Why the clash between Hungary and the West will always come back
The conflict between Hungary and other European countries about the so-called anti-LGBT legislation has a predictable character. It is a repetition of what we have seen before. And we will see this in the future again.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the Hungarian law was “a shame”, as Politico reports. The law conflicts with the EU values. Therefore, action is necessary.
The European Commission will send a letter to the government in Budapest. If they do not listen, judicial action will follow. “The law is discriminating people based on sexual orientation”, Von der Leyen said. “We don’t compromise on these principles.”
Self-evident for both parties
For Von der Leyen the thing is quite self-evident. But the same applies to Hungary.
In Budapest rules a conservative Christian government. The traditional family (father, mother and children) is the leading model for social policy development. Press releases from the capital speak very openly about the country’s “Christian culture”. In Western Europe, this would be seen as a contrast with the separation between state and church. The idea there is that the state should be neutral and not reflect any religious identity at all.
The preference of Hungary doesn’t say that gay life is forbidden or that people of the same sex cannot live together. For adults, legally, there are no limits at all. Hungary recognises a registered partnership for homosexuals, but marriage is only for two persons from the opposite sex, even in the Constitution.
Gay couples cannot adopt children either. “Children’s right to healthy development overrides the desire of homosexual couples to raise children”, a press release from June 14th says. So here again, the leading model is the classic family, portrayed as being in the children’s interest.
Regarding gender, the Hungarian government has chosen the “sex at birth” as the anchor for policy development. Gender reassignment for children is seen as something very undesired. A child has the right to be “identified according to his or her biological gender at birth”, the state’s spokesman Zoltan Kovacs writes on Euronews. Also in other international disputes, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made clear that he is not happy with the term “gender” for making policy since it is not as straightforward as the biological sex.
With those ideals, it would be dangerous for children to expose them to homosexuality as something attractive. That is why last week’s legislation protects children both against homosexuality and paedophilia.
Another point in the new legislation is the priority for parents in sexual education. It should neither be the state nor the society (or the media) that will guide young people in their development. This could be seen as a reaction against Communism, in which the state got priority over parents.
The West takes equality as starting point
All those ideas clash with the leading image in Western European countries. Equality is there the starting point in both politics and media. From that perspective, being homo or hetero is the same as being black or white; it doesn’t matter at all. Only a racist would suggest that there is any difference in legal rights or position.
The same applies to sexuality. Both the heterosexual and the homosexual doing are just two variations of the same thing. From this perspective, LGBT rights fall under the “fundamental values of the European Union”, as Von der Leyen says. For that reason, Evelyne Paradis, the sexual diversity interest’s organisation ILGA-Europe’s director, calls the Hungarian case the “ultimate test” of the EU’s credibility, also on Euronews.
It could be questioned whether this is really so fundamental as portrayed here. Up to the year 1990, the traditional family model was leading in all EU countries’ policy. And homosexuality might have been tolerated in the margin but usually kept away from public life. And even until now, openly homosexuality is seen very seldom in advertising in Western Europe.
Although biological sex has been the starting point for policy until recently, today, gender is much more critical in the West. Children can be exposed to information about gender change at a very young age. In practice, it seems that parents are much more cautious with this than policymakers and the media, although this may differ from one country to another.
The Hungarian connection between homosexuality and paedophilia is very sensitive in Western Europe. Although some activists in the sexual revolution in the 60s claimed “sexual rights for children”, this is seen as very undesired nowadays. There is enough evidence that exposure to sexual activity is harming children. In most countries, intimacy with minors can bring you in contact with the police. There is no tolerance for that.
The suggestion that paedophiles have “their own party in the Netherlands to spread their sick ideas” in a <a href=" declaration" target="_blank">https://haga.mfa.gov.hu/eng/news/opinion-piece-of-ambassador-andras-kocsis) by the Hungarian ambassador Andras Kocsis in the Netherlands is just not true. Since 2020 there is indeed a political party that speaks about the legalisation of sex with minors. But the general feeling in society is that paedophilia is a threat. In 2014 an organisation for the promotion of paedophilia was forbidden.
Two visions cannot be reconciled
These two visions of both Hungary and the EU majority are rooted in a different worldview. They clash with each other. It would be very difficult to reconcile both approaches.
Hungary is not isolated, though. Poland is on its side. The Polish minister for Education, Przemyslaw Czarnek, spoke about the LGBT equality parade in Warsaw as “promoting deviancy”, as Notes from Poland reports. And more countries in the East of the European Union have withheld support to a declaration against Hungary in the European Council.
This division in the EU is not new. For years already, Western Europeans have been complaining that the Hungarians are leaving the rule of law. The answer from Budapest is usually that Hungary joined the European Union after the fall of the Eastern Block to find freedom. The liberal approach to topics as family and gender is seen as ideological. Words as “Communist oppression”, “totalitarian”, and the “Sovietisation of Brussels” are regularly used in this context.
Hungarians claim to be very tolerant of sexual minorities. But they are very clear that toleration is not there to change the desired image for society in the media and in schools. Hungary is heteronormative. Homosexuality is clearly the deviation. Therefore, it should not be displayed to minors as being normal or attractive. Precisely that is the core of the new legislation.
Neither side listens to the other
Both sides are not taking each other seriously. From the West, it is said that Prime Minister Orban is doing this because of next year’s elections, suggesting that there is no thinking behind the legislation. From Budapest, the debate is seen as “hysteria about Hungary”, as the ambassador in The Hague wrote.
It’s clear neither side will give in. Von der Leyen has expressed herself very explicitly, as Mr Orban has done. That implies that this story is not over soon.