Hungary’s QAnon government

“Save our children!” This exhortation appeared on the bumpers of dusty North American pick-up trucks, on the darker corners of the Internet and occasionally on Facebook newsfeeds, signaling that many of us have acquaintances, friends and contacts who have bought into the worst and the most irrational of conspiracy theories. We’re talking about the likes of “Pizza Gate.” The European Union now has a national government led by a QAnon party, after Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz used its parliamentary might to ram through legislation that cynically conflates homosexuality with pedophilia. In Tuesday’s vote, 157 MPs voted in support of the legislation , one voted against and all opposition parties except Jobbik boycotted the vote.  Modelled explicitly off of homophobic legislation from Russia, the sole reason for this bill is that with less than a year to go until the next national elections, Mr. Orbán once again needs to manufacture a shadowy common enemy. George Soros, migrants, Jews and “communists” are passé. Hungary’s LGBTQ+ community is now public enemy number one. It has become illegal for adults to speak to Hungarian youth under the age of 18 about sexual identity as it relates to orientation.

Zsolt Szekeres, a lawyer with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, put the far-reaching implications into perspective when he spoke with journalists of the last remaining opposition print daily, Népszava. Let’s say there was an incident of hate directed at a gay student in a Hungarian high school. A student discloses that he is gay and gets spat on or otherwise bullied. A teacher finds out and decides to speak with the students in class, using it as a teaching moment of sorts. Under the new legislation, that teacher could be charged and convicted of “propagating homosexuality.” As well, only government-sanctioned organizations will be permitted to be involved in sex education progammes. Advertising depicting gay couples or transgendered people could be deemed illegal as well.

Youth who are struggling with their sexual identity and facing homophobia will no longer be able to turn to adults for support or guidance, and the consequences of this will at times be tragic. This past May, a 13 year old boy committed suicide — a death that could have been prevented had there been support in place. István Jónás, a talented musician from a loving family, returned home from school and then told his mother that he was going for a walk. He never returned home. He jumped from a bridge into a canal.

“He was my only son and I loved him more than life itself. I am consumed by pain, especially that due to being busy with so much work, I did not pay enough attention to his inner wellbeing. He couldn’t grapple with the fact that he was different and that he was attracted to boys,” said the father, who was the one to recover his child’s body from the water. Hungarians in the community helped the family, living in very modest means, with their funeral and burial expenses.

Even with the death of a teenage boy struggling with his sexual orientation so fresh on the mind, the Orbán government proceeded with its self-serving, cynical legislation. Fidesz and its moralizing coalition partner, the Christian Democratic People’s Party are frauds. Worse still, they represent the epitome of moral turpitude, while wrapping themselves in Christian rhetoric. The opposition has taken to calling the new legislation the “Frankenstein law,” in light of how it conflates two unrelated things.

The sharpest and most damning critique came from Gergely Arató of the Democratic Coalition. “If Viktor Orbán doesn’t know the difference between being gay and being a pedophile, he should ask József Szájer or Gábor Kaleta,” said Mr. Arató after the vote. József Szájer is the disgraced Fidesz MEP who was arrested by police in Brussels for breaking Covid-19 public health restrictions. He was caught fleeing from a gay sex party at a time when gatherings were prohibited. Mr. Szájer’s sexual activities were well-known in Fidesz for many years, and this is seen as one reason why he was sent away to Brussels — out of sight, out of mind. At the same time, Mr. Szájer had no moral qualms representing his government’s anti-gay policies. Gábor Kaleta on the other hand was the former Hungarian ambassador to Peru, appointed by the current government, who stored 19,000 pornographic images depicting children  on his computer. Mr. Kaleta pleaded guilty in 2020 and was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence and a fine of 540,000 forints (approx. $2,000).

Thousands have demonstrated in Budapest against the outrageous legislation, among them Socialist politician Ildikó Lendvai, who also once served as the president of the Hungarian Socialist Party. She is now a regular columnist with Népszava and also participated at Monday’s protest, which brought out an estimated 10,000 people. The Fidesz tabloid Pesti Srácok tried, unsuccessfully, to instill fear in the protesters by calling on the police and Fidesz supporters to create lists and photographs of all participants and by default consider them to be “potential pedophiles.” Ms. Ledvai  wrote about the absurd logic within Fidesz circles that merely hearing about homosexuality and issues of gender will somehow make otherwise heterosexual people homosexual. She referred to a clever sign she saw at the protest which read: “I’ve watched action films about gangsters, yet I never became a member of Fidesz.”

Protest in Budapest against Fidesz’s homophobic law. Photo: MTI.

The outrageously cynical character of the Orbán regime’s current scapegoating of gay Hungarians and the decision to criminalize outreach to youth struggling with their sexual orientation and with homophobia has all but the most vapid Fidesz supporters scandalized. On the day that parliament passed the Frankenstein bill, Szemlélek, the centre-right blog launched by lay Catholics, published a cover piece entitled “Why are church leaders hiding when it comes to the protection of minors?” The author is István Gégény, a practicing Roman Catholic and a catechist in the Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest. The Archdiocese recently appointed a safe environment coordinator, László Gájer. Three months ago, Mr. Gégény wrote to him asking for information on concrete measures and protocols around the protection of minors in the Catholic Church. Mr. Gájer requested time to respond, but has yet to do so, even 12 weeks later. There is rumbling within Catholic circles about the fact that the Church’s purported zero tolerance policy when it comes to predatory behaviour against minors may be true in theory, but less so in practice. Once stories of clergy abuse within the Catholic Church of Hungary are uncovered, including both historic and contemporary cases,  the current government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will bear significant responsibility for having consented to protecting the perpetrators, while engaging in the most crass partisan politics on the matter of sexual orientation and freedom.

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