Tag Archives: World Congress of Families

The Budapest Family Summit: A gathering of the far right

A few days ago I ended one of my posts by declaring that the present Hungarian government is a far-right formation and that it’s time for the western media to recognize this fact. Unfortunately, there are still far too many publications that keep referring to Fidesz and the Orbán government as a nationalistic, right-of-center, or conservative, party and government. I’m afraid they are wrong.

Some observers insist that the Viktor Orbán-led Fidesz has no definable ideology. The Hungarian prime minister is simply an opportunistic populist and a cynic, they claim. Maybe, but I find it striking that on April 26, when Viktor Orbán delivered his speech to the European Parliament in defense of his policies, only members of the far-right parties came to his support. All the others, including members of the European People’s Party, condemned his self-declared illiberal state and his systemic degradation of the country’s democratic institutions.

A good example of the ideological orientation of the regime is the Hungarian government’s embrace of the World Congress of Families (WCF). I already wrote about the forthcoming four-day pro-family extravaganza on May 11, but now that it is over I think we should take a second look.

I will start with some critical foreign reactions to the WCF’s holding its eleventh summit in Budapest. Right-Wing Watch called this year’s summit “part of a global struggle for achieving the group’s goals: restricting legal recognition for LGBTQ people and families, denying women legal access to abortion, and opposing sex education.” According to Right-Wing Watch, the organizers “picked Hungary as a way to show support for the government of strongman leader Viktor Orbán, whom WCF calls “the hero of pro-family and pro-life leaders.” The short article is accompanied by a long list of participants, including Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, who last year said that Hillary Clinton wanted to “usher in the Antichrist.” The Guardian quoted Lóránt Győri, a political scientist, who said that “this is not normal conservative politics.” Because of the WCF’s connection to the Russian far right, he believes that “there’s a geopolitical angle which is about Russia and the Kremlin trying to sell its message. The Kremlin uses [groups like] the WCF to assert its soft power in central European society.” And, most importantly, “by elevating this conference to a state-level event, we now can almost see that Fidesz is positioning itself as a far-right party.”

When I first discovered that members of the Hungarian government attended the Moscow Summit in 2014, I thought that perhaps Zoltán Balog and his team had not been fully aware of the ideological make-up of the WCF and its questionable connections to Russian oligarchs. Perhaps they didn’t know the unsavory reputation of this group. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Balog and his undersecretary in charge of family affairs, Katalin Novák, have had close contacts with the group for some time. No mistake here, the Hungarian government surely knew what kind of a group they had invited and sponsored.

Those who follow Hungarian news are only too aware of the reluctance of members of the Orbán government to give interviews, especially to media they consider to be unfriendly. But Balog appeared on RTL Klub’s evening news about two weeks before the opening of the Summit, denying that the WCF is a homophobic organization. As far as he was concerned, “an awful lot of stupid stories appeared about ‘who’s who’ among the participants.” Any organization the Hungarian government has contacts with is “considered to be a reliable partner.” Well, I guess that depends on whom the government considers reliable. Obviously those who share the government’s views.

It was not a long time ago that I said a few approving words about Heti Válasz’s more independent political orientation and its abandonment of the government propaganda line they had been toeing way after Magyar Nemzet and Hír TV decided to return to acceptable journalistic practices. However, one of their journalists, Szilárd Szőnyi, got into an argument with 444.hu, which had published a long article about the checkered past of the WCF with special emphasis on the fact that “the Congress supported the Russian anti-gay law.” Szőnyi admitted that it wouldn’t pass muster in the “western world.” But, he added, 90% of Russian society supports the law,” it has an overwhelming democratic mandate, so I gather there is nothing wrong with it.

A few days later Válasz reported that Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist best known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment, had distanced himself from the WCF. Zimbardo delivered his lecture not to the gathering of the WCF but to the Budapest Demographic Forum, which was a serious international conference on demographics. The problem was that the World Congress of Families XI, the Budapest Demographic Forum, and the One of Us Pro-Life Conference were all held together under the rubric “The Budapest Family Summit.” Viktor Orbán opened the Budapest Demographic Forum while Zoltán Balog and Katalin Novák opened the conference of the WCF. There may have been two distinct affairs held at different venues, but the whole weekend had a distinctively far-right hue which, I’m afraid, overshadowed even the professional gathering of the Demographic Forum.

One of the participants in the WCF gathering was Beatrix von Storch, the AfD member of the European Parliament, who gave a long interview to Magyar Hírlap. Let’s keep in mind that she was one of the few far-right EP members who spoke in defense of Viktor Orbán’s anti-democratic policies. In fact, she was the one who extended an apology in the name of the European Parliament for the way they treated the Hungarian prime minister.

During the course of the interview she complained that in Germany a conference like this one, sponsored by the government, couldn’t be held. The topics the speakers covered couldn’t be discussed in Germany. For example, “there was a discussion at the conference about the correlation between the educational attainment of children and their church attendance.” That would be a taboo topic. If she organized a conference like that, no government official would think of attending. “In addition, at least 500-1,000 policemen would be needed to defend us against aggressive far-left demonstrators.” Von Storch claimed in the interview that her car had been set on fire because she spoke up for “traditional marriages.”

As far as the opposition parties are concerned, they paid no attention to the event, with the exception of the Demokratikus Koalíció’s László Sebián-Petrovszki, who is the leader of the party’s LGBTQ working group. He labelled the concept of “family” propagated by the Family Summit hopelessly out of date. It narrows the concept of family to what the group calls “the natural family,” which means a heterosexual couple whose association serves only one purpose: biological reproduction. The demographic message of this family extravagance was utterly unrealistic, and Viktor Orbán’s speech about the government’s method for remedying the demographic shortfall was based on wishful thinking. To quote Zsuzsanna Makay, a demographer, “1980 was the last time there was a higher birth rate than death rate. To get back to a positive population growth [assuming there is neither immigration nor migration], an additional 30,000 babies [over and above the 2016 birth rate of 93,100] would have to be born every year. This is simply impossible to achieve.” The rest is just talk at far-right conferences on family values and reproduction.

May 30, 2017

An American LGBT hate group will enjoy the hospitality of the Orbán government

This is not the first time that I’m writing about the World Congress of Families. Through its annual gatherings, each year in a different country, WCF, as it is known in the United States, promotes Christian right-wing family values internationally. WCF was designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center an anti-LGBT hate group in February 2014 based on its involvement in the 2013 Russian LGBT propaganda law.

My earlier piece focused on its congress three years ago. The congress was scheduled to be held in Moscow in the fall of 2014, but then came the annexation of Crimea and several U.S. organizations pulled out of the project. Nonetheless, the congress proceeded as planned. Several leaders of right-wing European parties attended and were among the speakers, people like Aymeric Chauprade (National Front) and Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ). Hungary was represented by Gergely Prőhle, who was one of the speakers at the gathering. The journalist for Cink.hu who wrote an article about this far-right gathering was told by the ministry that the Hungarian government doesn’t care who took part in the conference; Prőhle was there to represent the government’s family policy. I should add that the congress issued a manifesto lambasting liberal Europe and calling for a ban on “homosexual propaganda.”

WCF is again in the news, this time for its impending gathering in Budapest between May 25 and May 28. Átlátszó published a lengthy article about the Orbán government’s sponsorship of this year’s conference. I was already stunned in 2014 because I thought that the Hungarian government’s official representation at such a conference was inappropriate. Now, in 2017, the Orbán government is actually organizing and financially supporting the affair. According to the official site, the chief organizer of the event is Katalin Novák, undersecretary for family, youth, and international affairs.

The event’s site explains that “the values of accepting life, undertaking to give birth to and raise children, and families based on the marriage of a man and a woman have been compromised in the past decades but need to be restored in order to implement a sustainable future.” WCF’s goal is the spread of the idea of the “natural family” as opposed to households where children are cared for by single parents or grandparents or are brought up in same-sex marriages. The group is well known for its anti-LGBT propaganda. Its influence is especially strong in Africa, where several countries’ anti-LGBT legislation resulted from WCF’s lobbying efforts. Most notably, it helped inspire harsh anti-LGBT laws in Nigeria and Uganda.

Just last year the director of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, was elected president of WCF, which was seen as “a logical trajectory for Brown, one of the best-known anti-LGBT activists in the United States.” According to the announcement of his appointment by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Brown over the past few years has gradually refocused his opposition to marriage equality on international work, especially after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Brown’s ideas find fertile soil in Hungarian government circles. SPLC gave a good summary of Brown’s ideas and checkered career at the time of his appointment as president of WCF.

Brian Brown, president of WCF / Source: AP Images

WCF’s platform is bad enough. But perhaps even more worrisome is its close cooperation with Russian nationalists, serving Russia’s geopolitical agenda. In fact, the World Congress of Families has its roots in Moscow. In 1995 the leader of an Illinois-based group, the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, was invited to Russia by two professors at Lomonosov Moscow State University. The three men agreed that unfavorable demographic trends were the result of feminism and homosexuality. So, they came up with the idea of “pro-family” conferences in Europe and Russia and agreed to share their ideas with American evangelical thinkers.

WCF has had its greatest influence in Russia. It has deep ties to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Putin regime. Apparently, WCF has nothing but praise for Vladimir Putin and his policies. One its leaders wrote that Putin “is the one defending laws and morality consistent with the freedom in the U.S. Constitution.” Another leader called Putin “a power player who cares more about Russia’s national interests … than … that mythical force known as world opinion.”

Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and lobbying organization in the United States, put together a comprehensive history of WCF, in which a chapter is devoted to Eastern Europe. In the region it was Poland that was most eager to welcome WCF. The Polish government hosted WCF’s annual gathering in 2007, during the brief tenure of Jarosław Kaczyński as prime minister of Poland. The group made its first excursion into Serbia in 2013, where WCF leaders attended an anti-LGBT rally which led to the cancellation of the Belgrade Pride Parade. A year later they organized a regional conference in Kiev. In 2014 a WCF partner, Alliance Defending Freedom, submitted an amicus brief to the Constitutional Court of Slovakia supporting the proposed referendum on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. They are also active in Albania, Latvia, Romania, and the Czech Republic. In Hungary there was no need to lobby for a restriction of the meaning of marriage because the Orbán government incorporated it into the new constitution.

Looking through the very thorough history of WCF by the Human Rights Campaign, I found only two countries outside of Russia–namely, Poland and Hungary–where the organization has received official support. Suggestions by the independent media in Hungary that WCF is actually a homophobic hate organization were swept aside by Zoltán Balog, who is obviously a great supporter of the organization. According to Balog, “all sorts of nonsense has been published about ‘who’s who’ among the participants.” The Hungarian government certainly would not participate in any event that spreads hatred of LGBT people. He proudly announced that at the end of May Budapest will be the capital of families.

Hungary has its own conference on the family, the Budapest Demographic Forum—Families in Focus, which held its first gathering in June 2015. This year the Budapest Demographic Forum will hold its second conference in conjunction with WCF’s annual gathering. The Forum’s keynote speaker will be Viktor Orbán himself. A former Spanish minister of interior and the Croatian and Polish ministers responsible for family affairs will attend. Thus, an allegedly scientific gathering on demographics is subsumed into a four-day WCF extravaganza. Further and further down a very slippery slope.

May 11, 2017

Fidesz at a far-right conference in Moscow

It was only today that Cink.hu, a Hungarian internet portal, reported on an extreme right-wing gathering in Moscow on September 10-11 where the Hungarian government was represented by Gergely Prőhle, undersecretary in the Ministry of Human Resources. I myself learned about this event earlier from the excellent German-language blog on Hungarian affairs, PusztarangerThe story is quite complicated, so let’s start at the beginning.

The World Congress of Families that sponsored the Moscow conference is an American based organization that opposes same-sex marriage, pornography, and abortion. Because of its militant anti-gay stand, especially its involvement with the 2013 Russian LGBT propaganda law opposing LGBT rights internationally, WCF was designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT hate group. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States, called WCF “one of the most influential groups in America promoting and coordinating the exportation  of anti-LGBT bigotry, ideology, and legislation abroad.” HRC claimed that their international conferences gather “the most fringe activists engaged in anti-LGBT extremism.”

WCF has organized annual congresses ever since 1997 when it was established. This year the eighth congress was scheduled to be held in Moscow on September 10-11. This particular congress was to carry the title: World Congress of Families VIII: “Every Child a Gift: Large families–The Future of Humanity.” But then came the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Three Russians–Vladimir Yakunin, Yelena Mizulina, and Aleksey Pushkov–who were involved with the conference were among those sanctioned by the United States and Australia right after the annexation. Under these circumstances WCF, which normally has very good relations with the Russian government and the Russian right, tried to make itself invisible. After all, other groups, such as Concerned Women for America, pulled out of the project, saying that they “don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.” So WCF’s name was removed from the program. They decided to call it “International Forum: Large Family and Future of Humanity.” Although the organizing committee still listed two prominent leaders of WCF, they hid their affiliations.

Sharing organizational tasks with WCF were the Russian Orthodox Church, the Vladimir Yakunin Center of National Glory, the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation, and Konstantin Malofeev’s Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. Both Yakunin and Malofeev are among the oligarchs sanctioned by the United States and the European Union. According to Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, Malofeev has high-level connections with EU-based far right parties and was deeply involved in unleashing the Ukrainian crisis. Apparently a meeting between leaders of far-right parties in Europe and Russian right-wingers, including Malofeev, took place in Vienna in June. Their goal was to “rescue Europe from liberalism and the gay lobby.” Among the participants were Aymeric Chauprade (National Front, France), Heinz-Christian Strache, and Johann Gudenus (FPÖ, Austria). I wouldn’t surprised if Béla Kovács of Jobbik, whom Fidesz accused of spying for the Russians, were also present. Chauprade was at the congress in Moscow and had a large role to play in the proceedings. So was the Austrian FPÖ’s Johann Gudenus. The conference ended with the issuance of a proclamation that blasts liberal social policies in Western countries and calls for Russian-style “homosexual propaganda” bans to be enacted throughout the world.

Enter Gergely Prőhle, who is no stranger to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. He had a distinguished diplomatic career: he was ambassador to Germany and Switzerland and in the second Orbán administration served as assistant undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In comparison to some of the others, Prőhle seemed moderate–at least until I read an op/ed piece of his in Heti Válasz about the controversial monument to the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. I devoted a whole post to that opinion piece in which Prőhle showed his less attractive side.

Prőhle was one of three hundred employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who got the boot from the interim minister, Tibor Navracsics. For a while it looked as if his government career was over. But then he received an offer from Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, to become an undersecretary in charge of international and European Union affairs. (One would think that “international” includes the European Union, but this government’s naming habits are rather peculiar.)

It was in this new capacity that Prőhle was dispatched to Moscow to represent the Hungarian government at this illustrious conclave. It is hard to tell whether the bright lights in the ministry were aware of WCF’s involvement in the congress. It is also unclear whether they knew that the French and Austrian far-right parties would be taking center stage at the gathering. In the final analysis, however, even if they were uninformed, ignorance is no excuse. If nothing else,  Zoltán Balog and Gergely Prőhle were careless and negligent. Of course, it is also possible, perhaps even likely, that members of the government felt that good relations with Russia were of paramount importance to Hungary and therefore they should not turn down an invitation coming from Moscow.

Gergely Prőhle at a conference organized by far-right groups in Moscow, September 10-11, 2014

Gergely Prőhle at a far-right conference in Moscow, September 10-11, 2014

One thing is sure. Official Hungary did not boast about Prőhle’s presence at the Moscow conference. MTI made no mention of the conference, and neither the journalist at Cink.hu nor I found anything about the event on the ministry’s website. However, Cink.hu discovered on the Russian Orthodox Church’s website that Gergely Prőhle was among the speakers at the conference, along with Aymeric Chauprade, a member of the European Parliament, and Johann Gudenus (FPÖ), a member of the Austrian parliament. Gudenus delivered his speech in Russian because, according to his German-language entry on Wikipedia, he “regularly attended summer courses at the Lononosov University of Moscow and received a Russian Certificate from the Education Ministry of the Russian Federation.”

Cink.hu put a number of questions to the ministry and got some meaningless answers. They denied that the oligarchs had anything to do with the conference; it was organized by the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church. When Cink.hu inquired about the gathering that was studded with extreme right groups, the answer was that “it is possible that they were also there but Gergely Prőhle represented the family policy of the Hungarian government.” The ministry proudly announced that Prőhle spoke “between Russia’s Chief Rabbi and the Russian Chief Mufti.” Well, in that case everything must be okay.

It’s too bad that the journalist failed to inquire about the manifesto the congress issued that lambasted liberal Europe and called for a ban on “homosexual propaganda.” It would be interesting to know whether Prőhle, the man in charge of European affairs, signed this document on behalf of Hungary.