Tag Archives: Zsuzsanna Szelényi

It has taken three years but the Istanbul Convention will soon be ratified

The Hungarian political scene is so active that one can’t keep up with it, especially now that the jostling among opposition parties has begun in earnest. After all, the national election is just a little more than a year away. Yet I would be amiss if I didn’t report on what one can only hope is a significant achievement of women’s groups in Hungary. The Orbán government has at last begun the process of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which was initiated by the Council of Europe and opened for signature on May 11, 2011. The convention aims at preventing violence against women and domestic violence. As of May 2016, it had been signed by 44 countries. Between 2013 and 2016, it was ratified by 21 countries.

Hungary was one of the signatories, but it has yet has to ratify the convention, although it could have done so at any time after August 2014. Ratification involves changing existing laws to conform to the requirements of the Istanbul Convention. Preparations for the ratification have been taking place in secret without any input from women’s groups or experts.

The Hungarian government has been dragging its heels for about two and a half years. Népszabadság reported in August 2014 that Hungary was one of seven members of the European Union where the law does not guarantee automatic prosecution of all forms of domestic violence. In addition, it is only in Hungary that there is no specific intervention program guided by experts, working with men who had committed sexual violence.

Several months went by without anything happening until, in March 2015, Zsuzsanna Szelényi (Együtt), supported by 36 other members of parliament, turned in a motion to speed up the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. It was known ahead of time that Jobbik would not vote for the motion because the Convention “is not concerned with the most widespread and most brutal domestic violence, the act of abortion,” but to everybody’s surprise the members of Fidesz-KDNP joined Jobbik and voted against Szelényi’s motion. Even Mrs. Pelcz, née Ildikó Gáll, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, couldn’t quite understand why the government refused to speed up the process of ratification. Péter Niedermüller, DK MEP, considered the Fidesz decision “shameful and abominable.”

After two years of government inaction, on February 1, 2017, in the pouring rain, a small group of women labelled feminists, a curse word in Hungarian right-wing circles, demonstrated in front of the parliament. Fidesz’s reaction to this small demonstration was outrageous. According to the latest Fidesz spokesman, “at the moment, immigration and the settlement of migrants are the greatest dangers in Europe. Wherever migrants appeared violence against women and children skyrocketed…. Those same opposition parties that keep worrying about women in roundtable discussions prevented parliament from modifying  the constitution to prohibit the settlement of migrants.” The message is that domestic violence in the country is insignificant or at least is not nearly as serious as the migrants’ sexual assaults against European women and children.

A week later, on February 8, 2017, Szilvia Gyurkó, a lawyer involved in children’s rights issues, wrote a short article in which she listed three reasons for the government’s reluctance to act on the ratification. One is that in Hungary domestic violence is a relatively rare occurrence. This is not the case. According to a 2014 study, 27% of girls under the age of 15 experience physical, sexual or psychological abuse. Seven percent of adult women can be considered victims of domestic violence. The second reason is that proponents of the Convention include under the rubric of sexual abuse actions that are not violent but are only inappropriate behavior toward women. The third reason is that Hungarians don’t need the ratification of the Istanbul Convention because the government defends Hungarian women more than adequately from unwanted approaches or physical abuse.

Gyurkó may have been kind to the government. A Fidesz-supporting journalist offered his reasons not to ratify the Convention. László Vésey Kovács of Pesti Srácok objects to changing the Hungarian law primarily because “women’s rights NGOs, supported by George Soros, under the pretext of a concern for battered women, want to interfere in the lives of Hungarian families.” In plain language, domestic violence is nobody’s business outside the family.

Meanwhile a survey taken late last year shows that Hungarians are fully aware of the problem of domestic violence in their country. Almost 20% of them consider it to be a very serious problem and another 53% think it is widespread. Only 3% seem to be ignorant of the problem. Even so, half of the adult population believe that there are certain situations in which sexual violence is acceptable: a drunk or drugged partner (24% in Hungary while the Union average is 12%), a woman willingly accompanies a man home after a party (20% versus 12%), sexy clothing (21% versus 10%), and the “no” is not explicit enough (14% versus 10%).

A few days ago the government at last decided to submit the issue for discussion in parliament, which was described by Index as a “Valentine’s Day gift.” However, there is fear that the government will try to “soften” the legal consequences of the Convention. For example, LMP’s Bernadett Szél is afraid that the present practice of launching an investigation only after the victim files an official complaint will continue. Szél also asked Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, to provide crime statistics. Last week Pintér assured the chairwoman of LMP that the number of physical abuse cases has been decreasing in the last six years. While in 2010 there were 5,000 such cases, by 2016 the police registered only 3,210 such instances. The number of registered rapes in 2010 was 241, but last year they reported only 10 such cases. In the whole country! Among a population of almost 10 million! A miraculous improvement, I must say.

What will happen now that the text of the modifications to Hungarian law is available online and comments can be submitted for about two weeks before the final text reaches the lawmakers? I have the strong suspicion that the women’s groups and human rights activists are not going to be satisfied with the Ministry of Justice’s understanding and interpretation of the Convention’s intent.

February 18, 2017

István Hegedűs: “Mafia state and the party”

One of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum suggested that we should discuss István Hegedűs’s article in Élet  és Irodalom which also deals with the Bálint Magyar thesis of the post-communist mafia state.

First a few words about István Hegedűs. As opposed to Bálint Magyar and Gábor Horn, Hegedűs was one of the leading members of Fidesz prior to 1993, when he and others became disillusioned with the direction in which Viktor Orbán and László Kövér were leading the party. Some of the more important “dissidents” besides Hegedűs were Gábor Fodor, Klára Ungár, Péter Molnár, and Zsuzsanna Szelényi. At that time only Gábor Fodor continued a political career (in SZDSZ) while the others abandoned politics altogether. In the last few weeks, however, Zsuzsanna Szelényi has reappeared in Együtt 2014-PM as a spokesperson on matters of education.

Hegedűs is a sociologist with a long list of publications, some of which are available in English. He is especially interested in the media, political parties, and the European Union. He teaches at École Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers (ESSCA)’s English-language division in Budapest. In 2001 these five dissidents wrote a fairly lengthy book about the early years of Fidesz. I started rereading it this afternoon and came to the conclusion that it is perhaps even more valuable today than it was twelve years ago. After all, since then we have found out a great deal about the Fidesz leadership and the mechanics of the party’s inner workings.

So, what does Hegedűs think of Bálint Magyar’s thesis? As opposed to Gábor Horn, he considers Magyar’s “conception a systematically elucidated, comprehensive and convincing construction.” However, Hegedűs points out that there are many other observable characteristics that cannot be explained solely by the mafia-state mentality. The mafia-state might be a perfect description in the economic sphere but not necessarily in the political realm. Age-old concepts like one-man leadership, a system of political clientele, interpenetration of party and state, plunder, populism, nationalism, and authoritarian worldview are all still present in Orbán’s system. One can also contemplate to what extent Orbán’s Hungary is really the result of  the “dear leader’s” personality. Hegedűs, as opposed to Magyar, concentrates more on ideology and politics as opposed to societal organization by mafia-like methods and finds the Fidesz regime’s political philosophy “barren.” Hegedűs points out that “behind the two-thirds majority there is no new vision despite the transcendent phraseology of the constitution.” The rhetoric of anti-communism, anti-liberalism, growing anti-European sentiments, nationalism, and the opponent-enemy linkage is nothing new in Fidesz political discourse.

Unfortunately, this rhetoric kindles only a negative identity, although Hegedűs admits that turning to ultra-conservative ideas might promote cohesion within the group. Fidesz’s emphasis on strengthening the middle classes is not new either. MDF also based its politics on the idea. Yet Hegedűs is convinced that in addition to the “inner motivation of missionary zeal” one must take into account the role of ideology, “This inner driving force cannot be seen from the outside … because individual political groupings live in their own alternative reality and they judge or condemn the aspirations of their opponents exclusively on moral grounds.”

Source: oneline.wsj.com

Source: oneline.wsj.com

Hegedűs was once part of the Fidesz party elite. He assumes that at the very top there are still most likely mechanisms that allow members of the inner circle to disagree and to think independently, but only within the framework of certain axioms that cannot be questioned. It is most likely very difficult to find one’s way in the jungle of intrigue, infighting, favoritism, compromise, and alliances that any leader faces. That is why “a pragmatic, completely mafia-like regime … is not as clear-cut inside a party or a political organization” as in businesses dealing of the party. What further complicates any assessment of the workings of the party leadership is the arrival of newcomers who are not party members and whose only connection to Fidesz is Viktor Orbán. Infiltration from the outside began already in the early 1990s but became massive with the arrival of members of the political cells (polgári körök) created by Viktor Orbán after the 2002 lost elections. Yet Hegedűs claims that the workings of the Fidesz top leadership most likely haven’t changed fundamentally since the early 1990s, which eventually led to the split between followers of Viktor Orbán and Gábor Fodor. Even my superficial reading of bits and pieces of the participants’ remembrances of that split in 1993 reinforces the notion that Viktor Orbán, László Kövér and Zsolt Németh didn’t change as much in the intervening years as outsiders think.

I tend to agree with István Hegedűs, who says that “as far as the methods of inner power relations are concerned, we don’t know of any such changes that would distinguish the present time from the situation of 1993-1994 when Orbán and his close associates turned to the right.”

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.