Ákos Kovács – A Hungarian pop icon’s jaw-dropping sexism

Ákos Kovács is one of contemporary Hungary’s most established singers and songwriters, with over two decades of experience and fame under his belt, not to mention a prestigious Kossuth Award from the Government of Hungary. Ákos – as he is simply known in public – is also well-known for his conservative political and social views and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. Musicians and other artists, like anyone else, are entitled to have a worldview and in some cases, public reflections on them, or indications of an underlying ideology or belief system can be refreshing, especially in comparison to the so many vapid “stars” of our time.

Yet what the otherwise talented musician said on one of Hungary’s major cable news networks – the right-wing Echo TV – revealed him to be an egotistical misogynist, with a terribly warped view of freedom of speech.

Ákos was featured on a cultural show hosted by Endre Kadarkai, who much to my surprise (I have a very low opinion of the often racist, anti-western and conspiracy theory-riddled Echo TV) did a commendable job with this interview. Mr. Kadarkai pressed Ákos on previous sexist statements that he had made, but in this interview he crossed a red line that even surprised the show’s host.

Ákos explained his views on women like this:

“Today it is forbidden for anyone to utter this. We live in such a free world, that it is simply impossible to call a spade a spade. I believe in something called normalcy. And I have also learned that what is outside the scope of normalcy is not normal. We are living within the context of a two thousand year old culture, or on the ruins of this culture. It is not a woman’s task to earn the same amount of money as a man. Their job is to fulfill the female principle, namely to belong to someone and to give birth to children for someone.” (The full interview is available here. The relevant section starts at the 9-minute mark.)

Ákos Kovács during his Echo TV interview.

Ákos Kovács during his Echo TV interview.

In addition to the raw sexism on display in this interview, another familiar narrative rears its head, namely that of socially liberal, politically correct “dictatorship” in Hungary, the “fear” and “oppression” that “Christian conservative” Hungarians must face at the hands of the “liberal media.” HFP’s readers are probably scratching their heads right now, and wondering if there is, perhaps, some other piece of land in this galaxy, also called Hungary.

Máté Kocsis, the Fidesz party’s national communications director and Mayor of Budapest’s 8th District, was among the first to chime in with this narrative:

“What they are doing to Ákos Kovács is disgusting. They lie about him, drag his name through the dirt and they label him. This is an old tactic against those who don’t say what the liberal fascists want to hear. They also want to dictate and set the boundaries of freedom of speech, as well as who has the right to enjoy this freedom.”

There were others who envisioned a new wave of liberal-fascist oppression and seemed largely unmoved by Ákos’ views on pay equity and the role of women in society, which in his mind is defined by little other than their relationship with a man. András Stumpf of the conservative Mandiner site wrote this on his Facebook page:

“It’s amazing how the opinion-terrorists have opened fire on the Kövér-speech and on Ákos’ statement. The closed, mendacious, freedom-denying and out-of-touch environment represented by our opinion-terrorists is simply unbearable. This is the liberal-fascist way, where an opinion does not result in a statement simply saying that one does not agree, but rather the nastiest personal attack…and in fact, not about what was actually said, but that which was never actually stated; that which is inserted into the original statement. This not only discredits our gender-nuts, but also all intelligent discourse.”

I sent Mr. Stumpf a note shortly after I read his Facebook post. (Every couple of months, we exchange messages.) What serves as a real turn-off in what Ákos had to say, is not only his rant against women, but the fact that this forty-something man vainly purports to have the world and society figured out, he allows for no nuance and no possibility that he may be wrong and that he may still have room to grow and change, in terms of his worldview. He sounds to me like a conceited, out-of-control, arrogant Eastern European nouveau riche, with a sense of entitlement, no filter and no sense of boundaries.

If we view freedom of speech from the perspective of complete and undiluted libertarianism, then one can say whatever one wants, with no regard for who might be hurt or made to fear by these statements. Hungarian misogynists can argue that women are mere belongings, who need not strive for pay equity. Romanian racists can freely note that Hungarian minorities in Transylvania should not strive to ever get hired in the local civil service or be represented in the police force. Minority Christian populations around the world should accept that in the name of free speech, the majority can discuss how to take away their rights and how to dehumanize them, just like Ákos dehumanized women.

But the foundation of a free and democratic society is responsible free speech. In a democracy, the views of individuals matter and these views often carry a certain weight. The words of some carry more weight than others, especially cultural icons, like Ákos, whose messages can be shared very widely. Freedom of speech has boundaries within which a safe and free public discourse can thrive. And ideally these boundaries are not set by government, but arise organically from society itself. Society rejects hate speech and applies pressure on the perpetrator of such speech to change his/her language, at least in public.

In Hungary, the German telecommunications giant Telekom, which is Ákos’ main corporate sponsor, has decided to distance itself from the singer. As well, I was pleasantly surprised to see how a pro-government news site, run by Modern Media Group Zrt., responded. “If you think that the only task of women is to belong to someone, then your only task is to play music. Don’t talk, just sing. That’s your role. Any maybe write a song about humility,” wrote the 888.hu site.

With a little humility and sense of personal responsibility for the public discourse, perhaps a more livable country could be created in the Carpathian Basin.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *