Never a dull moment in Hungary. Today the media is full of a late night parliamentary debate on a topic that the House had to take up by popular demand (almost 100,000 signatures were collected). It was clear, however, even before the collection of signatures, that the government parties were not too keen on introducing a separate section in the Criminal Code on domestic violence. Yet the supporters of the petition were undeterred.
First of all, the debate–an hour and a half long–was held so late that there were no cameras and barely any reporters present. Népszabadság came up with this double entendre headline: “Give birth! Darkness in the Hungarian Parliament.”
One of the loudest voices in the debate was István Varga, a lawyer in civilian life who boasts owning a 10,000-volume library. The learned member of parliament opined: “The most important calling for women and ladies, especially for young ladies, is to give birth. It is obvious that if everybody gave birth to two, three or four children, a gift to the fatherland, everybody would be happy. After that task is over, every woman can fulfill herself and may work at different jobs.” And if that weren’t enough, Varga proposed that “if three or four or five children were born, members of the family would respect each other more and then the question of violence within the family wouldn’t even come up.” It was this sentence that prompted someone to create the following meme and circulate it on Facebook:
According to another Fidesz lawmaker, one reason for domestic violence is that “a mistaken school system resulted in an increase in women’s ego in an inappropriate sense.” Well, that wasn’t the actual wording, but it’s the gist of “egy elhibázott oktatási rendszer egy rossz értelemben vett női megmutatást hozott be a családba.” Don’t try to become anything on your own.
Who is this Varga? I must say I had never heard of him, but apparently he is a busy fellow. He rose in parliament 69 times during the last session. He is sixty years old and does himself have a large family. He has five children of his own and another he and his wife are bringing up. He began his career in MDF and served eight years in parliament (1994-2002) when it seemed that his political career was over. But then in 2010 Viktor Orbán discovered him and put him on the county list of Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok.
After the change of regime he became a member of a committee charged with investigating crimes of communists during the Soviet period. He was so eager that Prime Minister József Antall called him ” the hanging Varga.” He is apparently a walking historical chronology. He usually begins his speech by saying “today 324 years ago….” He made his most infamous historical allusion during the discussion of the new constitution: “We need a new constitution because on the day Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took the oath of office King Andrew II was crowned in Székesfehérvár in 1205 and the Golden Bull is associated with Andrew II.” The Golden Bull (1222) is the Magna Carta of Hungary.
The women in the Fidesz parliamentary caucus–there are mighty few–refused to say anything about the incident. One announced that she didn’t hear it, another suggested that the journalist should be more interested in the case of Béla Biszku, the high communist party official who might be responsible for a number of political murders after the 1956 revolution. A third one muttered something about all those polite gentlemen in parliament. It was only Gabriella Selmeczi, the spokeswoman for Fidesz, who was outraged. I must say she surprised me, but it seems that she at least understands that the party cannot afford to alienate women voters. Antal Rogán, parliamentary whip, later joined forces with Selmeczi and distanced himself and the party from István Varga’s outrageous remarks.
But some damage has been done, even though it may not be irreparable. Tonight there was a small demonstration, organized on Facebook, and another is planned for Sunday. 168 Óra described the mood: “They are heading toward Kossuth Square and they are angry.” The organizers wrote that “it is intolerable that there are members of parliament who think that a woman is nothing else but an incubator of the state and whose only job is producing babies. She has no other purpose in life. It is intolerable that the opinion can be heard in parliament that domestic violence can be solved if women are not emancipated.”
Varga’s remarks about the causes of domestic violence were of course absurd, but he was just pushing the Fidesz goal to produce ever more little Hungarians beyond its logical limits. Even within its logical limits it’s not defensible.