The ruling parties voted to strengthen the anti-pedophilia law, along with the modifications affecting homosexual and transgender people. While initial changes to the anti-pedophilia law with tougher restrictions was met with almost total consent, last minute modifications have been loudly criticized from several angles. After Monday’s demonstration with thousands of protesters, most opposition forces boycotted the session, suggesting a political trap behind the controversial additions.
It all went smoothly until last week. Following some controversial cases, ruling Fidesz wanted tougher penalties, and consequences (such as an electronic searchable database) of offenders. Most political forces agreed with the move and its content, some even argued that it was still too permissive and light.
Then Fidesz came up with amendments that mention and bring in restrictions regarding the LGBTQ community too. The changes published only some days ago, make some aspects of the bill somewhat similar to Russia’s propaganda act, stirring up debates.
What are the modifications about?
The most controversial feature is centered around the fact that several aspects of the anti-pedophilia law affects LGBTQ community’s members, despite that scientific facts don’t confirm any such link between the two. Also, many fear that sexual education lectures would be made impossible and could as a result lead to mental harm among youngsters if the existence and acceptance of otherness cannot be openly discussed in schools.
As a matter of fact, the amendment refers to the Fundamental Law of Hungary (voted in by Fidesz-KDNP) which states: “…Hungary shall protect the right of children to a self-identity corresponding to their sex at birth…”
- Regarding sex education in schools, materials must not contain anything aimed at changing gender or promoting homosexuality.
- Besides teachers of the school, only people or organizations included in an official, continually updated register can hold sex education classes. This means that liberal NGOs would probably be excluded.
- Also, the right of a child to identify according to his or her sex at birth is guarded by the law under the aegis of the child protection system.
- It is forbidden to carry content targeting youth below the age of 18 which has pornographic content, portraying themselves in a sexual manner, or doing anything to promote homosexuality or a gender identity at variance with gender at birth. The same applies to advertisements.
- Television stations will be obliged to carry an 18+ certificate for films and programming with content which deviates from the law’s restrictions, while Hungary’s media authority will be required to seek remedial action by the member state under whose jurisdiction any infringements take place.
Those who breach the law would have to face infringement procedures.
Protesters range from psychologists to TV channels
Several professional, business, and media organizations raised their voice and wanted to prevent lawmakers from voting in the bill.
Hungary’s most popular TV channel, RTL Klub, for example, stated that protection of families and children are of utmost importance to them. However, they added: “…we also believe that diversity and tolerance are important European values, and we are concerned that a bill presented last week also seriously violates freedom of expression” and non-discrimination principles. In its current form, it would be possible to show movies such as Billy Elliot, Bridget Jones’s Diary, or even some of the Harry Potter film adaptations to those over 18 late at night, while TV series such as Modern Family, or Friends would be blacklisted. “People with a gender identity differing from the majority could only be portrayed with similar exposure and in similar late-night time frames as horror movie characters,” the broadcaster argued.
The National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MÚOSZ) also protests “the restriction of publicity” and “stand up for fundamental human rights.” In their view, the right to basic information would be violated if at certain times of the day outlets were forced by law to remain silent about real phenomena, processes, mental and biological differences. “Hungary is rapidly moving away from Western cultural values when it excludes from the public the one whose fate has brought it to feel better if its identity does not correspond to its gender of birth. Nor can people be deprived of their identity by law,” they wrote in their statement.
Meanwhile, a group dubbed ‘WeAreOpen’ (established by Prezi and Google among others), along with Open For Business (which consists of several companies, such as Tesco, Lego, Deutsche Bank, and Facebook) brought in a different perspective. Their joint statement highlights that in addition to the fact that the modifications may have a negative effect on employees, the bill also goes against the business interests of Hungarian enterprises, as an inclusive workplace is more effective in many aspects, suspecting that the bill could frighten away some companies.
LGBTQ section of the Hungarian Psychological Association is also against the law. Besides referring to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and WHO, they say they oppose any legislation that restricts children’s right to sexual health, sexual health education, free expression and information, and discriminates against children and their families in any way, contrary to the real interests and rights of children.
Monday demonstration attracts several thousand
Following last week’s events, a demonstration was organized by Partizán, a popular, left-wing, politics-focused Youtube channel. It was, however, joined by several other organizations, including political parties such as DK and Momentum. Estimates put the number of protesters to 5,000- 10,000.
Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI
‘Family is family’ movement’s founder, Márton Pál, for example, argued that “the bill is dangerous because if it is not possible to hold sexual education classes where children can talk about family diversity, then those children who live in such families will be hurt, harassed, or excluded even more. Among them our little boy…. Those who cannot defend their truth with arguments want to ban that (…) Those who are aware that their position is not justified by science. Those who know that they aren’t right must act by force then,” he commented on the government’s attitude.
In addition, the number of signatories of Budapest Pride’s signature drive dubbed “We don’t want Russian-style homophobic laws!” now nears 110,000. The action wanted lawmakers not to vote-in the law. “The policy that would sacrifice children’s lives for the dominance of the public discourse is an evil one,” they wrote.
Opposition parties divided after the modifications
The legislation’s modifications have brought division among the opposition parties, with many fearing a political trap set by the ruling forces. They think that although the modifications make the legislation unacceptable to be voted in, declining to do so would result in the ruling forces’ accusations and attacks. As a result, most political forces, such as LMP, MSZP, DK, Párbeszéd, Momentum, and independent MPs, such as Bernadett Szél, Ákos Hadházy, and Szabolcs Szabó have decided to stay away from parliament entirely, and boycott the session.
Unlike right-wing Jobbik, who announced they would vote in the package, along with Fidesz-KDNP, saying that they would annul unacceptable parts of the package once in power.
157 yes, 1 no
The bill has eventually been voted in with 157 yes (far-right Mi Hazánk supported it too, along with independent, but formerly Fidesz lawmaker Imre Ritter, and some other former Jobbik MPs). The only one lawmaker having pushed the no button was independent Sándor Székely.
Somewhat less surprisingly then, opposition politicians were angered after the ballot. “On this shameful day, the opposition has no place in Parliament, but rather on the street,” Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony commented.
DK deputy parliamentary group leader, Gergely Arató, called today’s votes (the Parliament voted on Fudan and the municipal housing act too) a disgrace in Parliament’s history, as the laws proposed and voted in don’t comply with the rules of parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, or human rights.
On the other hand, according to Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó’s view, made public after the vote, “protection of our children might not be a question: zero tolerance for pedophiles, while the education of children about sexual orientation is the parents’ sole right.” Meanwhile, Fidesz MP Gabriella Selmeczi said that “true liberalism is about leaving children under the age of 18 alone with issues that affect their sexual orientation.”
The bill would certainly provide a basis for further legal and political debates. Back during the Monday demo, Amnesty International Hungary’s leader argued that in his view the law goes against both Hungary’s Fundamental Law and the EU law. This and several other statements predict a long legal process, long debates, and further controversies, something that perhaps don’t fall far from the ruling forces’ goals less than one year before the general elections.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI