Updated: Jul 12, 2021
By Abhishek Khajuria
On the 22nd of June 2021, UEFA, Europe’s football governing body denied the request of Munich mayor Dieter Reiter to light the Allianz Arena in Munich in rainbow colours to show solidarity with the LGBTQI+ community during a group stage match between Germany and Hungary in the ongoing UEFA Euro tournament. The body’s decision was widely criticized and, in some quarters, was labeled as shameful. UEFA justified its decision as being maintaining its position of neutrality even as it allowed players like the German captain Manuel Neuer to wear rainbow armbands. The reason behind this series of events unfolding was the opposition to the recent legislative changes undertaken (on 15th June) by the Hungarian Parliament which included amendments to several existing laws which observers from across the world have labeled as clearly being anti-LGBTQI+ and on similar lines as the 2013 Russian “gay propaganda law”. The amendments passed through the Parliament near-unanimously with a 157-1 vote amid an opposition boycott.
What the changes in effect do is that they ban any content in school books that may seem to promote homosexuality and gender change for Hungarians below the age of 18. TV content on similar lines has also been outlawed for the same age cohort as has been advertisements targeted at under 18s which might seem to support homosexuality and gender change.
The changes do not constitute a single isolated event. Rather, they are a part of the larger descent of Hungary towards authoritarianism and the Christian conservative agenda being pursued by Prime Minister Viktor Orban (especially with the 2022 general election in sight) and his Fidesz party and which has lately included, open attacks against the rights of the LGBTQI+ community. Last year, adoption by same-sex couples was outlawed (while Orban had stated that the “gays are to leave our children alone”) the legal recognition for those transgender and intersex people who change their gender. That also included the people who had already done so previously. Associated amendments in the Hungarian constitution also laid down that males and females were to be identified only by the biological sex accorded to them at the time of birth. This constitution, when it came into effect in 2012, did not allow marriage for same-sex couples and there were no special guarantees enshrined therein for the LGBTQI+ community though the Equal Treatment Act helps prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In recent years, politicians from the parties of the conservative spectrum like the far-right Jobbik and the ruling Fidesz have kept firing salvos at the LGBTQI+ community.
The backlash against the new laws has been severe. Though the Government has defended its moves saying that they are aimed at “protecting children” and “to prevent misunderstanding and confusion in the development of their moral values”, critics disagree and have lashed out at the regime saying that it equates pedophilia with homosexuality. Ursula Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, has called the laws “a shame” while Mark Rutte, the Dutch PM has said that Hungary either needs to either follow European values or can leave the European Union. Other member states of the EU have also criticized the laws and sanctions that have been advocated against Hungary. Immediately after the laws cleared the Hungarian Parliament, several MEPs (Members of European Parliament) urged the Commission to suspend funding to Hungary for COVID recovery efforts or to start a procedure which could ultimately lead to the country losing its vote at the EU and on 8th of July, voted in favour of an immediate legal action against Hungary asking the Commission to initiate legal action against the government at the European Court of Justice and reduce EU budget allocation to Hungary. UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz characterized the laws as challenging the “value-base” of the EU. No doubt, Hungary has found support only in its partner Poland which itself has been lambasted by the EU over the "LGBT free zones" created by some local authorities.
What needs to be highlighted here is that the recent laws violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which Hungary has signed and ratified. Perhaps of all, Orban needs to be reminded that the laws conflict with each of the fundamental values of the European Union which his country so readily signed up to when it wanted to enter the European Union and must abide by respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
Till now, the government has been defiant (Orban said recently that school policy is the job of the Hungarian government not the bureaucrats of Brussels) but it will be interesting to see how long the present position can be sustained in the face of a COVID- a battered economy which is likely to go further into a shambles by what is looking an increasingly possible EU funding cut which as mentioned above, the MEPs have advocated as a punishment to Hungary and to force it into a course correction. This controversy has the potential to turn into a contest between the liberalism of Western Europe and the increased currency which illiberalism has been gaining in recent years in the Eastern half of Europe.
Apart from all the above, there is also a societal dimension to the issue. Although various surveys have highlighted mixed attitudes among Hungarians regarding LGBTQI+ rights, as per a survey conducted in 2017 by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association, 13% of Hungarians believed that people in same-sex relationships should be charged as criminals. The number though small is still significant. Added to that, a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 64% of Hungarians were opposed to same-sex marriage. This highlights a societal attitude that is not positive towards the LGBTQI+ community and needs a lot of reform. Now, if such laws will be passed, they will stop the progression of Hungarian society towards a more equal future for its sexual minorities. These laws risk creating an insular society especially when there will be no discussion on sexual minorities in Hungarian schools and no coverage in popular culture for under 18s. What ostensibly the government aims to prevent, that is, misunderstanding and confusion regarding the development of moral values in children are what will, in the long run, these laws will end up perpetuating; and will certainly lead to a fragmented society.
It remains to be seen if the EU can force Orban and his government to change their ways. Even if it happens, the recent events underline the importance for Fidesz in general and Orban, in particular, to have a re-look at their point of view concerning the LGBTQI+ community instead of following these narrow-minded agendas for reaping electoral rewards. Without it, both of them and their country stare at economic difficulties and a fragmented society which they can ill-afford, neither in the short-term nor in the long-term.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ytharth.
About the Author
Abhishek Khajuria is an aspiring scholar of International Relations and has a passion for Football. He is pursuing MA in International Relations and Area Studies from the School of International Studies, JNU.