Budapest, Hungary – Almost a year ago, it came to light that the Hungarian government had tried to bury the case of a pedophile diplomat. Hungarian authorities had been alerted that Gábor Kalota, the ambassador to Peru, was involved in an international child pornography network. Over the years, he had downloaded 19,000 apparently violent pornographic photos from the dark web, for which he paid the South Korean who ran the “service” in Bitcoin.
Kalota was immediately recalled from Lima, but the case remained one of the many secrets of the Orbán government. After the case came to light and the public learned that Kalota had received a light suspended sentence and had to pay a measly half-a-million forint fine, public anger swelled. And so, after this mishandled affair, Viktor Orbán changed tactics. He promised much harsher punishments for pedophilic crimes, and his loyal supporters swung into action. It was Máté Kocsis, leader of the Fidesz delegation in parliament, and Gabriella Selmeczi, whose parliamentary career began in 1994, who received the job of overseeing the creation of the new law.
Hungary proposes new law banning “promotion” of homosexuality
A year later, at the end of May, the proposal for a stricter law on pedophilic crimes was ready, and only a few legal scholars offered critical comments. Attila Péterfalvi, president of National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, was somewhat troubled by the relative ease with which individuals could receive information on pedophiles listed on an internet database of known perpetrators, and Zsuzsa Sándor, a former judge and since her retirement a political commentator, found the language of the new law inaccurate and impossible to enforce. But the opposition parties, by and large, supported the proposal.
That was the case until a few days ago, when Kocsis and Selmeczi came forth with additional amendments, which then were promptly passed by the Fidesz majority in the legislative committee of the parliament. It had been clear for some time that the government’s intention was conflate pedophilia with homosexuality, and therefore it was not exactly unexpected that some reference to homosexuality would be included in the final bill. After all, Orbán had earlier announced that “Hungary is a tolerant and patient country when it comes to homosexuality, but there is a red line that cannot be crossed: leave our children alone.”
In committee, the Fidesz members voted against an opposition proposal that a child appearing on pornographic footage could be considered a casualty, which would be a legally stronger category than the current victim classification. But they passed an amendment that would ban the portrayal of homosexuality or gender reassignment to children under the age of 18. Another part of the proposed law states that “not only would pornographic or self-depicting sexually explicit content be banned for those under the age of 18 but also content that promotes or displays gender reassignment or homosexuality.”
Restricting sexual education for minors in Hungary
If the full parliament passes this amendment, sex education in schools will be able to cover sex only between those who were born as males and females, because, according to the amendment, “when teaching pupils about sexual culture, sexual life, sexual orientation and sexual development, particular attention shall be paid to the provisions of Article XVI of the Basic Law which reads that Hungary ‘protects the right of children to self-identity according to their birth sex and ensures education according to values based on the constitutional identity and Christian culture of our country.'”
Moreover, sex education in schools must be provided by an organization that is specifically designated by state authorities to perform such a task because “representatives of certain organizations seek to influence children’s sexual development through what they call a sensitization program in the context of anti-discrimination which may cause serious harm to children’s physical, mental, and moral development.” After the Fidesz majority in the committee voted for these amendments, Gergely Arató, a DK member of Parliament’s Legislative Committee, regretfully announced that, after this decision, his party most likely will not be able to vote for this law which includes these amendments, although they were planning to support it in its original form.
“The most despicable method a government can use”
As soon as word of the new amendments was out, several NGOs responded to the news. Amnesty International Hungary, Budapest Pride, the Háttér Társaság, the Labrisz Leszbikus Egyesület, and the Prizma Transgender Community in a joint statement wrote, “Freedom of expression and children’s rights would also be severely restricted by Fidesz with this new proposal, similar to the Russian Propaganda Law, to ban any school-based LGBTQI education program and social advertising in schools.” A demonstration is planned for Monday.
Róbert Alföldi, a much-admired theater director and a gay man, wrote on his Facebook page, “elections are coming up, we need to find new groups to target, to hate, and which will distract us from everything else. Conflating sexual orientation and gender identity with pedophilia is the most despicable method a government can use.” He ironically asked Gabriella Selmeczi whether she truly thinks that “watching Károly Makk’s film ‘Looking at Each Other’ [in English ‘Another Way’] as a teenager would make you a lesbian. And we wonder why the Pope is reluctant to meet…”
Some people suspect more insidious motives on the part of the government in this case. Miklós Hargitai, associate editor-in-chief of Népszava, postulates that Viktor Orbán’s hope was that the opposition parties wouldn’t support the law on pedophilia and that, as a result, a new campaign against them could be launched. Therefore, the government introduced amendments that ensured their opposition to the bill.
The “good” and “bad” pedophiles in Orban’s Hungary?
In an opinion piece titled “The good pedophile,” Hargitai accuses the government of preventing sex education that would lighten the burden of teenagers who are not quite certain of their sexuality. According to him, in Hungary a young homosexual is 30 times more likely to commit suicide than a heterosexual in the same age group. At the same time, the new law on pedophilia deliberately ignores a group where it is significantly present, the Catholic clergy. As he writes, “the government continues to acknowledge that the church does not extradite its own pedophiles, so they are allowed to work with children while the state authorities turn a blind eye. In other words, there are the good pedophiles—from whom Fidesz can hope for political support—who are not harassed. And there are those who are not pedophiles but would do something about the hateful practices of the authorities.”
As for pedophilia in the Catholic Church, it will most likely receive greater scrutiny in Hungary in the near future because Rita Perintfalvi’s book, For which there is no excuse: Sexual predators in the Church, just appeared. Perintfalvi is a Catholic theologian who teaches at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz. The first admiring reviews have already appeared, and the book is being exhibited at the Margó Literary Festival. I suspect that the topic will be difficult to ignore for long.
By the Hungarian Spectrum, an official partner of Kafkadesk.