Hungarian Minister: Family is pillar of our society
As a working mother, Hungary's Minister for Family Affairs, Katalin Novák, her husband and children come first. Then politics.
Katalin is a well-known name in Hungary: everyone knows a Kata or a Kati. The country in the east of Europe is full of them. Katalin Novák is a role model for many (young) women. She made it as Minister for Family Affairs. Last week, Prime Minister Orban presented her as the candidate for President. The parliament will decide early next year. To concentrate on her new job she will resign as Family Minister this week at December 31st.
Early October, Novák was guest of honour at the fifth Hungarian National Prayer Breakfast in Budapest. She opened the breakfast by saying a prayer. She thanked God for 'our' families. "Help us to understand that you created us."
She compared today's Europe to the Tower of Babel. "Faith is seen as something that disturbs. But let us hold fast to the last sentence of the Lord's Prayer: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever."
Katalin Éva Veresné Novák was born on 6 September 1977 in Szeged, Hungary. After finishing high school, she studied economics and law in Hungary and France. In addition to her mother tongue, she speaks three languages: German, French and English. She shows this through her intensive use of social media. On Facebook, she writes in Hungarian for photos with friends, a guest appearance on a cooking show or a rare photo with her daughter or dog. A business-like tone of voice in English, sometimes German or French, predominates on Twitter.
She is making a stormy career but remains a lady 'pur sang'. In October 2020, Novák became Minister for Family Affairs in the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. She has been in politics since 2010. She is married and has three children: Ádám (2004), Tamás (2006) and Kata (2008). Her CV expressly states that from 2004 to 2010, she spent her time at home, taking care of the children's upbringing. "We support families to have children. More children mean paying less tax." Mothers with four or more children do not have to pay income tax for the rest of their lives in Hungary.
So that doesn't apply to yourself...
"Haha, no. But I am here first for my husband and our children. After that comes politics."
Large families used to be more traditional.
"Definitely, but the world has changed. Voluntary childlessness, one or two children or having children later in life has become common. The question is whether we want to and should accept that."
In 2010, your government established that the father is a man and the mother is a woman in the Constitution. Why?
"At the time, we already saw signs that marriage, family and household were coming under severe pressure. And eleven years later, this has only got worse. Europe is in great danger regarding families, marriage and children. It is not a question of our being right, but of being right in the light of God, in the light of eternity."
Pro-family, not pro-life
The Hungarian government may like to present itself as pro-family, the country is not pro-life. The number of pregnancy terminations in Hungary is much higher than in The Netherlands: 1 in 4 pregnancies, compared to 1 in 7. The government says that women have the freedom to decide to have an abortion. It has been legal since 1953 and is permitted for up to 12 weeks. In exceptional cases, this can be extended to 24 weeks. The pro-life movement in Hungary is in its infancy. Awareness in this area is not high.
Another thing from the Constitution is that marriage is something between one man and one woman.
"Good to lay that down. While everywhere in European countries the number of marriages is falling, in Hungary it has risen by 25 per cent in recent years. And the number of divorces is falling."
What drives you as a minister?
"To choose life. A man and a woman may choose to love each other and receive life from God. Families, children and families are the pillars of our society."
Hungary has approximately 9.8 million inhabitants. The population has been declining for four decades; in 1980, it was still 10.7 million. In terms of numbers, 30,000 fewer babies are born each year than the number of people who die. Or instead: were, because the Hungarian government is doing everything to turn the tide.
The government is investing EUR 7.25 billion in supporting families. For 2022, EUR 10 billion has been reserved, more than 6% of the gross national product. In addition to tax measures, there are free meals and so-called Elizabeth camps for children in need, family discounts and the 'baby expectancy subsidy' of almost €30,000 introduced in 2019. "These all serve the purpose of increasing the self-confidence of young people if they want to have children."
Hungary is not afraid to promote its family policy. Budapest's international airport is festooned with banners reading "Family Friendly Hungary". Within Europe, however, the country is under heavy fire. After adopting a law in the summer of 2021 that stipulates that children at school are not confronted with homosexuality and transgender persons, the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte said that Hungary has no place in the European Union. The Hungarian ambassador in the Netherlands, Andras Kocsis, reacted to this on the Christian television channel Family7. He said that Europe was founded on Judeo-Christian values and traditions. "We have not changed. Europe has."
Appreciation for Novák
The organisers of the Hungarian prayer breakfast in Budapest, at the beginning of October, drew inspiration from prayer breakfasts in the United States and Germany. The Dutch Henk Jan van Schothorst of the Christian Council International wants to bring the prayer breakfast to the Netherlands as well. He presented Minister Novák for Family Affairs with a certificate of appreciation for her work and promoting Christian values in education and politics.
Following Hungary's example, Van Schothorst would like to see a Minister for Family or Family Affairs in the Netherlands. "It is essential for our country as well that this subject remains on the agenda." During the last term of former Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende (2007-1010), ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion) politician André Rouvoet was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Youth and Family.
One of his spearheads was the establishment of Centres for Youth and Family, where parents, children, young people and professionals can go with all kinds of questions about parenting and growing up. The centres were set up as recognisable drop-in points in every municipality, which are in charge of their management. The first centres were realised in 2008.
The interview with Mrs Novak is previously published in the Dutch family magazine Terdege