Tag Archives: women

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.

How women are being treated in the Hungarian parliament

In September of 2012 there was an uproar in the Hungarian parliament over the issue of domestic violence; I spent at least two posts on the issue. By popular demand, the House had to consider including domestic violence in the criminal code. It was clear from the beginning that the Fidesz-KDMP caucus was planning to vote against the measure. One member of the government party after the other got up, delivering ringing speeches about “the place of the woman” in their world: they should produce lots of children, perhaps five or six. Once they did their patriotic duty they could look around and fulfill their career plans.

I first wrote about the subject on September 12, but a week later I returned to the question because Fidesz politicians launched an attack on “bluestockings”–to use the Reverend Zoltán Balog’s term–because they dared to call domestic violence “family violence.” Never mind that the dictionary meaning of domestic violence is “violence toward or physical abuse of one’s spouse or domestic partner.” This insistence on avoiding the word “family” highlights Fidesz-KDNP’s attempt to elevate the notion of family to something close to sacred. The word “family” cannot be associated with anything negative, like violence.

Yet the very same people who are so worried about the sanctity of the family and the role of women in it treat their female colleagues like dirt. According to the liberal Klára Ungár (SZEMA / Szabad Emberek Magyarországért), the women in parliament have been maltreated by their male colleagues ever since the dawn of the new democratic era in Hungary. In those days, she claims, the young male politicians of the Free Democrats were a great more enlightened than the older crew of the right-of-center coalition who often made boorish jokes at the expense of their female colleagues. Another former Fidesz female politician, Zsuzsanna Szelényi, on the other hand, described this college crowd as macho from day one. Yes, there were some female members of the group, mostly girlfriends or later wives, but it was a predominantly male gathering where the presence of women was not always welcome.

Since then not much has changed in the Hungarian parliament. If a woman rises to speak, especially if that woman is from the opposition, obscene, demeaning shouts ring out from the Fidesz-KDNP-Jobbik section of the House. On such occasions the right side of the aisle closes ranks. Not even the women of Fidesz-KDNP raise their voices in protest. They don’t have the slightest sense of solidarity with members of their own sex.

Ágnes Osztolykán

Ágnes Osztolykán

The latest scandal involved Ágnes Osztolykán, an LMP member of parliament and a woman of Roma origin. A couple of days ago she published a post on her blog entitled “Darkness in the Honored House.” Late at night on the first day of the new parliamentary session she discovered that she had no money to take a taxi home. She found a group of colleagues chit-chatting in the corridor and asked whether “one of them could take her home.” She almost apologetically adds, “after the fact, by now I know that this was a wrong question.” Almost automatically her first thought was self-accusation. She asked the wrong question. So, she blames herself for the treatment she received because, after all, one can expect only an obscene answer to this kind of request. This is how things are in Hungary.

You can imagine what followed. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. Osztolykán adds: “I was hoping they would stop, but in fact they got more and more into the swing of things” until a Jobbik member of parliament, one of the most primitive characters of the bunch, György Gyula Zagyva, about whom I wrote a post already, got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy.

The comments that followed this revelation were, in my opinion, on the wrong track. Everybody concentrated on the fact that these people are members of parliament and should set a good example. No wonder, they added, that people use such filthy language everywhere.

But this is not the point. First of all, members of parliament are part and parcel of society as a whole. Perhaps the composition of this particular parliament is lopsided in the sense that the men and women who sit in the parliamentary delegations of Fidesz and the Christian Democrats are Viktor Orbán’s personal choices. You may recall that the candidates had to be personally approved by the “pocket dictator,” as someone called Orbán not so long ago. And Jobbik’s presence in the House only adds to the crowd that considers women not quite equal to men. Don’t forget that it was young Jobbik activists who listed incoming freshmen and made all sorts of obscene notations when it came to female members of the class.

I also blame Hungarian women for this state of affairs, and I do hope that a few more incidents like this will wake them up. In a country where people equate feminism with lesbianism and where women seem unaware of their inferior status in society they are easy targets. If women don’t stand up and say that enough is enough, nothing will change either inside or outside of parliament.

The solution to all this is not the white rose delivered by the Fidesz MP after he had insulted a female member of parliament but a radical change in the status of women in Hungarian society. As for the white rose, in the MP’s place I wouldn’t have accepted it.