Conservative trends in Europe:
The case of the traditional family in Hungary
In my last weekly comment, I discussed conservative trends in Poland, especially focusing on the theme of abortion. In this weekly comment, I will discuss several conservative trends happening in 2020-21 in Hungary, especially regarding the traditional family structure.
The Christian traditional family
In January 2021, several children books discussing family roles in an ‘untraditional’ manner and containing stories about same-sex couples were ordered by the Hungarian government to print a disclaimer, stating that they describe “behavior inconsistent with traditional gender roles.” Gay rights groups protested against the government choice and threatened to sue it.
Another main event regarding the traditional family matter happened in December 2020, when the Hungarian parliament approved a new constitutional amendment banning the adoption for same-sex couples. The family is defined – according to the bill – in terms of the Christian tradition as a nucleus made of a woman and a man. Transgenders are also attacked by the new bill, since it argues that “children have the right to their identity in line with their sex at birth.” In addition, the bill underlines the importance of raising children in accordance with Hungarian “constitutional identity and Christian culture.” Earlier, in May 2020, the Hungarian government approved an amendment according to which it would no longer be possible to change the legal gender in Hungary. According to the new bill, the birth certificate will only specify the “birth sex” and it will not be possible to change it.
Criticism to the new bill
The new amendment was harshly contested by LGBTIQ rights groups, which argued that it would increase the amount of children in government care or adopted abroad. Moreover, the director of Amnesty International called the bill “a dark day for human rights.”  Furthermore, the organisation Human Rights Watch argued the new amendment stigmatises LGBTIQ people. For instance, Lydia Gall, a researcher in the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, stated: “It seems nothing will derail this government from cruelly and pointlessly targeting one of the most marginalised groups in Hungarian society, not even soaring coronavirus infections and COVID-19 related deaths.”
Clashes between the EU and Hungary
The new bill also caused clashes between the European Union (EU) and Hungary. A few days after the proposal of the amendment, the European Commission approved new funds for those EU countries conforming to EU anti-discrimination law. The funds were approved in the hope to protect LGBTIQ communities in countries like Hungary. Judit Varga, the Justice Minister of Hungary, responded to the European Commission by stating that Hungary would “not accept any financial threats for protecting the traditional role of family and marriage.”
In the meantime, the Hungarian president – Viktor Orbán – has been attempting to create a coalition with other EU members that have an anti-liberal approach. Orbán directly addressed his neighbouring governments to protect – together with Hungary – Christian values, arguing that Western Europe is going towards “a godless cosmos, rainbow families, migration and open societies.”
Who is responsible for this new trend?
The annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTIQ People in Europe and Central Asia 2021 found a connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and a negative impact on the status of LGBTIQ communities in many states around Europe. Especially in Hungary, members of the LGBTIQ community were denied COVID-19 support packages.Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe, has argued that LGBTIQ people are used as scapegoats by governments – especially populist ones like Hungary and Poland – to reduce tension and defer attention of the people from the problems caused by the pandemic.
Some have argued that Hungarian president Orbán is violating LGBTIQ rights in order to gain support among his party, which is criticising him for his ineffective response to the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, it is interesting to notice that Orbán refers to these new reforms and bills as being established in the name of the preservation of Christian values, thereby involving religion in his ‘populist’ agenda.
Hungary, Poland, and COVID-19
In conclusion, conservative trends in Hungary are clearly connected to a traditional attitude towards the family. It appears that – as shown in the case of Poland in the previous weekly comment – these reforms are meant to compensate for the government’s failure to properly deal with the COVID-19 crisis.  Yet, very interestingly, in both countries, these populistic reforms have also been made in the name of Christian values. This indirectly involves churches in Hungary in these reforms. It is, therefore, rather strange that the Church in Hungary has not yet expressed itself clearly on these matters, and it will be interesting to see if, how, and when it will.
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