Sexism in the Hungarian parliament

I have written a number of times about female members of the Hungarian parliament and their treatment by male colleagues. I’ve also written about the attitude, especially of Fidesz MPs, toward women in general.

As a reminder, here are a few statistics about the minority status of women in Hungarian politics. Today there are only 35 women in a 386-member parliament (9.06%). According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s statistics, of the 144 countries listed Hungary ranks 118th! Among the countries that are doing worse are Malta, Brazil, Bhutan, Benin, Ghana, Ukraine, Botswana, Nigeria, Tuvalu, Georgia, Egypt, Oman, and Yemen.

Although the number of women parliamentarians is low across the board, Fidesz has the smallest percentage of women in its parliamentary caucus. It is also noteworthy that the credentials of Fidesz female MPs are less impressive than those of their colleagues in the opposition. There are at least three who have no higher education at all. There are several who are elementary school teachers. Some finished only “főiskola,” a three-year program, instead of university. I found only one woman in the caucus who has a law degree. Several majored in economics and there are a couple of physicians. I found only two Fidesz female MPs who studied subjects that could be considered to fall under the category of  a classical “liberal arts education.” Keep in mind that all the members of the Fidesz delegation were handpicked by Viktor Orbán.

If an attack is launched against female members of the opposition, the Fidesz-KDNP women are silent. They don’t even show solidarity privately with the victims of Fidesz testosterone. If they are asked about sexist incidents that unfortunately occur quite often, the brave Fidesz-KDNP women keep looking at the floor and remain silent. Not the slightest sign of female solidarity.

But, as I said, Orbán himself picked men and women who would be rubber stamps in parliament. Orbán most likely cannot abide independent and outspoken women because he thinks in terms of traditional gender roles. Just lately, in connection with his daughter’s wedding, he talked about the women who will cook and who will cry at the wedding and made it clear that he wouldn’t be caught dead dropping a tear or two at his daughter’s wedding. I’m also sure that he didn’t want to choose people who were too brainy to be the representatives of the people; the Fidesz delegation has an awful lot of people who, under normal circumstances, would never have found themselves in such a position.  According to Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who wrote about the qualities of the ideal Fidesz MP, most of the current officeholders are incapable of answering the opposition’s questions. They become frustrated and hence behave in an unacceptably aggressive manner. Moreover, as a result of the practically unlimited power of the Fidesz politicians and government officials, they feel omnipotent. The result is boorish behavior. The few women in the opposition are the prime targets, it seems.

On September 9 Bernadette Szél (LMP) rose to inquire from Zoltán Illés, undersecretary in charge of the environment in the Ministry of Agriculture, what the Hungarian government was planning to do about the Romanian gold mines and their possible use of cyanide, pointing out that until now not much has been done about it. This is how the gentleman answered:

Just because you are good looking it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are clever. I have to refute one by one all those stupidities and imbecilities that you talked about here in the last five minutes.

I was there together with others, … when Viktor Orbán took a great number of steps in connection with the cyanide pollution in Nagybánya [Baia Mare, Romania]. I take my hat off to him. This is not brown nosing on my part. I was there, I heard it, my hat off again for all that he did there.

Honorable … ah, dear madame member of parliament.

Madame member of parliament, don’t dare to utter a word about the Prime Minister. And my last comment: it is not the clothes that make a person. Your having a T-shirt on doesn’t make you an environmentalist. Shame.

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy seems to enjoy the exchange

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right, Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy

The whole exchange can be heard on the parliamentary radio. Both Szél and András Schiffer wore a T-shirt over their normal clothes to emphasize their interest in the environment. LMP is a left-green party. As for Szél’s qualifications, she has a Ph.D. (2011) from Corvinus University.

Well, that was too much even for some members of the Fidesz delegation. Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz), deputy president of the parliament, instructed Illés to take back the epithet of “imbecilities,” but it seems that the “stupidities” or the reference to physical appearance and brains didn’t bother him. Illés obliged. At the same time Máté Kocsis apologized in the name of the Fidesz delegation right on the spot. Eventually, Illés did apologize to Szél, not in person but via sms, an act greatly criticized in the media.

Perhaps the most politically objectionable part of Illés’s answer was his effort to forbid Szél to utter the name of Viktor Orbán. An article in Magyar Narancs rightly pointed out that it is written in the Old Testament that one cannot mention the name of God. What kind of a political community is it when the leader cannot be criticized? What kind of political culture exists within Fidesz? As for Illés’s reference to the brave steps Viktor Orbán took in connection with the gold mine in Nagybánya, I suspect that he was talking about the 2000 cyanide pollution of the Tisza River and Viktor Orbán’s efforts at that time and not about the current situation.

Illés in his answer accused Szél of ignorance when the LMP MP claimed that the European Union should ban the use of cyanide. Didn’t she know, asked Illés, that the European Parliament already passed such a resolution? Yes, such a resolution was passed by the European Parliament a few months ago, but for such a resolution to become law the European Commission must endorse it, which it failed to do. So, if someone is ignorant it is the undersecretary for the environment.

Of course, members of the opposition were eager to hear from László Kövér, who is such a stickler for manners in parliament. It seems that he is much fussier when he detects irregularities in the ranks of the opposition. Bernadette Szél herself was already fined by Kövér because she held up a poster on which there was a quotation from Viktor Orbán. Kövér didn’t think that Illés’s behavior was unacceptable. He didn’t think that Illés’s answer was “flagrantly offensive” and added that offensive comments more often come from the opposition than from his own side. Even Bernadette Szél said some very offensive things in the past, he claimed.

I should add that this is not the first time female members of parliament have had to endure this kind of talk–and worse. You may recall the story of Ágnes Osztolykán (LMP) when she asked for a lift home. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. And finally György Gyula Zagyva (Jobbik) got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy. At that time I wrote that, although the present parliament is lopsided given Viktor Orbán’s personal preferences, the trouble goes beyond the walls of the Hungarian parliament. The problem is in Hungarian society as a whole.

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34 comments

  1. Zoltan Cegledi is absolutely right about IQ of the Fidesz MPs.

    There is this Hungarian (?) saying the goes like this: you can be beautiful but not smart. I’m mot sure about the origin, but it pretty much means you better shut up. This idiot Cegledi, I believe, tried to joke about it, but the moron screwed it up.

    Recently the magazine Hungarian Orange (reference the movie Witness) compiled a list of the worst ten misogynist in the parliament. One of them was Orban and the list had only one Mszp politician.

  2. Terrible affair.
    Violence.
    FIDESZ lawlessness.
    1 million supporters of FIDESZ can be universally ashamed for the words of Illes, Bayer, Kover, Tarlos…

  3. @Mutt” “There is this Hungarian (?) saying the goes like this: you can be beautiful but not smart. ” I think there is quite a sexist undertone to that saying, actually… how often does it get applied to men?

  4. An :
    @Mutt” “There is this Hungarian (?) saying the goes like this: you can be beautiful but not smart. ” I think there is quite a sexist undertone to that saying, actually… how often does it get applied to men?

    I agree it sounds sexist. No surprise. But i also heard it while i was in the army (in the 80s).

  5. And Zoli Illés was a supposed to be a ‘liberal’. The representative of the ‘green thought’ within Fidesz.

    Although by 1994 he was a vice chairman of Fidesz, he was completely sidelined during the years, yet he is there, loyal as ever. I guess he does not want to relieve 2006. His resume on wikipedia is also quite interesting, by the way.

    But Fidesz needs these people, who would sacrifice their lives for Orbán at any minute and this is their strength.

    Poor David Cameron, his party back stabbed him re Syria (though it was the right decision), now this will never happen with Orbán with people like Illés, these betrayals are only for Western weaklings, Orbán looks down on them as losers.

  6. I turned around this quote – would have said to this Fidesz guy:

    You’re really ugly – but that doesn’t imply that you’re smart …

    Generally (at least in my opinion) Hungarian society is misogynic – I still don’t know how to react when someone is introduced to me as Mrs Valaki Csabane – to lose your first name as well as your last name when marrying seems really strange …

    A bit OT:

    On the other hand I also find strange the German custom of calling a wife by her husband’s title like “Frau Doktor” or “Frau Professor”, when she’s “just a housewife” married to a Dr or Prof …

  7. Karl Pfeifer :
    did Anna Kéthlyy also suffer under sexism in Hungarian parliament before 1944?

    I don’t know but I’m almost certain Margit Schlachta did; probably both before and after 1945. (She was the first female MP in Hungary, serving her first term from 1920 to 1922. She also got elected in 1945 and 1947 and wanted to participate in the 1949 elections too, but by that time, the Communists will have tightened their grip on the country, prompting her [a representative of the Christian Women’s Camp] to flee to Austria and on to the US. She was posthumously recognised Righteous Among the Nations in 1985.)

  8. @Mutt: Interesting… Orban is escaping from the question by forcing the elevator door open.

    But I don’t like the way the woman brings this up “Shouldn’t Zoltan Illes apologize?”
    It’s too tentative, and it shouldn’t be a question. Illes Zoltan owes an apology for his remark.

    Truth to be told, I think, in the end he apologized, in a text message…

  9. “It’s just the way it is.” This is the most telling of statements: applies to women’s status as well as Horthy busts, street-naming.

  10. Eva S. Balogh :

    Mutt :
    Orban is such a ham …

    Ham? This is one of the most horrendous things I have seen lately. Everything which is unacceptable about the man and his regime can be found here.

    I agree. I was joking. It’s disgusting.

  11. Golden Opportunity

    Why doesn’t an opposition MP (or several) address a comment from the floor to Laszlo Kover, using the very same epithets and innuendos (but in a different context) that he did not deem offensive when addressed to Bernadette Szel?

    What better way either to expose the double-standard — or Laszlo Kover, or both — to the very same ridicule with impunity?

    (Instead we have this timid, mincing query from the person in front of the elevator, like a grade-schooler doing it on a dare…)

  12. In 2012,

    3.8 million people received salary at all and an additional
    0.2 million people received only other, non-governmental income.
    2.2 million received social security
    0.6 million disability or social aid.

    The average gross income was $12,500 a year, i.e. about $6,000 net.
    The average gross salary was $9,000 a year, i.e. about $4,500 net.
    The average social security, non-taxable, was about $5,100.

    My conversion is based on USD/HUF= 225.

    The distribution of gross income among the 3.99 million people filing tax returns:
    ($5,200 gross is the official minimum salary)

    0 – $ 5,200 31.65%
    $ 5,300- $ 8,900 33.61%
    $ 9,000- $13,300 17.47%
    $13,400-$26,700 12.98%
    $26,800- 4.29%

    http://adozona.hu/szja_ekho_kulonado/Az_adozok_harmada_minimalberrol_vallott_6T0QZB

  13. Stevan Harnad :
    Golden Opportunity
    Why doesn’t an opposition MP (or several) address a comment from the floor to Laszlo Kover, using the very same epithets and innuendos (but in a different context) that he did not deem offensive when addressed to Bernadette Szel?
    What better way either to expose the double-standard — or Laszlo Kover, or both — to the very same ridicule with impunity?
    (Instead we have this timid, mincing query from the person in front of the elevator, like a grade-schooler doing it on a dare…)

    Because the ‘opposition’ is a dysfunctional, navel-gazing, self-satisfied, mess.

  14. It’s going on. On “Narancsblog”, further sexist comments from a “Christian”-Democrat MP ( http://magyarnarancs.hu/narancsblog/egy-nogyalazo-keresztenydemokrata-vilagkepe-86554 ). In the debate on poverty and homelessness, he managed to put the blame on women – “when we, yielding to external pressure from the society or the pressure from other groups [= feminists and other weirdos?] pass a law on violence within the family, we do not realise that we are provoking a further problem, and now we are surprised by the homelessness issue”. Because, you see, he had visited a shelter of homeless men and “of their stories, 8 of 10 began with ‘when I divorced’…”
    In other words: it’s all women’s fault, those women’s who use “domestic violence” as an excuse to make their men homeless.
    The guy, Tamás Lukács, has a grade in law (“dr.”) and teaches media ethics at the Pázmány university.

  15. Mutt :

    An :
    @Mutt” “There is this Hungarian (?) saying the goes like this: you can be beautiful but not smart. ” I think there is quite a sexist undertone to that saying, actually… how often does it get applied to men?

    I agree it sounds sexist. No surprise. But i also heard it while i was in the army (in the 80s).

    Sexist or not, I even used it regarding myself in occasion.

    Simply as a sign of incompetence, without gender related reference, whatsoever.

    What I meant in this case is, that I still have a chance to be(come) beautiful – it’s only question of a talented and skilful surgeon and a rather fat wallet – but have no chance to become wiser or more clever as things stand today.

    In short, I wouldn’t draw any conclusions based solely on this expression, and would advice against doing so.

    However, what we have witnessed in the Hungarian parliament is under any kind of civilised standard, wherever you live.
    Just one thing, if you’re stupid enough, not to have proper answer to such – or any – challenge as an MP, you shouldn’t take the job then, but the other is, if you flatter yourself being a real male, not in any circumstances should you attack the womanhood of your opponent, however subtle the approach is.

    From the outside (of Hungary) sometime is quite disturbing to see, that even in the Hungarian television the anchor expresses his view like: “to me a woman should..” – be nice, blond, do something or whatever else – the lead in all by itself is frighteningly backward.

    To make it clear(er): to me my spouse first of all an exceptionally valuable human being, who happens to be a woman – as an added bonus, since I am an orthodox heterosexual.

    From my point of view the woman is not a woman for my liking or not – the term simply refers to the biological fact (as long as the different extreme feminist movements let this term exist) and definitely not a label of qualification, never have.

    Back to the subject: Illés should have resigned right after, particularly, since he hasn’t had the backbone to stand for his stupidity and apologize in person. (Please, don’t even mention the SMS – it’s only make thing worse in my view.)

    As the icing on the cake even Orbán commented the event, unwillingly though.
    Guess what?
    Just as “MAN” as his close ally, Illés!
    Did anyone surprised?

    I wonder, where do they sell those blind comondors, just to be prepared…

  16. Re the “royal wedding.” Don’t be surprised. She was barely visible. The official pictures they released showed all sorts of people but Anikó was nowhere. Normally there is at least one picture taken of the couple with their parents. Perhaps another with the whole extended family. Such pictures, if they were ever taken, were not released.

  17. Bertrand, I was asking about the bride’s mother – haven’t seen any pictures of her.

    I’m not curious, just realised that I haven’t seen Orbán’s wife on any kind of official/semiofficial photographs …

    I have no idea how she looks.

  18. The first one is an interesting article.

    When in July the forex loan people (the Koppány Group) were demonstrating at the his Majesties palace finally Orban’s wife condescended to speak to the peasants.

    Later her Ladyship throw coins into the crowd (I have made this up).

  19. Sometimes I’m happy that my knowledge of the Hungarian language is just good enough for reading Tesco ads but not these news – and that my wife won’t translate anything political for me!

  20. Eva S. Balogh :
    Re the “royal wedding.” Don’t be surprised. She was barely visible. The official pictures they released showed all sorts of people but Anikó was nowhere. Normally there is at least one picture taken of the couple with their parents. Perhaps another with the whole extended family. Such pictures, if they were ever taken, were not released.

    Orban pretty much used his daughter’s wedding for campaign purposes. Family? Secondary. It’s always about him.

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