Culture war between Hungary and Europe intensifies over LGBT bill
BRUSSELS – A cultural war between Hungary and the European Union escalated on Wednesday after a senior bloc official said she would use all her powers to thwart a new Hungarian law which critics say targets the community LGBT.
The law, which would ban the portrayal or promotion of homosexuality to those under 18, an addition to legislation targeting pedophiles, has been approved by Hungary’s parliament but has yet to be approved by the country’s president.
The legislation was heavily criticized on Wednesday by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
“This Hungarian bill is a disgrace,” von der Leyen said in a statement. “This bill clearly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. This goes against the fundamental values of the European Union: human dignity, equality and respect for human rights.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has championed the law, will be pressured to withdraw it at a meeting of European Union heads of state and government on Thursday and Friday. This is the last confrontation between the European Union and Mr. Orban, who presents himself as the champion of an “illiberal democracy” which can sometimes go against the democratic values of the bloc.
Ms von der Leyen described the European Union as a place ‘where you are free to be who you are and love whoever you want’, adding: ‘I will use all the powers of the commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed. Whoever they are and wherever they live in the European Union.
European ambassadors excoriated the bill at a pre-summit briefing on Wednesday, saying it violated European Union treaties and crossed red lines. They expressed the hope that Mr Orban would step down from challenging Brussels in this way, as he has sometimes done in the past.
There is no quick fix if Hungary goes ahead with the law, diplomats said. But the commission, which is officially the guardian of respect for the treaties, could bring a complaint against Hungary to the European Court of Justice for violation of the latter. The tribunal, if it wished, could act relatively quickly, and Hungary has in the past respected its rulings.
The proposed law prohibits the sharing of content about homosexuality or gender confirming surgery to people under the age of 18 in school sex education programs, movies, or advertisements. The government says it is meant to protect children, but critics of the law say it links homosexuality to pedophilia.
In a response later Wednesday, the Hungarian government said in a statement that Ms von der Leyen’s comments were “based on false allegations” and reflected “a biased political opinion without prior and impartial investigation”.
The statement added: “The recently adopted Hungarian bill protects children’s rights, guarantees parents’ rights and does not apply to the sexual orientation rights of persons over the age of 18, so it does not contain any discriminatory element. .
Mr. Orban has presented himself as an advocate for traditional Christian and national values, which he says are being undermined by new concepts of sexual identity and behavior. His government is also under pressure on its performance, especially its response to the coronavirus, so Mr Orban has used these cultural issues to energize his conservative base ahead of next year’s elections.
A European Union official said Ms von der Leyen wanted to send a political message to the Hungarians and that she was considering speaking to Mr Orban about the matter in private.
As EU ministers met in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the law only targets pedophiles and does not restrict the sexual freedom of adults. “The law protects children in a way that makes it an exclusive right of parents to educate their children about sexual orientation up to the age of 18,” he said. “This law says nothing about the sexual orientation of adults.
Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands drafted a joint declaration condemning the law as a violation of the right to freedom of expression and a “blatant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation”.
Irish Minister for Europe Thomas Byrne said: “I am very worried – what happened there is wrong.” Mr Byrne called it a “very, very dangerous moment for Hungary and for the EU as well”.
German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth expressed concern that Hungary and Poland violate the rule of law by restricting the freedoms of courts, academics and the media, as well as women’s rights, migrants and minorities.
“The European Union is not first and foremost a single market or a monetary union,” said Roth. “We are a community of values, these values bind us all,” he said. “There should be no doubt that minorities, sexual minorities too, should be treated with respect. “
In an effort to respond to the public, the city of Munich has vowed to light up its stadium in the rainbow colors of the pride flag when Germany meets Hungary in the European Football Championship on Wednesday night, but the The governing body of the game refused him permission from UEFA, which said the game should remain free of all politics.
Mr Orban, who is an avid football fan, decided to cancel a visit to Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria, for the match and to travel directly to Brussels, according to German news agency DPA. . The Hungarian government said it had never commented on Orban’s “private program”.
Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder said Germans must “stand up against exclusion and discrimination,” while Munich’s gay community said rainbow flags will be handed out to fans at the outside the stadium. A number of other stadiums in Germany were planning to light up in the colors of the rainbow.
Monika Pronzcuk contributed reporting.