How women are being treated in the Hungarian parliament

In September of 2012 there was an uproar in the Hungarian parliament over the issue of domestic violence; I spent at least two posts on the issue. By popular demand, the House had to consider including domestic violence in the criminal code. It was clear from the beginning that the Fidesz-KDMP caucus was planning to vote against the measure. One member of the government party after the other got up, delivering ringing speeches about “the place of the woman” in their world: they should produce lots of children, perhaps five or six. Once they did their patriotic duty they could look around and fulfill their career plans.

I first wrote about the subject on September 12, but a week later I returned to the question because Fidesz politicians launched an attack on “bluestockings”–to use the Reverend Zoltán Balog’s term–because they dared to call domestic violence “family violence.” Never mind that the dictionary meaning of domestic violence is “violence toward or physical abuse of one’s spouse or domestic partner.” This insistence on avoiding the word “family” highlights Fidesz-KDNP’s attempt to elevate the notion of family to something close to sacred. The word “family” cannot be associated with anything negative, like violence.

Yet the very same people who are so worried about the sanctity of the family and the role of women in it treat their female colleagues like dirt. According to the liberal Klára Ungár (SZEMA / Szabad Emberek Magyarországért), the women in parliament have been maltreated by their male colleagues ever since the dawn of the new democratic era in Hungary. In those days, she claims, the young male politicians of the Free Democrats were a great more enlightened than the older crew of the right-of-center coalition who often made boorish jokes at the expense of their female colleagues. Another former Fidesz female politician, Zsuzsanna Szelényi, on the other hand, described this college crowd as macho from day one. Yes, there were some female members of the group, mostly girlfriends or later wives, but it was a predominantly male gathering where the presence of women was not always welcome.

Since then not much has changed in the Hungarian parliament. If a woman rises to speak, especially if that woman is from the opposition, obscene, demeaning shouts ring out from the Fidesz-KDNP-Jobbik section of the House. On such occasions the right side of the aisle closes ranks. Not even the women of Fidesz-KDNP raise their voices in protest. They don’t have the slightest sense of solidarity with members of their own sex.

Ágnes Osztolykán

Ágnes Osztolykán

The latest scandal involved Ágnes Osztolykán, an LMP member of parliament and a woman of Roma origin. A couple of days ago she published a post on her blog entitled “Darkness in the Honored House.” Late at night on the first day of the new parliamentary session she discovered that she had no money to take a taxi home. She found a group of colleagues chit-chatting in the corridor and asked whether “one of them could take her home.” She almost apologetically adds, “after the fact, by now I know that this was a wrong question.” Almost automatically her first thought was self-accusation. She asked the wrong question. So, she blames herself for the treatment she received because, after all, one can expect only an obscene answer to this kind of request. This is how things are in Hungary.

You can imagine what followed. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. Osztolykán adds: “I was hoping they would stop, but in fact they got more and more into the swing of things” until a Jobbik member of parliament, one of the most primitive characters of the bunch, György Gyula Zagyva, about whom I wrote a post already, got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy.

The comments that followed this revelation were, in my opinion, on the wrong track. Everybody concentrated on the fact that these people are members of parliament and should set a good example. No wonder, they added, that people use such filthy language everywhere.

But this is not the point. First of all, members of parliament are part and parcel of society as a whole. Perhaps the composition of this particular parliament is lopsided in the sense that the men and women who sit in the parliamentary delegations of Fidesz and the Christian Democrats are Viktor Orbán’s personal choices. You may recall that the candidates had to be personally approved by the “pocket dictator,” as someone called Orbán not so long ago. And Jobbik’s presence in the House only adds to the crowd that considers women not quite equal to men. Don’t forget that it was young Jobbik activists who listed incoming freshmen and made all sorts of obscene notations when it came to female members of the class.

I also blame Hungarian women for this state of affairs, and I do hope that a few more incidents like this will wake them up. In a country where people equate feminism with lesbianism and where women seem unaware of their inferior status in society they are easy targets. If women don’t stand up and say that enough is enough, nothing will change either inside or outside of parliament.

The solution to all this is not the white rose delivered by the Fidesz MP after he had insulted a female member of parliament but a radical change in the status of women in Hungarian society. As for the white rose, in the MP’s place I wouldn’t have accepted it.

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54 comments

  1. Nicky – we live in the UK, but spend as much time as we can in Hungary (we effectively have two homes – our Debrecen flat is a proper home, not just a summer house). But unfortunately that’s reduced to just the Easter and Summer holidays these days, because our eldest is at school – and because of the hike in air-fares. We originally tried to spend half our time in each country, but once our daughter started school we had to choose. We thought about moving to Hungary, but the more I found out about the school system there, the more I hesitated. In the end, Orbán’s victory put an end to those dreams.

    But 2 months a year there is better than nothing, and it helps the kids to be as Hungarian as possible (they are both bilingual, but you need to live in a country to really get to know it). Our kids are 7 and 3, although actually nearer 8 and 4. Our daughter is in year 3 at school (and very happy with it), our son starts school in September – at the unbelievably tender age of 4 years and 2 months. This worries us a lot, but the Reception year in the UK is more like óvoda than school, so hopefully he’ll be OK.

    Oddly, we tried the Steiner/Waldorf route, as there’s a Waldorf nursery/play school near us, but my daughter didn’t really get on there (as with her experiences in the Hungarian óvoda, she wanted to learn, not to be kept back as a “baby” – her words), and I was put off by all the mystical, ‘hippy’ stuff. But, having said that, I’m sure it’s a hell of a lot better for your kids than the Hungarian school system (I’m actually amazed that such schools are even allowed in Hungary!).

    We don’t miss the UK weather at all, in fact we haven’t had a ‘summer’ in the UK for 11 years, so I’m not even too sure what it’s like any more! Our winters are getting a bit strange though…

    My Hungarian, by the way, is truly terrible. I have made almost no progress at all in over 11 years, despite two summer schools and one summer of private tuition. I just don’t have what it takes to learn languages – especially Hungarian! But it’s amazing how well you can cope without being able to speak the local language – it rarely spoils my time in Hungary.

  2. Hi Paul. Great to read about you,thanks for replying. It’s often a difficult decision (where to settle) when a couple is from 2 countries. I was always more loyal to Hungary than my Hungarian husband,but I’m starting to worry more about the future now (especially when I read the news,for example this site!) We had a chance some years ago to live in New Zealand. We had the visas,and spent 2 months over there,exploring,and looking for a possible home. But both of us felt this pull/urge to return to Hungary (at the time we were living in Germany,and had to make a decision about where to settle,as our oldest was approaching school age) – so that’s what we did. Most of our Hungarian friends thought we were mad! I am mostly happy here,but lately am getting very restless,and have started thinking about where else we could live.. not sure if it’s just itchy feet,or something more. Mostly I feel life would be much easier in an English-speaking country(because of the language) As for my Hungarian,well,it could be better! I try to speak it as much as possible outside the home (we all speak English at home,although the children usually speak to each other and my husband in Hungarian) and I was taking one Hungarian lesson per week,till recently (which isn’t enough). If there’s any improvement,it’s painfully slow! Conjugating the different classes of verbs is the hardest! But I’m not going to give up! I’ll still be trying to learn when I’m collecting my pension,I think! I have thought about doing an intensive Summer course,as you did. Did you find it useful? I find I can usually get by in Hungarian,but I make atrocious mistakes,and it often creates a lot of confusion and misunderstandings! Not to mention my Somerset accent! Regarding UK education:Yes,I always thought the age of 4 was way too young to start school,but,I’ve also heard it’s more like kindergarten at that age. What would you say are the main differences between UK/Hungarian education? One of my English/Hungarian friends returned to the UK with her 2 children,and commented that the Hungarian school was much better than the English one,and that her children had learnt a lot more than their English counterparts.. She is planning to come back to Hungary pretty soon. Her children also experienced bullying. But I guess it all depends on the individual school,and the area. Regarding Waldorf education: I had to smile when you said that,yes there are certainly a lot of spiritual mystical types there,but many people come to this type of school because of their disillusionment with mainstream education. Our school has had over 30 applications for this coming September. it seems to be gathering momentum,and popularity,although it’s still considered ‘alternative’ and many people here have false ideas about it (i.e. that the children don’t learn anything!) One more thing. If you want to read some funny observations about learning Hungarian,check out this site: Hilarious:
    http://www.facebook.com/BudapestMemes
    Anyway,as usual,I got carried away,sorry about that! Nicky

  3. Great to hear back from you Wolfi. You can do a lot with a thousand words! I’m determined to be completely fluent in Hungarian one day,but I think I’m being a bit too optimistic! Anyway,I hope you have a great Easter,and happy cooking!

  4. Outstanding post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this
    topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thank you!

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