Feminism in Hungary

The Central Statistical Office made a surprising announcement today. As a result of car production, a good harvest, and an uptick in the construction industry the Hungarian GDP grew by 1.7% in the third quarter of the year. On the basis of this data the government predicts continuous, sustained growth; a few others expressed fear that the upsurge signals only a short-term improvement. Since I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on this unexpected news, I’ll turn to a totally different topic–feminism.

Let’s start with the fallout from the domestic violence case against József Balogh, a Fidesz member of parliament. Once his immunity from prosecution was lifted at the urging of the prosecutors, he admitted that it wasn’t the poor blind komondor who was responsible for his partner’s broken cheekbones. Consequently, Balogh was ousted from the Fidesz caucus and also lost his membership in the party. However, he didn’t lose his right to remain a member of parliament as an independent.

Demokratikus Koalíció’s female members, Ágnes Vadai and Erika Szűcs, were not satisfied and protested in parliament. The result? László Kövér, president of the House, fined the two the maximum 130,000 forints or $587. The two women are outraged. For anti-Semitic remarks Kövér fined a Jobbik member only 50,000 forints in the first instance and 60,000 in the second. Moreover, the drunk István Pálffy, who disturbed the work of parliament more than they did, wasn’t fined at all. As far as I know, only opposition members were ever fined by Kövér.

But that was not all. The fine had to be sanctioned by the members of parliament. Fidesz members were united. Even the 20 women in the Fidesz caucus voted for Kövér’s very stiff fine. If you recall, a year ago when another Fidesz member of parliament, István Varga, made an outrageous remark about the link between the number of babies in the family and domestic violence, Antal Rogán and Gabriella Selmeczi expressed their strong opposition to the ideas expressed by Varga. Then the women members of the Fidesz caucus still showed solidarity with the female victims of domestic violence. By now this solidarity has vanished: they now follow the lead of the party which, it seems to me, feels somewhat threatened by the women’s issue. The party, especially lately, has acquired the unsavory reputation of being anti-woman. One must also add that József Balogh voted for the stiff fine of the two women!

The accusation leveled against Fidesz is not exactly groundless. Here are a few examples from pro-government sources. A journalist who writes extensively in right-leaning publications finds the worlds of Ágnes Vadai and József Balogh on a par. He is sick and tired of all that talk about women being the victims of domestic violence when a study by a Hungarian female criminologist shows that 40% of the victims are actually male. Moreover, women are the ones, more than men, who physically punish their children, and they are especially harsh on their male offspring. He also accuses the female activists of rendering “the lives of abused women, children and men more difficult.” Men who are being systematically humiliated in this hysterical campaign will “feel a kind of solidarity with those who beat women.” They will think that they are innocent and they were only slandered. He ends his piece by saying that “the whole country would have been better off if Vadai and other amazons of the Demokratikus Koalíció had stayed in the kitchen.”

Let me add here that in the U.S., according to most studies, women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%. I doubt that Hungarian men are meeker and more defenseless than their American counterparts, and therefore the 40% figure the Hungarian female criminologist came up sounds unlikely. Admittedly, it is possible that the number of cases of abuse against males is higher than reported due to men’s reluctance to admit being beaten up by a woman.

Or here is an article in Magyar Nemzet about a women’s congress that was organized by the Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Szövetség (Hungarian Women’s Interest Group). The author is a woman, Ágnes Győr, yet she is absolutely gleeful that fewer people showed up at the conference than expected and therefore, according to her, the organizers had to ask people to sit closer together in order for the crowd to look bigger. She pointed out that the audience came from the same circle of people, intimating the heavily liberal nature of the gathering. Therefore, she “forgets” to mention participants who didn’t come from this “charmed circle.” Actually, all parties were represented. For instance, Ildikó Gáll, neé Pelcz, Fidesz EP member, was also there.

Although she mentions the name of Danuta Hübner, who sent a video message to the conference, she was reluctant to reveal that Hübner is a member of the European People’s Party’s caucus in Strasbourg, the same caucus to which Fidesz belongs. She emphasizes, on the other hand, that Hübner is the “prime minister of the Polish female shadow government.” Let’s make her look ridiculous, I guess.

On the other hand, she did have a few good words to say about the guest of honor, Eve Ensler, the American playwright and activist, author of The Vagina Monologues. Lately Ensler created “One Billion Rising,” a global protest campaign to end violence and promote justice and gender equality for women. Hungary joined the One Billion Rising movement, but as the reporter of Magyar Nemzet put it, “here because the organizers were locals, the verve and vitality disappeared, only the trite messages of liberals remained.”

Naturally, an Internet site called Nőkorszak (Age of Women) had a different take on the gathering. They claim that the congress opened to an audience of 1,000.

A reporter from 444.hu admitted that he had never seen so many women, and only women, in one place. He also noted that it must be terrible to be a woman in Hungary, “especially if she has some ambitions.” He admitted that he wouldn’t want to be a woman in Hungary.

Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), Együtt14, Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), and Lehet Más a Politika (LMP) would like to see more women in parliament, and therefore they suggested setting up quotas. They believe that without such quotas nothing will change, because the current male-dominated parties will never of their own volition put up a sufficient number of female candidates to have a more gender-balanced parliament. Most likely they are right. The number of women in parliament has actually decreased in the last 23 years. Naturally, Fidesz is dead set against the idea. Although MSZP, which by the way was represented by a man, was less forthcoming on the issue, one got the distinct impression that the socialists are against the idea of strict quotas.

On the other hand E14-PM, which received the right to name candidates in 35 electoral districts, picked 10 women candidates. They announced their resolve to establish a 30% quota for women. DK came out with 106 names, out of which I found 13 women. LMP currently has 4 women members out of the seven-member delegation. As for Fidesz-KDNP, I would be surprised if in the next parliament the party would have more female representatives than it does this year.

Hungarian women, even those who are active supporters of women’s rights, can sometimes seem almost apologetic about their views. Márta Mészáros, a Hungarian scriptwriter and film director who was one of the principal speakers at the congress, told her audience that on the way to the congress the taxi driver, when he heard where she was heading, asked her whether the participants will all be feminists. To which she proudly answered: “I don’t know, but I’m not a feminist. I only fight for the equality of women.” I guess she never bothered to look up the meaning of the word feminism. Any dictionary could tell her that it means “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”



  1. So the Hungarian society still clings to the KKK-concept for women (Kinder, Kirche, Küche) which shows to me that it’s still underdeveloped though there are some exceptions.
    I know afemale lawyer, an architect and of course many doctors – even our vet is a very nice and professional young woman.

    But in politics ? Around 10 % are women in parliament – as usual only the Greens aka LMP strive for equality between the sexes, just like in Germany where they have a rule on that.

    Oh well, I wonder if Hungary will ever develop …

    Totally OT (but fitting in a way …):

    Yesterday we watched a film on DunaTV from 1989: Legényanya – really funny and sad at the same time. Does anyone here know that film ? The story is really crazy of course – as in many Hubgarian films. It seems to me in the tradition of A Tanu and Egeseges Erotika, critical of both the socialist system, the Hungarian society in general and the church …

    Is there a site (in English!) where these films are discussed or would it even be a topic for
    Eva’s blog – maybe a guest article ?

  2. Interesting point at the end, Eva, about not wanting to call yourself a feminist. I too have uttered the same words: ‘I’m not a feminist, but….’ somehow,it has become a dirty word, synonymous with men-hating,radicalism,etc..
    I always felt that there had never been a feminist movement as such in Hungary. Even the word itself ‘feminism’ is not often used in this day and age (but I may be wrong) Strange that it seems to be coming up more and more nowadays in Hungary,whereas in other countries you hardly hear it mentioned anymore,maybe because there is less to fight for,perhaps women feel that they have already achieved a good level of equality.
    Another thing: When I first arrived in Hungary in the early nineties,from the outside it looked as if there was actually more equality than in the UK. Women held good jobs,were well-educated,all drove (I knew many women in the UK who never learnt to drive,me included!) and it all seemed pretty liberal. But my ideas changed when I saw what really went on in the family,and how strongly defined the roles were, and how women especially were expected to toe the line. Every girl had to learn and follow the ways of her mother (cook,clean,etc..) while the men and boys sat on their butts reading the newspaper! I was even given a set of saucepans by a well-meaning relative (maybe they thought I’d left all my pots and pans in the UK,that’s why I didn’t cook very often!) I often wondered if women were happy with all these expectations,and after 20 years of coming and going in Hungary,I’m still not sure,although I hear a lot of complaints from my female friends that their husbands don’t help out,and that they are expected to do everything around the house,and with the kids,as well as work full time. But there are also lots who don’t live like that,so maybe things are changing for the better,and will continue to do so,albeit slowly.

  3. wolfi :
    So the Hungarian society still clings to the KKK-concept for women (Kinder, Kirche, Küche)

    Don’t be silly. Kinder? In a society where the number of live births has been in decline for more than three decades, currently standing at less than half the 1975 figure? (And Kirche? In a country where only 13% of the population goes to church at least once a month?)

    Society doesn’t exert any pressure whatsoever on women to have children these days. Politicians do, because they know that the country’s shrinking and aging population is headed for a disaster. But their efforts have been fruitless – and will remain so until the Hungarian society realises that it is in its vital interest to reproduce and renew itself. Alas, when this happens, it will likely be too late.

  4. @Tryker: “Society doesn’t exert any pressure whatsoever on women to have children these days.”

    I guess you’ve never been a woman in your 30s, when everybody around you (friends, colleagues, family) asks you when you are going to have kids. And why you don’t have any. And when you go to your OB-Gyn doc, you never heard some disapproving comments of still not having kids. Right, no pressure whatsoever.. I bet single guys don’t get the same questions (not in their 30s, and not later… if a guy doesn’t have kids, that’s somehow not so alarming).

  5. Tyrker :

    Society doesn’t exert any pressure whatsoever on women to have children these days. Politicians do, because they know that the country’s shrinking and aging population is headed for a disaster. But their efforts have been fruitless – and will remain so until the Hungarian society realises that it is in its vital interest to reproduce and renew itself. Alas, when this happens, it will likely be too late.

    People will decide on their own to have children when they think that their prospects are brighter than it is now. I’m not surprised that couple are reluctant to have children nowadays.

  6. @Tyrker – Au contraire, society puts a lot of pressure on people to be in a relationship, then marry and then have kids. For some reason the prospect of people not following this routine is very scary for Hungarians, especially in rural areas.

  7. Yes, our young ones have been together almost 10 years, but just couldn’t afford kids – i e they lived in a small apartment with the girl’s mother, had just enough money to make ends meet and pay back their university tuition loans …

    They didn’t even think of marrying!

    Only when my wife and I started to support them a bit did the idea of starting a family look real – and that took several years …

  8. Tyrker :

    Society doesn’t exert any pressure whatsoever on women to have children these days. Politicians do, because they know that the country’s shrinking and aging population is headed for a disaster. But their efforts have been fruitless – and will remain so until the Hungarian society realises that it is in its vital interest to reproduce and renew itself.

    Ponzo Pension Plans

    The planet already has 7.5 billion people and cannot sustain them all. Reproducing still more future pensioners in order to sustain the impending ones strikes me as similar to increased borrowing to sustain burgeoning debt — whether in Budapest, Berlin or Washington…

  9. tappanch :
    Election fraud is in preparation for 2014:
    nepszava. hu/cikk/1003136-tomegesen-jonnek-az-aprilisi-lakosok

    Even if it were true (it is not), this is not a fraud because it is completely legal.

  10. Johnny Boy: Sure, with 2/3 in the Parliament Orban can make any fraud technically “legal.” And that’s exactly what he is doing.

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