Viktor Orbán’s national conservative Fidesz party is famous for its method of relentlessly searching the ideal topic for their next populist campaign. They need topics that allow them to dominate public life in the long term, and can be used to generate intense anger, emotions, and hate within the Hungarian society, to ultimately steer unsure or disillusioned voters to cast their votes for Fidesz.
This method comes up periodically, generally takes up about 6-12 months, and the search for the next ideal topic usually starts the year after the parliamentary elections.
When the topic is found, it is followed up by a 2-3 year long hate-fuelled election campaign, framed as „informing the public” about certain issues, or „national consultations”. Paid from taxpayers’ money, of course.
After the 2014 elections, before Fidesz found the perfect topic for their populist election campaign (anti-refugee and anti-Soros) they tested several topics like reinstating capital punishment or “protecting” the robinia flower, a piece of Hungarian cultural heritage from the EU.
With the help of the famous populist american campaign-adviser, Arthur Finkelstein, they finally settled on the main theme. They created an anti-refugee and anti-migrant narrative with strong elements from famous American conspiracy theories about “Jewish people controlling the world from the background” which led to the anti-George Soros campaign.
The following topic-searching period also included elements of racism, homophobia and US-originated conspiracy theories. After the 2018 parliamentary elections, Fidesz started the topic-testing period in the beginning of 2019.
Fidesz launched the test by popularizing the idea of conversion therapies on national television in January, and in May they started using the popular far-right narrative (that’s being widely spread on the US far-right forum 4chan) that LGBTQ people are somehow connected to pedophilia.
This narrative was introduced by the Speaker of National Assembly, Fidesz-member László Kövér, who called adopting same-sex couples pedophiles. Fidesz kept on pushing this topic until September 2019, when Orbán talked about wishing to put a constitutional ban on adoption for gay and lesbian people.
According to the current Hungarian laws, same sex couples cannot adopt as a couple, only one of them can be the legal parent of the child. It means they have to apply as a “single parent” in spite of the fact that they are a couple and they usually live in a two-income household.
Meanwhile, István Boldog, who was the deputy leader of the Fidesz caucus at the time, called for banning Budapest Pride and started attacking Coca Cola for having same-sex couples in one of their campaigns. Boldog is also known for happily taking selfies with fundamentalist far-right groups like European Patriots Unite, who have tried to disrupt a Budapest Pride event just a few weeks after they met Boldog.
In the second half of 2019, racism was the next topic to be tested, and the Hungarian Roma community became the focus point of Orbán’s hateful rhetoric. Orbán started with a harsh anti-Roma narrative, then denied financial compensation for Roma children who were forced to learn in segregated schools for years. Orbán portrayed the victims of segregated education as people who are “looking for free money”.
A crucial part of this topic-searching method is obsessively polling the public opinion which Fidesz conducts about 400-450 times per year. Every time they throw in a new topic, they measure its effect. They are measuring everything: people’s opinion on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, attitudes towards green politics and the popularity of anti-Roma and anti-LGBTQ narratives.
Fidesz obsessively does these public opinion polls, because their policy is not based on values, only numbers. The best example for that is this statement from László Kövér from 1993, who was, at the time, not talking about “gays being pedophiles”, but highlighted the importance of tolerance and acceptance within the society.
Civic conservative democratic values have been abandoned by Fidesz for a long time, and now they don’t even try to pretend that they are not a far-right party.
Fidesz’s criteria for the topic of their next election campaign is quite straightforward and is based on simple marketing methods: which topic will create the necessary amount of anger that will distract people from requesting the government to represent their own interests.
What will make the citizens fearful or hateful enough that they will not care if the government is doing its job properly, or if the government is working in their interests. They need a topic that will shift people’s focus to a „public enemy” Orbán is pointing at.
Ideally, this enemy is invisible enough to be the subject of stereotypes and scary images. So the Fidesz-government can legitimise their war rhetoric and create a situation where Orbán can pose as a freedom fighter.
The anti-LGBTQ narrative was already present during the previous election campaign (2015-2018) when Fidesz illegally pushed Central European University out of Hungary. It played an important part in their narrative to demonize, then ban gender studies courses altogether.
The beginning of 2020 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Fidesz had to temporarily stop looking for a campaign topic. Now it seems it became a high priority again to find the topic they will build their populist campaign on until the next parliamentary elections in April 2022.
In May 2020 Fidesz made a radical move: they completely banned legal gender recognition for Hungarian transgender and intersex people. This is an unprecedented phenomenon in Europe: legislators usually work towards a more equal society, not the other way around. This law ended a 20 year practise with which transgender people could (although, though a very long and malfunctioning, but still existing process) get the personal documents that provide their basic safety within the society.
Now, Fidesz created medieval circumstances. Hungarian transgender and intersex people have less rights than transgernder and intersex people in Russia, Turkey or Kirgizistan.
In October 2020, while the whole Hungarian media landscape was consumed by the increasing COVID-19 case numbers and shredding of a children’s book called “A Fairytale for Everyone” that features LGBTQ characters, Fidesz quietly changed the adoption law, making it even more difficult for single parents (including gays and lesbians) to adopt.
Before this change, married couples were already priorized in the adoption process: when a child was up for adoption, they searched for a married couple in the county, and if they couldn’t find one, they looked for single parents.
According to this new law, if the agency cannot find a married couple in the county, they have to expand the search for the whole country, and if no married couple wishes to adopt the child from the whole country, then single parents will have a chance.
Based on the governmental communication, it is cristal clear that gays and lesbians were the targets of this new law, and heterosexual single parents are “just casualties”. Looking at the original wording of this piece of legislation, it is obvious that they wanted to discriminate against gays and lesbians from the beginning.
As same-sex marriage is banned by the Constitution in Hungary (it was banned by Orbán in 2013), formulating the adoption law this way will prevent same sex couples from having equal chances at the adoption process for a very long time.
If the goal was to promote the two-parent family model (because a lot of heterosexual couples also don’t get married, they just live in partnerships), they could have added “partnerships” to the law, but by having “married couples”, it will exclude same sex couples altogether.
On the other hand, this doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility for same-sex couples to adopt, as there were a lot of people who have same sex partners, who could adopt from the “country list” and not the “county list”.
Also, last year, several Hungarian kids were adopted by parents from other countries, meaning that the agencies couldn’t find any adopting parents (either married or single) for them in the whole country.
How Do the Far-Right Groups Come Into the Picture?
Famous far-right figure (and leader in anti-LGBTQ actions) György Budaházy once admitted that the anti-immigrant far-right Hungarian nationalist party Our Homeland Movement serves Fidesz’s interests.
Besides that, there’s an eye-catching correlation between Fidesz’s narrative change and the fundamental radical groups’ actions. Until 2019, these far-right groups demonstrated against the Budapest Pride March – they never tried to disturb any indoor LGBTQ events.
Also, the main Fidesz narrative between 2014 and 2018 was that LGBTQ people are not equal citizens. Fidesz put a ban on same sex marriage and made it common to say homophobic slurs in the parliament, but Orbán’s message was clear: providing that LGBTQ people keep their head down and they live a secret life, they will not get hurt.
On May 17, 2015, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, Orbán very much summarized the position of LGBTQ people in Hungary with these words:
“We are thankful for the Hungarian homosexual community for not provoking the majority”.
This far-right narrative changed drastically in the beginning of 2019. Public television channel M5 was popularizing the idea of conversion therapies, and László Kövér, the current Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary, made his comment comparing same sex parents to pedophiles.
These cases show how Fidesz shifted from the “behind closed doors” narrative to the “pathologizing” narrative. And when Fidesz started talking about changing what LGBTQ people are doing in the privacy of their own home by sending them to conversion therapies or depriving them of their right to adopt, fundamental radical groups started to disrupt LGBTQ cultural indoor events.
Until Fidesz disapproved being out and proud and protesting for your rights (like during the Budapest Pride March), fascist groups tried to disrupt the March.
But as soon as Fidesz started talking about forcefully changing people’s sexual orientation or presuming that LGBTQ stories in books can “change” childrens’ sexual orientation, far-right groups started appearing at LGBTQ cultural events – which has practically never happened in the past 30 years.
These far-rights groups tried to disrupt 8 events in 2018 and 5 events in 2020. In 2019 they burned one publicly displayed rainbow flag, in 2020 they burned one and stole two. Out of the 13 events they tried to disrupt, far-right groups were successful in 3 cases – in all the other situations, incidents were avoided thanks to the preparation from Budapest Pride and the organizers’ side.
The police was adamantly passive and refused to step up when the far-right groups violated the law.
There were three extreme cases of this police passivity: in 2019 September, the far-right groups were shouting and insulting the people at an LGBTQ event for 3 hours, and the police officers were just standing in the corner and didn’t do anything. In August 2020, far-right groups tried to disrupt an event at the Budapest Pride Festival.
Festival organizers managed to stop the violent extremist groups at the door, but the police allowed the extremists to vandalize the toilets in the building and scream and shout at the door. Police officers were just passively standing there and watching.
The third case was the most extreme, as the far-right groups disrupted a children’s book reading event. The book called “A Fairytale for Everyone”, written by Dorrotya Redai and Boldizsar Nagy, is an anthology of retellings of traditional fairy tales and features also LGBTQ characters.
For an hour, the far-right groups were shouting at the event entrance, and in spite of the repeated requests from the organizers, the police didn’t do anything.
Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental watchdog organization, wrote a long report about how many times the police broke the law when they didn’t act up on this security threat for children who wanted to attend the reading event.
Fortunately, the organizers made a last-minute decision and asked the families who wanted to attend to stay at home and watch the story reading online, but the extremists were so loud that families could clearly hear them on the live stream. It was only the matter of good judgement and preparedness of the organizers that the situation didn’t get worse.
Compared to 2015, when Orbán addressed the “Hungarian homosexuals” in his degrading comment, he now refers to “Hungarians” and “homosexuals” as two distinct and opposing groups.
The government-led anti-LGBTQ campaign reached a new level by creating the dangerous “Us Versus Them” narrative, that is a base of every populist hate campaign against minorities.