What’s behind the push for a referendum? “Orbán needs an image of the enemy,” says a former party colleague.
“If Viktor Orbán has his way, the family needs the same structure as the state: a strong man at the top, “explains Zsuzsanna Szelényi.
To keep it that way, the national conservative head of government passed a law in June to restrict information about homosexuality and transsexuality: It is forbidden to portray LGBTQ people in (school) books and films that are accessible to children and young people. Orbán put it in a law to protect minors. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and human rights activists called it a blow to the rights of LGBTQ people.
The Hungarian parliament has now voted to hold a referendum on the controversial law. Why is Orbán so keen on it? “Orbán is already in the middle of an election campaign. He needs a narrative enemy image to justify his conservative values,” said Szelényi.
Zsuzsanna Szelényi knows Orbán well: she was a founding member of the Fidesz party and sat in parliament from 1990 to 1994. After Fidesz’s break with liberal values, the 55-year-old resigned from the party, became a founding member of the socially liberal, pro-European movement “Together” and was again in parliament from 2014 to 2018 – this time in the opposition. She is an expert on European politics, constitutional law and gender issues.
Control and power
The population in Hungary is not more homophobic than in other countries, emphasizes Szelényi: “LGBTQ groups are not seen as a problem by the Hungarian population, the problem is created by Orbán. He deliberately mixes the protection of children with sexual diversity. And against the former nobody can be. “
Orbán proceeded in a similar way in the 2016 referendum on EU refugee quotas: The population was asked to vote on the following question: “Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of the Hungarian parliament?” “A question that could only be answered with no,” says Szelényi. “Just like the question Orbán wants to ask this time: Should minors be sexually informed without the consent of their parents?”
43 percent of those entitled to vote voted in 2016, 98 percent voted no. The opposition parties had called for a boycott of the referendum.
This year the turnout could be higher, the referendum is to be held in April, at the same time as the parliamentary elections. Ultimately, however, Orbán does not care how many people take part in the referendum, said Szelényi: “For him, it is about controlling the public discourse and being able to justify its values. And he could achieve that with the referendum.”
At the bottom of the list when it comes to women’s issues
Not only does Orbán undermine the rights of sexual minorities, Szelényi criticizes, but also those of women: Financial incentives for marriages and family formation, as approved by the government, maintain patriarchal structures and conservative role models. When it comes to equality, the Fidesz party does not act as a role model: 20 percent of the government are women, in parliament the proportion is only 12.6 percent. For the seventh year in a row, Hungary is at the bottom of the EU comparison.
Even with the united opposition, feminist concerns such as closing the wage gap between men and women or more representation of women in top positions are (still) in vain. Top candidatePeter Mark-Zayhas a similarly conservative view of the world as Orbán, say critics. Szelényi is confident, however: “One must not forget that Márki-Zay is only a representative for six different parties. There are many strong women who stand up for feminist issues. And there are more and more.”