Hungary’s path puts human rights at risk – Graeme Reid

The ostensible attack on LGBT + rights in Hungary, Poland and Russia has a very big target: anyone who adheres to universal standards.

Viktor Orbán — does not defend European values ​​(Alexandros Michailidis /

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used the Pope’s visit to Budapest last month to advance his populist agenda. He said he was encouraged by his meeting with Frances to advance “family values”. Indeed, Orbán claimed to have the imprimatur of the pontiff: “Moreover, he said: go ahead, go ahead. And go ahead, we will.

But what is Orbán for, beyond rhetoric?

With elections looming next year and a poor government record so far, the increasingly autocratic Orbán has found a new target by attacking LGBT rights, in which “family values” are the key. substitute for a completely different program. It started with refugees and now it’s sexual and gender minorities. This is best understood as a cynical move to distract attention from Orbán’s mess of the state’s response to the pandemic, as well as corruption scandals involving business oligarchs and questionable relations with China.

Under the banner of ‘family values’, Hungary in 2020 banned adoption by same-sex couples, banned transgender people from changing their legal sex and refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which aims to protect women violence. This year, Hungary passed a law that equates homosexuality with pedophilia and prohibits the “promotion and portrayal of homosexuality” and gender diversity to those under the age of 18, in sex education, films or ads.

Putin’s playbook

Orbán is inspired by Vladimir Putin’s playbook. The Russian president has used the spectrum of LGBT rights as a wedge to consolidate a base of conservative support at home, demarcate areas of regional influence and forge global alliances. It started in earnest with the adoption in 2013 of the “Gay Propaganda Law”, an administrative regulation that prohibits the positive portrayal of “non-traditional sex” in the presence of minors.

Indeed, the law prohibits such presentation of LGBT identities in the public domain. It has a chilling effect on free speech, being vague enough that Russians fear breaking the law. The Hungarian law has strong echoes even if it goes even further, prohibiting any representation of LGBT people to children.

Russian law has had a choking effect on teachers and counselors and has been used to shut down an online support network for LGBT children. It has been linked to an upsurge in homophobic violence. There is no reason to believe that the impact of the Hungarian law will be any different.

The “gay propaganda law” has proven to be a very effective tool for Putin, although very harmful for many Russians. At the national level, the negative connotations of “propaganda”, with its Stalinist associations, and the positive affirmation of the so-called national “tradition”, opposed to the forces of globalization, have proven to be an effective shortcut. They mobilized supporters of Putin’s small towns and countryside in the face of public protests in large urban centers (to the extent that they were allowed).

At the regional level, rhetoric has been used to challenge the spheres of influence between the Russia-backed Eurasian customs union and the European Union. Globally, at the United Nations, Russia has succeeded at least in part in assuming the role of protector of “traditional values” – opposed to universal norms such as human rights – and in forging geopolitical alliances with states. sharing the same ideas.

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Sustained attack

Poland under the Law and Justice Party (PiS) has become another exception in Europe, where the independence of the judiciary, civil society and the media has been constantly under attack. The government has called LGBT rights a dangerous and subversive ideology, while local authorities have declared LGBT-free zones.

Warsaw has systematically attacked reproductive rights and comprehensive sexuality education and threatened to withdraw from the Istanbul convention – the convention includes a reference to sexual orientation and a broad definition of gender. It was an electoral rallying point in 2019, designed to help the PiS secure a second term.

Leaders like Orbán, or the key figure of PiS Jarosław Kaczyński, and the parties they represent project an unadulterated vision of their societies. They present themselves as the authentic voice of the “people”, against the “liberal elites” accused of defying “common sense”.

This dangerous world of nationalist rhetoric produces “insiders” and “outsiders”, bolstering support by concocting imaginary threats against the nation. In Hungary, migrants have been vilified as a perceived external demon, while LGBT people have been presented as both an internal threat and a foreign influence.

“Gender ideology”

Why do advancements in women’s or LGBT rights spark such apocalyptic fantasies of the destruction of social order? The concept of “gender ideology” links the developments in Poland and Hungary. This is closely related to the idea of ​​traditional values ​​but more amorphous and, it seems, better able to rally disparate groups against a common perceived enemy. First invented decades ago by the Holy See, “gender ideology” has become a ubiquitous term, strategically deployed to restrict sexual and reproductive rights.

As an “empty signifier” (in semiotic terms), gender ideology means both nothing and everything. This allowed her to become the symbolic ‘glue’, uniting disparate groups in opposition – to feminism, transgender equality, the existence of intersex bodies, the elimination of gender stereotypes, the reform of the law. family, same-sex marriage, access to abortion and contraception. , and comprehensive sex education.

The anti-gender movement is increasingly resourced and coordinated, and more strategic and sophisticated than in the past. He mobilized against advances in human rights based on gender and sexuality at the national level, as well as vis à vis regional and global mechanisms relating to rights, development and public health.

The anti-gender movement has even co-opted the language of human rights — positioning itself nationally as protecting freedom of speech and religious freedom against ideological conformism and internationally as protecting national cultural integrity against imperialism. . In this way, LGBT identities came to replace something much larger, being interpreted as a threat to the fabric of society itself.

Procedures initiated

Last month, LGBT activist groups lodged a complaint with the European Commission, claiming that Poland’s “LGBT ideology-free zones” and other discriminatory measures violated the Charter of Fundamental Rights of Poland. ‘EU and the Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation. In mid-July, the committee initiated infringement proceedings against Poland, over local authorities having passed resolutions on an “LGBT ideology-free zone” (three have since reneged) and against certain aspects of the Hungarian law on pedophilia which violates its human rights obligations. .

In addition to violations related to trade and the free flow of information, the committee said, the Hungarian provisions violate the rights to non-discrimination, human dignity, freedom of expression and information and respect for private life. In the meantime, the Polish authorities had failed to respond adequately to their investigation into the meaning and impact of municipalities becoming “LGBT-free zones”.

These are serious allegations, with far-reaching implications, and the committee is right to identify violations of fundamental human rights and fundamental European values. Both states enjoy the economic benefits of EU membership, but under their current governments they avoid the associated obligations.

Supporting the rights and equality of LGBT people in these settings is therefore more than defending members of a minority group, however vital it may be. He defends democracy and human rights for all.

Hungary, Orban, PiS, Poland, Russia, Putin, gay propaganda law, traditional values

Graeme Reid is the director of LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch.

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