“Unless blood flows”: Human Rights Watch’s report on Hungary

Lately I have been struck by the high number of incidents, often resulting in death, involving relatives or people living in the same household. A daughter kills her mother, an 85-year-old former high-ranking police officer kills his 79-year-old wife, a professional soccer player kills his partner and her son in a family dispute. These are only three cases I remember from the last two weeks or so.

In addition, it was only yesterday that the public at last learned that it was not the blind komondor that knocked over “Terike,” the domestic partner–since then wife–of József Balogh, mayor and member of parliament (Fidesz). Balogh admitted that he hit her in the face several times, grabbed her by the hair, and hit her head on the porch railing.

domestic violence2I’ve dealt with the subject of domestic violence, a very serious problem in Hungary, several times. The first reference I found on Hungarian Spectrum is from January 2009 when a bill was adopted by parliament which introduced the widely used practice outside of Hungary of a restraining or protective order. At that time President László Sólyom refused to sign it and instead sent it to the Constitutional Court. His objection was based on a section in the Constitution [58. § (1)] that guaranteed the right to choose one’s place of residence. I guess that needs no additional comment. The Constitutional Court naturally found the president’s legal opinion brilliant. After all, he was the chief justice of the court between 1990 and 1998.

In September 2012 the question came up again after Fidesz initially refused even to consider the issue. When public opinion forced the government party to act, they tried to make the law as weak as possible. Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources and in his former life a Protestant minister, was upset about the opposition’s “bluestockings attitude” and objected to talking about “violence within the family” because the family is sacred. Instead of family, the government insisted on “violence within the confines of partnership or relations.”

Eventually, after a long and rather fruitless discussion, the bill became law in July 2013, but it has serious shortcomings. For example, an assault against an intimate partner will be classified as an instance of domestic violence only if there are at least two separate occasions of abuse. Moreover, the new legislation does not cover non-cohabitating partners.

All in all, the Hungarian situation was considered to be so serious that Human Rights Watch (HRW) decided to issue its findings in a lengthy situation report. It was written by Lydia Gall, researcher on the Balkans/Eastern Europe in the Europe and Central Asia Division of the organization. Those who are interested in the details should read the report itself. Here I will concentrate on the official Hungarian reaction to it.

First, it is evident that the Hungarian government received a copy of the report before November 6, the official release date, because they were prepared to combat HRW’s “allegations” within hours after the appearance of the report. The very first reaction, a legal rebuttal, came from the Hungarian police. In my opinion it is almost certain that the author of the rebuttal is not a policeman. I rather suspect that it is the work of some government lawyer in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. In it the Hungarian government complains about “the several factual errors” and “the lack of sources.” From the document it becomes clear that the representatives of HRW did pay a visit to the Hungarian police headquarters, but it seems they were not convinced by the assurances of the policemen they met. The police’s “Communication Service” spent the rest of its document listing all the government resolutions to battle domestic violence, starting in 2003. Even this glowing report on the excellence of the Hungarian law, however, had to admit that charges against someone who commits domestic violence can be brought only by the victim.

The Hungarian police are especially sensitive about the issue of their officers’ preparedness in cases of domestic violence. The document states that there are “several forums” where a victim can complain in case the policeman refuses to act in the manner expected, but it doesn’t identify any of these forums by name.

A couple of hours after the release of the police communiqué, Zoltán Balog’s ministry also raised its voice against HRW’s claims that the Hungarian government’s system of handling domestic violence “simply doesn’t work.” The HRW report contends that because of police inaction and the lack of legal safeguards, women who are victims of domestic violence don’t get proper protection. Naturally, the Hungarian government doesn’t accept this verdict. Moreover, the ministry spokesman pointed out that too little time has passed since the law took effect and therefore no meaningful evaluation of the system can be undertaken. The ministry also said that the representatives of Human Rights Watch had assured the ministry earlier that the report would not be a comprehensive picture of the Hungarian situation but would only mention the most flagrant cases in order to inspire the Hungarian government to take further steps. I might add that throughout its reply, Balog’s ministry refused to refer to domestic violence by its common name (in Hungarian családon belüli erőszak) but instead used “kapcsolati erőszak,” a word combination cooked up by Balog in order to avoid the word “család” (family).

Then came the official spokeswoman of Fidesz, Gabriella Selmeczi, who charged that the criticism of Human Rights Watch is not really about the shortcomings of Hungary’s handling of domestic violence. In this case, as usual, Selmeczi continued, “we are witnessing an artificially generated international pressure” on Hungary. She can’t help thinking of the relationship between HRW and George Soros, the American financier with Hungarian roots. After all, last year Soros gave 20 million dollars to the organization. Selmeczi also added that the same Soros “has given millions to Gordon Bajnai’s foundation and has business dealings with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s firms.”

It doesn’t seem to matter to the Fidesz propagandists that Gyurcsány’s firms have nothing to do with the finances of the party. Moreover, the so-called millions given to Bajnai’s foundation turned out to be a small grant for a few thousand dollars from one of Soros’s foundations. The same is true about the money Gyurcsány’s firm got. Soros has been since 2010 financing projects aimed at Roma integration throughout Europe. Altus, Gyurcsány’s firm, is involved with such projects in the Balkan region and this received $13,800 toward the financing of the project.

So this was yet another Fidesz attempt to discredit a respectable NGO, this time Human Rights Watch, by claiming that it is an instrument of George Soros aimed at bolstering the political chances of the opposition. Gabriella Selmeczi most likely forgot that in 2010 George Soros and Viktor Orbán actually, after many years, met again to discuss his Roma integration project. At this meeting Soros offered one million dollars to the Hungarian government after the red sludge accident in 2010. Soros apparently also offered financial assistance for the Orbán government’s efforts at Roma integration. I don’t know what happened afterward. It is possible that Soros changed his mind once he realized that Roma integration was transformed into Roma school segregation with the active assistance of Zoltán Balog.

In brief, the Orbán government’s commitment to seriously combating domestic violence is lukewarm at best. I highly doubt that the government will try to improve the existing ineffectual laws as a result of Human Rights Watch’s indictment of their shortcomings. I also doubt that the police’s reluctance to interfere in domestic disputes will change any time soon.


  1. I saw the report this morning here in the USA. I also saw this one from the UN in September:

    Hungary must not prevent persons with intellectual disabilities from voting – UN experts

    30 September 2013 – Persons with intellectual disabilities should not be denied their right to vote, a group of independent United Nations experts said today after examining the case of six Hungarians who lost this right when they were placed under legal guardianship.
    The six people, who have intellectual disability, brought their complaint to the Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) after they were unable to vote in Hungary’s parliamentary and municipal elections in 2010, according to a news release.
    They argued that they were able to understand politics and participate in elections, and that the ban, which took no account of the nature of their disability and their individual abilities, was unjustified.
    At the time that the complaints were made, an article in the Hungarian constitution automatically excluded all persons under legal guardianship from voting. In 2012, Hungary changed this constitution, and its Fundamental Law now requires judges to make a decision on suffrage based on an individual assessment.
    Hungarian authorities argued that under this new legislation, courts can only remove the right to vote in the case of a complete lack of legal capacity. But the CRPD found that this was still in breach of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which under Article 29 requires States parties to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in public and political life on an equal basis with others.
    “Article 29 does not foresee any reasonable restriction, nor does it allow any exception for any groups of persons with disabilities,” the CRPD said in its decision.
    “Therefore, an exclusion of the right to vote on the basis of a perceived or actual psychosocial or intellectual disability, including a restriction pursuant to an individualized assessment, constitutes discrimination on the basis of disability.”
    The Committee, composed of 18 human rights experts, said that Hungary was obliged to reinstate the six people on the electoral roll and recommended that Hungarian authorities prevent similar violations by considering repealing an article in the Fundamental Law and an article in the Transitional Provisions to the Fundamental Law that are contrary to the Convention.
    Committee members also called on Hungary to enact laws that recognize, without any “capacity assessment,” the right to vote for all persons with disabilities, “and provide for adequate assistance and reasonable accommodation.”
    It said the Hungarian authorities should uphold and guarantee in practice the right to vote for persons with disabilities by ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use, “and where necessary, at [the person’s] request, allowing assistance in voting by a person of their choice”.
    The CRPD monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by States Parties. It considered this case under the Optional Protocol to the Convention which gives the Committee the competence to examine individual complaints.

  2. OT:

    it is useful to read today’s interview at Index.hu with F. Gyurcsány just to see how the non-Fidesz-party-media (even if Index is owned by a strongly Fidesz supporting/beneficiary oligarch, it is not a party media and is part of the minuscule media segment that can be considered as independent) approaches and presents him and the Left in general.

    Ridicule, contempt, looking down on, “nyuggerek” (pensioners) and combativeness.

    It is also important to see that the left has no other choice but to face this kind of hostility (although surely there is some merit in the critical aspects), while the right wing simply does not give interviews — it has its own media conglomerate, and so does not need critical and combative journalists.


  3. @”Moses” or, rather Nemzethy of Jobbik – use another board to practice swearing in English.


    You see the pattern here – whenever there is a scandal involving Fidesz, Fidesz creates a similar one involving the opposition. Since the ruling party dominates the media, the majority of the people will not even hear about the original Fidesz scandal, but will hear about the artificial scandal involving the opposition.

    Do Fidesz people steal taxpayers’ money? – so did the opposition before 2010.
    [but there is hundredfold factor – before 2010 there were still checks in the system]

    Does the Fidesz commit electoral fraud? – let us create another one involving the opposition.

    Does a Fidesz MP beat his girlfriend? – look at the opposition.

    Re: local council member from LMP – he had a shouting match or altercation with his former wife – this is what I understood from his interview. There is a missing piece of background info here:

    When custody cases start in Hungary, wife and husband have equal rights to children – in theory – before the first, “temporary” ruling by a judge – months away. The temporary ruling favors the parent who has actual custody, and the permanent ruling seldom changes the “beneficiary” of the temporary ruling. So lawyers in Hungary tell the wife not to let her ex see their common child without her presence to prove her actual custody before the temporary ruling.

    This is not the same case as the drunk Fidesz MP’s, who beat his girlfriend so much that she had to go to hospital for long time.

  4. Being of neither Hungarian ethnicity, that I’m aware of, nor a resident of Hungary, I wonder what Hungarian woman truly feel about this horrible situation. Is it expected that their significant others will beat them…are they raised to believe this is acceptable behavior? Are there any provisions for battered women and children, or child protective services? Is it considered macho to go out and get drunk, and then come home and beat the crap out of the “little women”, or are you condemned by you fellows as the loathsome creature you are? And, what positions do the various churches take in these matters?
    Do we have any Hungarian women,currently living in Hungary in our merry little band – I would love to hear from you.

  5. Ms KKA :
    Do we have any Hungarian women,currently living in Hungary in our merry little band – I would love to hear from you.

    I am Hungarian and I live in Hungary now after nearly 40 years in the UK. There is an element of acceptance amongst Hungarian males and to a great extent femals too, of the ‘private sphere, we do not interfere as we don’t know what goes on between them’ scenario. This, in my view the real reason behind the widespread wife and child beating that goes on in the country. Even people who would not dream of perpetrating physical violence on their relatives will stay away from instances of domestic violence. “None of our business!” Therefore the peer pressure caused by societal disapproval has no role in guiding those who are prone to violence. My experience in the UK taught me that it is not until you have vociferous women’s groups, advocates and then law makers who understand and action women’s centres and pro women laws, that the situation will start to improve. And I am not saying that the UK or the States or any other more enlightened country is perfect, but Hungary has an incerdibly long way to go before people will feel that it is their business to interfere when they hear next door’s husband beating the hell out if his family.

    I don’t believe that there are women’s refuges, but I may be wrong. I have never heard of one. As for the churches, well, you only have to look at those good Christian members of parliament who refuse using the word ‘family’ in relation to violence to know who they blame for any within the family.

    FInally, just one example of how Hungarian women’s view of their role in life can be affected by all this. An English friend of mine told me that one day she invited a colleague in Hungary to dinner and when she spotted her husband tossing the salad, nearly fainted. She could not believe her eyes at a male doing anything relating to food and kitchen work. And this was about 15 years ago and amongst educated middle class people. Draw your own conclusions!

  6. JGrant: There is a non -profit in Hungary which offers help to battered women. It’s not much, but a start.. at least they can call a number and turn somewhere for help.

  7. It was not uncommon for many police Departments in the USA to deal with the abuse of women in an manner similar to the police in Hungary. Things are still far from perfect here, but what improvement there has been was driven by disciplinary investigations of police for their failure to intervene in these cases.

    These cases were reported in the mass media and police saw that in some cases police officers were outright dismissed with loss of pension benefits. In order to protect themselves even if no arrest is made usually because the woman backs off reports are filed. The other change was the use of women police officers to investigate cases and the practice of taking victims to shelters for their immediate protection. We also have advocacy hotlines for abused women to call. Things are far from perfect here, but they are far better than 20 years ago.

  8. The domestic violence is another subject to prove what a suffocating planet we have.
    (Cable television just showed Angel Eyes yesterday – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0225071/)
    The mentality of many people, in all countries is depressing.
    We may try to understand the Swedes.
    Their example could be tried in other places.

    I am so surprised by plenty of Hungarians. They are unable to develop empathy.

    The Galamus csoport is such a beacon of hope.

    The contributors are light years ahead of the usual crowd.

    Support Galamusm but don’t forget to read the daily reports of Eva Balogh.

  9. The conservative males here expect the wife to cook all meals, serve it up and for the food to be to their preferred liking. If he’s in a bad mood he’ll think he’s entitled to act up any way he sees fit. If she’s a conservative she will accept that this is the rule of habit, the rule of the land.

    Something harking back to the conservative moslem role expectations. I think its because wihtin the narrow confines of family the examples have not come from the West, instead from the East. And the majority of the population have not grown up with bourgeois Frech or freedom-oriented revolutionary fervor. Instad, they picked up manners from being trodden on by the Austrian elitist Monarchy or the Russian power-hungry Communist Oligarchs of the ’50s-to the ’80s, the dog-eat-dog mentality.

    The violent aggressive types see that power is value and they want to maintain a servile male-female system.

    This is an inherited attitude among people who have unevolved ethical standards.

    All the above fits into a definitive pattern. The realtively small bourgeoisie have been by and large annihilated by emigration to the west and murdered in an around Hungary. The remaining segment was sent into internal exile by the communists, or slowly disenfracnchised. Finally you land up with a society where the agressively motivated types obtain the power and maintain it deviously by hook and crook. This is the progression of WW II German and Nationalist Ideology, then Communism, Post-communism and now Right-wing Fidesz-and-Jobbik rule.

    There remains this mass of new thinkers who are not all that polished… or smart or all that strong, or all that motivated. But what they inherited is the phenomeneon of bickering among themseves each believing that s/he is right (remember my liguistic theory of “igazam van meaning I hold the one and only truth”) that is another undercurrent of the vast majority of Hungarian society. Consequently unable to coalesce, they will continue to be the losers in this ‘fight to the last drop of blood’.

    And, we’re to be found somewhere in the middle of this haystack, knocking each other out in hand-to-hand combat. Noone really knows if the haystack will go on fire or where the rats and mice (us, that is) are gonna flee.

    That’s it for today, folks. Have a Happy Day!

  10. A lot has changed in the case of protecting women against abusive husbands (and others, like fathersor brothers or …) and I remember well when the first “Frauenhaus” (women’s refuge) opened in my German hometown – and officially nobody knew its address, to make it more dificult for the abusive men …
    I also remember those ugly jokes about this being a “Freudenhaus” aka bordello …

    A bit OT re the activities of men and women:

    When we have Hungarian visitors we often make a kind of show – so they see that it’s me who’s doing the dishes (actually just putting them in the dishwasher …) and also I help with the cooking, making the salads etc, so my wife has more time for her family and friends.

    Btw my original Schwab or Swiss “Wurstsalat” with Leberkäse (a special kind of Párizsi, oven baked), Schwarzwurst (smoked véres hurka) and Emmentaler Käse is a big favourite with the Hungarian family and friends and it’s not very time consuming …
    And of course we bring the raw materials from Germany!

  11. While I agree with the posters before me that Hungarian men tend to be domineering and expect their wives to take care of everything around the house alone, there is some change that has started in the expectations for gender roles, at least in younger generations. I have friends in Hungary where the couple decided to alternate who stayed at home with the small kids and who worked (for a year or so it was the woman, and then a year or so it was the man).

    But the Orban government, as with everything, brings out and reinforces the worst tendencies in the Hungarian society and holds back or trying to reverse any of the small progressive changes that were taking place after 1989. Fidesz is really throwing back the country to the Middle Ages.

  12. A. The below link re Abused Women in Hungary (Domestic Violence) for the Human Rights Watch’s Lydia Gall’s article in English. This article also appeared in Hungarian in HVG.

    B. This below is the link to HRW’s longer 50+ page study (also provided in Eva’s essay) on the general topic

    L. Grant will find details to Womens Shelters in the reference to A.
    Note that there are a good number of shelters for abused women and women-and-their children evidently set up during admisnistrations previous to Fidesz that have not been completely destroyed since.

    Worthy of note is the well-echoed proviso by a Fidesz Parliamentarian that in case a women has 5 children or more (the government is bent on achieving a higher birth-rate…) she can rest assured that no man will beat her. (The logic of that is way beyond my comprehesion…). Like with so much being said by the taho (macho) it’s unlikely to work without improved and correct police attitudes.

  13. Apologies for generalising, but I must state that the women of Hungary are the most mystifying of all. Where are the barricades in support of Dr Gereb, for example? Most of my female acquaintances see outside comment on the appalling situation of women in Hungary as typical outside ignorance. In my experience, they are universally proud of the generous childcare provisions that allow them to stay at home and fulfil their principal roles, whilst caring little for the fact that women occupy almost no positions of power. This stance has become almost a kind of twisted and quasi-feminism.

    My being aghast is just my outsider ignorance.

    After all, Hungary knows best, and the rest, the west, is decadence and against ‘family’.

    A few years ago I was talking with two female ‘liberal’ Hungarian friends about a similar Amnesty report into domestic violence in Hungary. I thought I might be on safe ground. After all these women WERE/ARE liberals.

    “But I am a woman,” said one of them, “and perhaps I LIKE to feel fragile, therefore,” said one of them, in defence of being beaten.

    I lost all hope in Hungary then. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my mind. ‘Sadness’ is not a strong enough word. What has happened here, in this potentially wonderful and beautiful country, to create such a mindset?

  14. Not totally OT:

    Some time ago I saw a statistic re the number of women in the Hungarian Parliament for the different parties – it was unbelievably low. The lowest proportion of course was with Fidesz!

  15. Ivan et al. Yes. Unfathomable. Hungary is a hodge-podge of rationally uinexplainable behavior and when you think you got a grasp of it, the logic slips outa your hand… once again.

    It’s hard to come to terms and to live within these confines.

    It feels like being a member of a very poor country in Africa where laws are practically non-existent (here they are often unenforced). People’s behavior dow not follow any predictable pattern except that it will be the inappropriate reaction to whatever you’ve just said…

    It’s like being roommates with teen-age or young persons in their early 20s where the predictable is the unpredictable. We humans have a need for some semblance of logic or predictability.

    The predictable is that it’s unpredictable.

  16. The text of the previously secret concordat between the Vatican & the Orban government can be found here:

    Click to access 12975.pdf

    It takes time to find all the beef.

    State pays for the teachers of religion in public schools and for the cost of their textbooks

    Generous financial support to Church-run universities

    Church-run libraries and other cultural institutions
    1.5 billion in 2014

    Hungarian State gives a palace in Rome to the Vatican for free.

    1% of the Personal income tax to accepted churches even if
    people do not offer the 1% to churches voluntarily

    Supplementary new support to the church:
    5.4 billion in 2011 + yearly increase

  17. Kalman79 :
    it is useful to read today’s interview at Index.hu with F. Gyurcsány just to see how the non-Fidesz-party-media (even if Index is owned by a strongly Fidesz supporting/beneficiary oligarch, it is not a party media and is part of the minuscule media segment that can be considered as independent) approaches and presents him and the Left in general.
    Ridicule, contempt, looking down on, “nyuggerek” (pensioners) and combativeness.
    It is also important to see that the left has no other choice but to face this kind of hostility (although surely there is some merit in the critical aspects), while the right wing simply does not give interviews — it has its own media conglomerate, and so does not need critical and combative journalists.

    What I’ve find significant is that the Fidesz narrative regarding Gyurcsány’s role became ‘the one and only” truth, everything must be related to that interpretation.

    Quite frightening, really, particularly if one counts in, that it’s only the result of better communication skills – has nothing to do with facts, whatsoever.

    The frightening part is, that the democratic part of Hungarian politics let themselves lead by the Fidesz communication, they only reacting – with less than adequate success-rate – to these unfounded lies, and here we are.
    I still waiting for the question, whenever whoever coming up again with the 2006 riots and their consequences, like : “… and just what the appropriate reaction would be cording to You, dear sir/madame, in case when an organised coup d’état taking place?

    I would really like to hear an answer from them, anyway.

    Perhaps, I am the only one, who knows, but still, I am just as curious.

  18. Am I correct in believing that Ms. Grant was the only respondent to my question who is a Hungarian woman living currently in Hungary? That certainly says a lot by itself. While it was interesting to receive comments from the gentlemen, it is kind of like getting advice on childbirth from a guy, I’m afraid. Do we really have so few woman who fit the category hanging around with the rest of us blowhards and soothsayers…that is a real shame. 😦

  19. I’ve posted this before, but it seems appropriate to repeat, as an example of how ‘normalis’ domestic violence often is in Hungarian society:

    A beautifully produced book of children’s tales being read to our child ended with the ‘hero’ telling his audience that he intended to go home and beat up his wife, adding that he suggested that they all go and do exactly the same thing in their own abodes.

    Unfunny humour, perhaps, but insidious, ingrained and disturbing too. An outsider is nonplussed. Why not more insiders?

    Ms KKA – I appreciate your comments, but I don’t think a male condemning domestic violence can really be compared to a male giving childbirth advice. The latter might be mis-placed, inappropriate, ignorant. The former surely, simply, HAS to BE! And the more who cogently condemn, whatever their gender, surely the better? Having said that, yes, I agree that the lack of female condemnation is indicative of the enormity of this problem in Hungarian society.

  20. I have a class at the Faculty of Law of Eötvös Loránd University about civil and political rights every Tuesday, and this week’s class was largely about the feminist criticism of modern liberal democracy, and the discussion naturally changed into a debate on the current women’s rights situation in Hungary. It involved nearly everything related to the subject – female quotas in legislature, glass ceilings, women having virtually no representation of their interests in politics, women generally being defined in their being different from men… and strangely, no one bothered to bring up the subject of domestic violence, as if it didn’t exist at all. But that wasn’t the only strange thing about the class. One of my classmates, a politically conservative man, started to argue that there was no need for this class at all, as there is no problem with women’s rights in today’s Hungary, after all they can work, they can vote, they can be elected, they can own property, they can study, etc. He didn’t understand the ‘whining’ about glass ceilings, as at his last job both his direct superior and her direct superior were women and he worked under them, he didn’t understand the ‘whining’ about female quotas, as the proposal about them was voted down by the National Assembly, meaning it doesn’t have popular support and women generally are content with ther situations as ‘you don’t see them rioting on the streets for rights they already have.’ He even declared that the general lack of feminist political parties signals that they already achieved anything they could and there was no need for feminism anymore, after all, ‘the moor did his job, the moor may go.’
    Why am I telling all this? Because I was shocked, that in a classroom literally filled with women, no one tried to react to him in any way. We aren’t talking about shooting down his arguments, not even a word was uttered in refutation of his nonsense, just some lone nods. In the end it was me, a man who had to defend feminism and women’s rights while surrounded by educated women who clearly didn’t care about the subject at all. Our teacher, clearly shocked by the scene, asked my female classmates if they really didn’t see any problem with their legal and societal situation, and they shyly answered that this wasn’t their problem, and it is the natural order of things anyway for women retreating backstage, offering moral support and let the strong, protective men do their job. Needless to say, our teacher ended the class with a worried sigh.
    One of my friends told me that last year this particular teacher did a whole semester about the subject and this was also the general reaction from her mainly female students back then. They didn’t even see the need for a class such as this as women already had rights. This is the next generation of Hungarian political scientists and jurists, people.

  21. Ivan :

    Ms KKA – I appreciate your comments, but I don’t think a male condemning domestic violence can really be compared to a male giving childbirth advice. The latter might be mis-placed, inappropriate, ignorant. The former surely, simply, HAS to BE! And the more who cogently condemn, whatever their gender, surely the better? Having said that, yes, I agree that the lack of female condemnation is indicative of the enormity of this problem in Hungarian society.

    I, in NO way, meant any of you fine gentlemen to take offense at my posting, and I am truly sorry if that was the way I came across. My objective was to point out the fact that, perhaps the lack of “qualified women” – I asked for all regulars of Hungarian Spectrum’s large daily readership, and got exactly ONE response – is indicative of the mindset of the typical Hungarian woman in Hungary today…it is easier to just take the beatings and abuse silently than to speak up, and risk yet another beating. Sounds to me like some major consciousness raising is in order a la the 1970’s US women’s movement.

  22. SJGardner :

    Why am I telling all this? Because I was shocked, that in a classroom literally filled with women, no one tried to react to him in any way. We aren’t talking about shooting down his arguments, not even a word was uttered in refutation of his nonsense, just some lone nods. In the end it was me, a man who had to defend feminism and women’s rights while surrounded by educated women who clearly didn’t care about the subject at all.

    What do you think the chances are that the government puts ringers in these classes to spew this ridiculous diatribes if it looks like things are going to “get out of hand” ie a female student doesstand up for her rights? Or, better yet, to take names of students in the class for future use. Do I sound paranoid? Wouldn’t you be if you were a woan in Hungary these days?

  23. I think any kind of conspiracy in those classes is extremely unlikely, given that SJGardner’s post rang true for me on so many levels. The comments made reflect what I hear from women in Hungary whenever this issue is raised, in whatever forum, and also from so-called ‘liberals’ (see my example above). It’s all part of the curse of ‘normalis’ in Hungary – in which being traditional and conservative, not rocking the boat in any way, and staying in the entirely restrictive box that society expects you to stay in, is seen as a positively great thing about the country. It has even been suggested to me recently, by women, that rather than greater representation in the corridors of power in Hungary, what might be needed is simply nicer men to legislate on behalf of women. The 70s movement in America emerged from simmering and justified discontent. I don’t feel any such frustration here – just shrugs and acceptance.

    You’re right though about speaking up. It’s scary now. And I’m sure most people who live in Hungary on a permanent basis do think twice before speaking (and even posting mild criticism on this forum).

  24. @Ivan: “It has even been suggested to me recently, by women, that rather than greater representation in the corridors of power in Hungary, what might be needed is simply nicer men to legislate on behalf of women. ”

    Ha-ha.. that’ a good one.

    @SJGardner: Truly shocking.. I was hoping the situation was maybe getting better among younger educated women. Apparently not so fast.

    @MsKKA: I wonder how many women who live in Hungary just now read this political blog in English. Most of us are in the readership live outside Hungary, or expats living in Hungary, or foreigners married to Hungarians. And then some Hungarians who live in Hungary, but most of them seem to be male. If there are females currently living in Hungary among the readership, then they do not seem to be commenting much at all… but it could be that women in Hungary tend to less involved in everyday politics in general. You see, that’s the men’s job :-))

    I, by the way, am a female , who grew up and spent most of her life in Hungary, but have been living abroad for quite a while. I know exactly the attitude SJGardner described in that class… I used the be like that myself!! Living in the US has absolutely changed me in this respect, and whenever I go home, perhaps what I find most annoying is the archaic sexist attitudes most Hungarians have. Including women.

    I believe it’s going to take a long time for these to change, but I’m optimistic. Perhaps the fact that so many Hungarians started to live abroad may have its benefits too, as living in a different environment truly opens your eyes. I do believe that on the long run it will have some trickle back effect on the Hungarians who stayed in the country, too. I applaud that teacher at ELTE who was teaching that class on feminism and hope that she won’t get discouraged by the lack of response from the students. It is a very important job what she is doing there.

  25. Congratulations, An!

    From my (limited, of course …) experience in Hungary young women really are politically much less active, though often they are well informed. Our young ones read reddit.com and watch Jon Stewart for international news and we often discuss the things going on when they visit us.

    But he’s much more active than his wife – who has to care for the baby, do the household, cooking etc (not when they’re with us, then it’s our turn …).

    Seems to me these traditional values are really ingrained in Hungarian society.


    They both studied psychology in Budapest – but it’s very difficult to find a job in this field …

  26. I loved reading the article and all the comments above,as I think this topic (as well as the one of the drinking culture) are 2 that are very relevant in Hungary,yet which rarely get openly discussed. As an English woman married to a Hungarian man, I have spent enough time in a Hungarian family to see how women are treated,and hear typical attitudes towards them, plus I get a lot of insight from my private students to know that these attitudes change extremely slowly. I hear the same stories,and opinions as I did twenty years ago when I first arrived. I think the high rate of divorce,although universal, is, in part, due to the unrealistic expectations of men towards their women: Yes,they can work,but as long as the supper is on the table when they get home! Women may shrug and accept their lot,but they get tired and disillusioned, even after having the love and hope sucked out of them. And sometimes they leave, if they can afford it. But I know women who only stay in their marriages because they can’t afford to leave. It’s very sad,really. And what surprises me even more is how women collude with the men against other women. Typical example: Hearing 2 older female relatives (of my husband’s) discussing a neighbour whose husband had cheated,and left her for a carer at their child’s kindergarten. After all that, they concluded, it WAS actually the wife’s own fault for spending too much time on their child (who had special needs) rather than the poor husband! And I’ve heard other versions of this story. Another example: Observing an English lesson in which the female teacher told her students the story of being stopped by the police for driving while using a mobile phone. ‘But’ she added ‘She was a Police WOMAN,that’s why she stopped me!’ I find the lack of solidarity between women staggering! So it seems sexist attitudes are as much about women supporting them,as men! Maybe it’s fear,or of not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ as someone mentioned. But, having said all that, many of the couples I know (luckily mine included) have husbands who help with the kids,household,cooking,etc..so not every family thinks the same way. There is hope. One more thing I want to add. Someone mentioned the generous childcare provisions and/or maternity leave that allow women to stay home to ‘fulfil their primary role’ I don’t see that as a negative thing,actually. I, and many of my friends who stayed at home until their children started kindergarten,don’t feel we were oppressed in any way. I think that is actually one of the great benefits for women,as many of them DO want to stay home on maternity leave for the first 2-3 years. Of course,it could be the father, but in most familes the women prefer to. And what’s wrong with that? In The US, the average maternity leave is six weeks,and that is shockingly short. Many American women would feel blessed to have the chance to spend more time with their babies in those crucial early years. It doesn’t necessarily follow that mothers who stay home are oppressed or beaten. It could happen in any household. It’s all about respect for each other,and if that’s missing that the marriage will suffer,regardless of who earns what. And I think the main theme of the article (domestic abuse) is probably more connected to the alcohol problem than with sexist attitudes.

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