor, he said, although later we learned that both his parents worked in the Central Statistical Office. It is possible that his problem with women’s salaries stems, at least in part, from the fact that his mother achieved a higher rank in the office hierarchy than his father and consequently made more money. He himself had no difficulty getting into Karl Marx University (today Corvinus) where he specialized in foreign trade. He speaks English and Italian.

In any case, Ákos no longer has to worry about poverty. In 2014 444.hu reported that Ákos’s company, the Fehér Sólyom (White Falcon), which is involved in music publishing, had made 107 million forints the previous year. This is over and above what he earns as an entertainer.

Ákos is on very good terms with the present government. He is an ardent supporter of Fidesz, and in turn he is a favorite of the Orbán government. His services to the government have been greatly appreciated over the years, and in 2012 he was awarded the much-coveted Kossuth Prize for his alleged artistic accomplishments.

He is married with four children, but he and his wife got married only after the third child was born. His wife doesn’t have a career of her own although “all through university she had straight A’s and everybody in and outside the family thought that she would have a very successful career” as an economist. From an interview that took place in 2011 we learned that she plays an active role in the financial side of Fehér Sólyom. As for their personal relationship, Ákos told Echo TV that in 2012 the Hungarian left called him a Nazi and for five days he seriously contemplated leaving Hungary. The reporter at that point interrupted: “So you and your wife decided ….” Ákos made it crystal clear that it was up to him to decide. What was his wife’s reaction? “Don’t be hysterical.”

After two days of silence following his Echo TV interview, Magyar Telekom, which was paying Ákos to be a face of the company, decided to break its contract with him. The press release read:

Today the Magyar Telekom Group broke its contract with Ákos, about which we informed him in writing this morning. We think highly of Ákos’s musical accomplishments, his successes as a performer, and we think of our years of cooperation and common work with appreciation. At the same time our firm does not think that the attitude the performer exhibited during a television interview is compatible with the beliefs and values of our Group.

At this point all hell broke loose. If I wanted to summarize it in the most succinct way, I would have to say that the Hungarian government lost its mind. Or, perhaps more accurately, Viktor Orbán lost his mind. The Hungarian government called on ministries and other government institutions to cancel their telephone subscriptions with Magyar Telekom.

The first sign of Viktor Orbán’s ire was János Lázár’s reaction to the case yesterday. “I find what Telekom did shocking,” he said, adding that “a German firm should know only too well what dictatorship is.” He asked if, for example, the government didn’t like the opinion of Telekom, could it then break its contract with the company? Obviously, by the next day the government decided that yes, it could.

Ákos Kovács as spokesman of Magyar Telekom

Ákos Kovács as a spokesman of Magyar Telekom

The volume was turned up even higher when Zoltán Kovács, a government spokesman, held a press conference this morning right after the cabinet meeting to announce the government’s breach of contract with Magyar Telekom. According to him, the government was shocked when it heard the news of Telekom’s decision, which in their opinion is contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Hungarian constitution. “Perhaps such a move is acceptable in Germany, but we find it unacceptable that someone can be discriminated against on the basis of his opinion and point of view.”

I don’t think one has to be a legal expert to realize that the Hungarian government’s argument is nonsensical. There was a private agreement between Magyar Telekom and Ákos, according to which the performer would spread the good name of the company. Surely, there must be a clause in that contract specifying that if Ákos’s behavior is in any way damaging to the image of the company, the agreement is null and void. Talking about discrimination is ridiculous. Voiding a private contract has nothing to do with discrimination.

The government also invoked the freedom of expression. But this argument is specious as well. Magyar Telekom in no way bans Ákos from expounding his sexist beliefs, it simply doesn’t want its name associated with someone who espouses such ideas.

This decision to retaliate against Magyar Telekom shows the Orbán government in the worst possible light. I simply don’t understand why the government keeps tempting fate. As if they wanted to show that they can do anything they want. Punish anyone who stands in their way. They no longer care what the world thinks of them. And they are ready to go against one of the most important companies in Europe (since Magyar Telekom is majority owned by Deutsche Telekom) because Magyar Telekom dared to break a contract with a man who espoused the same ideas as László Kövér and some of the other Fidesz bigwigs. To their minds such impertinence cannot be tolerated, even if an international scandal ensues.

I firmly believe that as Orbán displays how petty and vindictive he can be and as he expands his targets from local political adversaries to international opponents, he moves ever closer to his downfall. I know that right now no one can imagine such an event, but fortune can turn on a dime, especially when a politician believes that he is invincible. And it won’t be his international opponents who bring him down, but “the nation.”

Sexism in the Hungarian parliament

I have written a number of times about female members of the Hungarian parliament and their treatment by male colleagues. I’ve also written about the attitude, especially of Fidesz MPs, toward women in general.

As a reminder, here are a few statistics about the minority status of women in Hungarian politics. Today there are only 35 women in a 386-member parliament (9.06%). According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s statistics, of the 144 countries listed Hungary ranks 118th! Among the countries that are doing worse are Malta, Brazil, Bhutan, Benin, Ghana, Ukraine, Botswana, Nigeria, Tuvalu, Georgia, Egypt, Oman, and Yemen.

Although the number of women parliamentarians is low across the board, Fidesz has the smallest percentage of women in its parliamentary caucus. It is also noteworthy that the credentials of Fidesz female MPs are less impressive than those of their colleagues in the opposition. There are at least three who have no higher education at all. There are several who are elementary school teachers. Some finished only “főiskola,” a three-year program, instead of university. I found only one woman in the caucus who has a law degree. Several majored in economics and there are a couple of physicians. I found only two Fidesz female MPs who studied subjects that could be considered to fall under the category of  a classical “liberal arts education.” Keep in mind that all the members of the Fidesz delegation were handpicked by Viktor Orbán.

If an attack is launched against female members of the opposition, the Fidesz-KDNP women are silent. They don’t even show solidarity privately with the victims of Fidesz testosterone. If they are asked about sexist incidents that unfortunately occur quite often, the brave Fidesz-KDNP women keep looking at the floor and remain silent. Not the slightest sign of female solidarity.

But, as I said, Orbán himself picked men and women who would be rubber stamps in parliament. Orbán most likely cannot abide independent and outspoken women because he thinks in terms of traditional gender roles. Just lately, in connection with his daughter’s wedding, he talked about the women who will cook and who will cry at the wedding and made it clear that he wouldn’t be caught dead dropping a tear or two at his daughter’s wedding. I’m also sure that he didn’t want to choose people who were too brainy to be the representatives of the people; the Fidesz delegation has an awful lot of people who, under normal circumstances, would never have found themselves in such a position.  According to Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who wrote about the qualities of the ideal Fidesz MP, most of the current officeholders are incapable of answering the opposition’s questions. They become frustrated and hence behave in an unacceptably aggressive manner. Moreover, as a result of the practically unlimited power of the Fidesz politicians and government officials, they feel omnipotent. The result is boorish behavior. The few women in the opposition are the prime targets, it seems.

On September 9 Bernadette Szél (LMP) rose to inquire from Zoltán Illés, undersecretary in charge of the environment in the Ministry of Agriculture, what the Hungarian government was planning to do about the Romanian gold mines and their possible use of cyanide, pointing out that until now not much has been done about it. This is how the gentleman answered:

Just because you are good looking it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are clever. I have to refute one by one all those stupidities and imbecilities that you talked about here in the last five minutes.

I was there together with others, … when Viktor Orbán took a great number of steps in connection with the cyanide pollution in Nagybánya [Baia Mare, Romania]. I take my hat off to him. This is not brown nosing on my part. I was there, I heard it, my hat off again for all that he did there.

Honorable … ah, dear madame member of parliament.

Madame member of parliament, don’t dare to utter a word about the Prime Minister. And my last comment: it is not the clothes that make a person. Your having a T-shirt on doesn’t make you an environmentalist. Shame.

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy seems to enjoy the exchange

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right, Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy

The whole exchange can be heard on the parliamentary radio. Both Szél and András Schiffer wore a T-shirt over their normal clothes to emphasize their interest in the environment. LMP is a left-green party. As for Szél’s qualifications, she has a Ph.D. (2011) from Corvinus University.

Well, that was too much even for some members of the Fidesz delegation. Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz), deputy president of the parliament, instructed Illés to take back the epithet of “imbecilities,” but it seems that the “stupidities” or the reference to physical appearance and brains didn’t bother him. Illés obliged. At the same time Máté Kocsis apologized in the name of the Fidesz delegation right on the spot. Eventually, Illés did apologize to Szél, not in person but via sms, an act greatly criticized in the media.

Perhaps the most politically objectionable part of Illés’s answer was his effort to forbid Szél to utter the name of Viktor Orbán. An article in Magyar Narancs rightly pointed out that it is written in the Old Testament that one cannot mention the name of God. What kind of a political community is it when the leader cannot be criticized? What kind of political culture exists within Fidesz? As for Illés’s reference to the brave steps Viktor Orbán took in connection with the gold mine in Nagybánya, I suspect that he was talking about the 2000 cyanide pollution of the Tisza River and Viktor Orbán’s efforts at that time and not about the current situation.

Illés in his answer accused Szél of ignorance when the LMP MP claimed that the European Union should ban the use of cyanide. Didn’t she know, asked Illés, that the European Parliament already passed such a resolution? Yes, such a resolution was passed by the European Parliament a few months ago, but for such a resolution to become law the European Commission must endorse it, which it failed to do. So, if someone is ignorant it is the undersecretary for the environment.

Of course, members of the opposition were eager to hear from László Kövér, who is such a stickler for manners in parliament. It seems that he is much fussier when he detects irregularities in the ranks of the opposition. Bernadette Szél herself was already fined by Kövér because she held up a poster on which there was a quotation from Viktor Orbán. Kövér didn’t think that Illés’s behavior was unacceptable. He didn’t think that Illés’s answer was “flagrantly offensive” and added that offensive comments more often come from the opposition than from his own side. Even Bernadette Szél said some very offensive things in the past, he claimed.

I should add that this is not the first time female members of parliament have had to endure this kind of talk–and worse. You may recall the story of Ágnes Osztolykán (LMP) when she asked for a lift home. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. And finally György Gyula Zagyva (Jobbik) got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy. At that time I wrote that, although the present parliament is lopsided given Viktor Orbán’s personal preferences, the trouble goes beyond the walls of the Hungarian parliament. The problem is in Hungarian society as a whole.