Hungary, EU, and “Legalized Hooliganism”

Hungary’s Prime minister, Viktor Orban, recently accused the European Commission of “legalized hooliganism” over a disagreement relating to anti-LGBT laws Hungary recently passed. Reuters reports that Orban said that this offers a glimpse into “European life.” He does not want Hungary to allow LGBT activists to “march up and down” schools, as he claims Germany does. Orban has used the LGBT community as a political scapegoat. Unfortunately, this is a successful strategy in Hungary. Historically, positioning a marginalized group as a threat to children has been a potent political move. Lately, there have been big billboards around the country asking, “Have you been annoyed with Brussels?” and, “Are you afraid your children will face sexual propaganda?”. Some have called this a culture war, and Orban is trying to argue that western Europe is imposing its values on Hungarians. However, Hungary agreed to prohibit discrimination several decades ago. It did so when it agreed to protect and uphold human rights in accordance with several international agreements. Moreover, Hungary continues to sign and ratify international human rights law that prohibits discrimination and protects freedom of speech. It is somewhat surprising that Hungary seems to believe the EU will not react to this new discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation.

In Europe, there are regional organizations that deal with human rights legislation. After the second World War, the Council of Europe was formed, and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was drafted and signed into effect. Article 10 covers freedom of expression and states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” It goes on to say that this right can be limited by law when it is necessary for democracy “in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals.” Suppression of sexual minorities is not considered necessary for democracy. The right to speak of or inform about sexual minorities is therefore protected by the convention. Article 14 covers the prohibition of discrimination based on, among other grounds, “other status.” The European Court of Human Rights has determined through rulings that this includes sexual as well as trans-sexual orientation. Article 14 also covers indirect discrimination: when a law applies to everyone but in reality targets or disproportionally affects one group of the population. Hungary ratified the convention in 1992. Protocol 12 of the convention further reiterated the prohibition of any rights being discriminated against, not just the ones explicitly outlined in the convention, which Hungary has signed but not yet ratified.

The other regional organization protecting human rights through legislation is the European Union. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was drafted in 2000 and entered fully into force in 2009. The Charter is binding on EU members, and Hungary joined the EU in 2004 after a referendum election. Article 11 covers freedom of expression and information and states the right of “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Article 21 stipulates non-discrimination and specifically mentions sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination. What Orban labels “legalized hooliganism,” many call international law.

In some of the documents the inclusion of sexual minorities has been deemed implicit, while in others the protection of sexual minorities is explicit. Hungary has signed numerous such documents that task them with protecting their citizens against discrimination: what you agreed to protect, you are required to protect. Now, the state is being held to its word.