Despite growing backlash, Viktor Orbán and his followers are stepping up their attacks.
Thousands of Hungarians rallied at the July 23 Budapest Pride march to call for LGBTQ liberation and to defend civil rights. The march took place following a challenging year for the Hungarian LGBTQ community, overshadowed by a criminal war in the Ukraine. Last year, the Hungarian Parliament introduced a controversial law banning LGBTQ-related materials in schools, the media, and other public spaces. The so-called “Child Protection Act” prohibits young people from accessing information about sexual and gender identity. Mental health experts pointed out that this law would have devastating emotional and psychological impacts on Hungary’s LGBTQ youth. Human rights watchdogs also warned that the new bill would increase verbal and physical violence targeting sexual minorities. The European Commission has labeled the law discriminatory, citing that it goes against fundamental human rights and European values. In an unprecedented step for the EU, the commission is taking legal action against Hungary and imposing financial penalties by freezing access to COVID recovery funds.
The new bill was introduced following a series of assaults on LGBTQ rights and a climate of hate fueled by pro-Orbán pundits and nationwide anti-LGBTQ propaganda. In 2020, the Hungary-based Labrisz Lesbian Association published A Fairy-tale For Everyone (Meseország mindenkié), an LGBTQ-inclusive book for children that sparked outrage among Hungarian nationalists. The fairy-tale book was created as a tool for parents and teachers to educate their children about important issues such as diversity, sexuality, gender, race, and class. Far-right MP Dóra Dúró (Mi Hazánk Party) publicly shredded the book at a press conference that incited public outcry as many people were calling the violent act a reminder of the darkest of times, and compared it to Nazi-era book burnings. The childrens’ book shortly became a bestseller and a symbol of LGBTQ resistance in Hungary and beyond, as it has already been translated to over twenty languages.
In recent years, lawmakers have also ended legal gender recognition for transgender people and updated the Hungarian Constitution with a new definition of family as a “legal marriage between heterosexual man and woman” that prohibits same-sex marriage and adoption. The decision sparked massive pushback and resistance from Hungarians, who launched the #acsaládazcsalád (The Family is family) movement to promote diverse families. Many high-profile Hungarians, including celebrities, influencers, intellectuals, diplomats, and business leaders, joined the movement and showed public support for LGBTQ people as allies.
On April 3, Hungarian voters delivered a two-thirds super-majority to incumbent Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz party in the general election. On the same day, a separate referendum was held on LGBTQ and transgender-related issues, but it was declared invalid because less than 50% of eligible voters cast their ballots. Hungary-based human rights groups such as Amnesty International Hungary, Budapest Pride, and Háttér Society organized mass campaigns and mobilized voters to spoil their ballot. Experts argued that the referendum intended to stigmatize LGBTQ people with manipulative questions feeding social paranoia about “gender madness.” Following the 2015 refugee crisis, the Hungarian government organized a similar referendum on EU migration policies and immigration-related issues, which was also declared invalid because of the low voter turn-out. Many see the connection between the two, arguing that Orbán vilifies marginalized groups and owes his electoral success to being tough on immigration and promoting “traditional Christian values.”
The annual Pride march was organized in the Hungarian capital on July 23 in temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius. According to the Budapest Pride organizers, the extreme heatwave didn’t stop LGBTQ people and their allies—a record 35,000 people marched together to protest Orbán’s oppressive anti-LGBTQ politics and the devastating war in Ukraine.
The Budapest Pride organization hosted representatives of the Kyiv Pride and Ukrainian queer groups as an act of solidarity because they cannot organize Pride in Ukraine, currently shelled by Putin. Edward Reese, a representative of Kyiv Pride, gave a passionate speech at the Budapest Pride march and singled out Orbán for criticism because of his close ties to Moscow.
As the march was underway, Orbán was attending an ultra-nationalist Hungarian festival in Transylvania (Baile Tusnad, Romania), where he delivered a speech calling “gender insanity” the greatest threat to Hungary. He also told the audience that demography, migration, gender, the war in Ukraine, and the economy are the main challenges they have to deal with in the near future. In his speech, Orbán lashed out against “race mixing” of European and non-European “races,” inciting outrage in Hungary, Romania, and across Europe. Orbán’s disturbing speech about “ethnic purity” also resonates the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which claims that there’s a globalist plot to “dilute” white European nations through immigration. Orbán’s rhetoric prompted his senior advisor Zsuzsa Hegedüs, a Jewish sociologist, to resign. In a public resignation letter, Hegedüs called Orbán’s remarks “pure Nazi speech worthy of Joseph Goebbels.”
Just days after Orbán’s speech, antisemitic posters appeared all over Budapest claiming that Jews represent a “different race.” Despite the massive backlash and growing frustration over his racism, anti-LGBTQ politics, and pro-Putin sentiments, Orbán is still set to speak at the CPAC Texas in August and remains a source of inspiration for American fascists.
ANITA ZSURZSÁN is a Hungary-based independent scholar, writer, and activist focused on fascism and global far-right movements.