homosexuality

Homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Hungary

György Bolgár’s Let’s Talk It Over is a liberal talk show with a huge fan club. I myself rarely miss it. Bolgár comes up with topics that he finds interesting or important and usually adds a comment with a question mark at the end. Today I learned that Ferenc Gyurcsány visited Viktor Orbán’s old dormitory, the István Bibó Kollégium, yesterday. Only students of the college could attend the informal talk. Soon enough a recording of the talk was in the hands of Magyar NemzetThe paper made sure that at least one minute of Gyurcsány’s talk was shared with the readers and presented it as a second Balatonőszöd speech.

What was it that, according to Magyar Nemzet, was such a sin that it can only be compared to the speech that effectively ended Gyurcsány’s premiership? The former prime minister told his audience that his views on cultural matters, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and choice of identity are extremely liberal. “Just to shock you, we are the only party that supports the marriage of same-sex couples and their right to adopt children.” He added that the only reason DK didn’t propose a bill to this effect was because “the socialists would have had hiccups” if they did. The conclusion of Magyar Nemzet was that just as Gyurcsány didn’t reveal the whole truth about the state of the economy before the 2006 election he isn’t revealing the whole truth about the opposition’s position today. If they win the election the Unity coalition will introduce an outrageous bill on same-sex marriage and will have the majority to pass it.

György Bolgár tacked on his usual question to this piece of news, asking his audience whether it was a wise move of Gyurcsány to touch on this “delicate” subject in the middle of the election campaign. The current constitution states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”

The discussion of the subject even in the relatively moderate right-wing press, for example Heti Válasz, shows such a combination of ignorance, antagonism, and false information that one is inclined to think that bringing up the subject was anything but wise politically. Only yesterday Heti Válasz came out with an article headlined “Two Fidesz EU members voted for the proposal of the gay lobbyists.” One can sense surprise or perhaps even outrage that such a scandalous vote could occur in the EU’s Fidesz caucus. The story is a bit old since it was on February 14 that the proposal was endorsed by a large majority of the European Parliament, but I guess better later than never. In the article, according to the short description of it available on the Internet, the proposal among other things “would make it compulsory to spread the popularity of homosexuality already in kindergartens and the member states would be forced to adopt same-sex marriage.” The article mentions that a most likely homophobic civil group, CitizenGO, was collecting signatures to make sure that the proposal would never be adopted. They failed. The rapporteur of the proposal was Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green EP, who is a lesbian activist. Heti Válasz revealed the names of the two Fidesz renegades who voted for the bill. They turned out to be József Szájer and Lívia Járóka. I’m not surprised. Although Szájer is  married, it seems to be widely known that he is actually gay. And Járóka, who is of Roma origin, might be more sensitive to discrimination than the average Fidesz EP.

If the so-called moderate Fidesz outlet, Heti Válasz, takes the unfounded rumors about the propagation of homosexuality and compulsory introduction of gay marriage in the member states at face value, you can imagine what the other right-wing publications say on the subject. But when you actually look at the “Report on the EU Roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” it is a moderate document designed to have easy passage. It simply opposes discrimination and wants to ensure the equality of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. Heti Válasz‘s reporter obviously didn’t even bother to read the document.

So, Bolgár’s question was justified. Was it wise for Ferenc Gyurcsány to bring the topic up at all? Was he again careless and rash? After all, he is now a member of a team that is supposed to show unity. And one of the problems of “Összefogás” is that voters don’t see the kind of unity its name implies. So, I would say, no, it was not a wise thing to do. Not that I don’t sympathize with his position. I do, but with this statement he is opening himself up for another attack from Magyar Nemzet. One can say that it really doesn’t matter what he says or doesn’t, his opponents shower the most outrageous attacks on him anyway. One could say that politicians don’t always have to cater to public sentiment. But there’s a reason that most politicians try to align themselves with the views of their potential voters.

In the United States where state governments and courts as well as the federal government and the Supreme Court are moving to extend rights to the LGBT community, the majority supports the idea of same-sex marriage (54% in 2013). In Hungary according to the latest poll (2007) it is only 30%. If I had to guess, due to Fidesz and Christian Democratic propaganda that number may be lower by now. For instance, anti-gay propaganda can be heard on M1 (Kossuth Rádió) where a long conversation took place about whether homosexuality is a sin. Heti Válasz severely criticized the United States for launching a campaign aimed at Putin’s anti-gay Russia It was no more than hysterics, the paper claimed. An innocent sporting event became the victim of politics. Heti Válasz was on solid political ground on two fronts. It could support the conservative religious position advocated by the government and, now that Hungary and Russia are such good friends, it could come out squarely on the side of Putin’s discriminatory laws against gays.

In any case, Gyurcsány felt that he had to explain himself more fully and therefore gave a press conference today. He didn’t retreat. He repeated that his party is in favor of same-sex marriage but they are in the minority within Összefogás. Just as they are in the minority on the issues of dual citizenship and Hungary’s current arrangement with the Vatican. He added that, if Összefogás wins, DK will not put in a draft bill on the issue of same-sex marriage because they disapprove of the Fidesz practice of legislation by individual MP’s proposals. The government will prepare draft bills to be discussed in parliament and DK there will be in the minority. On the other hand, he added, if Fidesz wins DK in opposition following their heartfelt conviction will put in a such a proposal.

As for the callers to Bolgár’s program, there was one who disapproved of Gyurcsány’s comments and not just for political reasons. He thought that children who are brought up in same-sex households will become homosexuals themselves. On the other hand, a father phoned in who told his family’s story. They found out when their son was 18 years old that he is gay. He has been living with his partner. A friend of theirs, a woman, was left high and dry by the man who impregnated her. It was his son who was present at the birth and the two of them are something of father substitutes for the little boy. He almost wept, and when Bolgár suggested that gay people are just as good as heterosexuals, he said, “No, they are better.”

Two Hungarian films about homosexuality: Falsehood and the truth

While researching an entirely different topic, I encountered by chance a description of a Hungarian-made film called “Coming Out.” On closer observation, it turns out that the film is about “how to come out of being gay”–that is, how to “cure oneself” of being gay. Shortly after the film appeared in November, a reviewer claimed that it “is the most harmful Hungarian film ever made.” He came to that conclusion on the basis of the comments that appeared under a review of the film in Index, which were full of venom, hatred, and anti-Semitic remarks.

I, on the other hand, see it somewhat differently. Yes, it is most likely a harmful film, but not because commenters make ugly remarks about gays, liberals, and Jews. It is harmful because it is a falsification of medical facts. Instead of enlightening the terribly ignorant Hungarian public on the phenomenon of homosexuality, it leads them farther down the road of ignorance.

Some twenty years ago, in the infancy of the Internet, I signed up for two discussion groups dealing with Hungary. One was in English, the other in Hungarian. By now I don’t remember on which one we had a Hungarian psychiatrist who one day came out with the brilliant observation that “homosexuality is like smoking. One can get hooked but one can also quit.” It seems that even twenty years later many Hungarians haven’t changed their attitudes.

The story of the movie is as follows. Erik, an openly gay radio personality, is planning to marry his partner, Balázs. Then comes a motorcycle accident, as a result of which he slowly discovers that he is “in truth” attracted to the opposite sex. Who is the object of his newly found heterosexual desires? His own physician, Linda.

The producer of this film is Gábor Kálomista, a man known for his right-wing sympathies. It received 280 million forints from the fund established by the Orbán government under the supervision of Andy Vajnai, formerly a producer of such serial Hollywood blockbusters as Rambo and Terminator. Vajnai is a practical guy for whom box office numbers are the measure of success. When he arrived as Viktor Orbán’s man in charge of film production, he decided to change the direction of Hungarian filmmakers’ activities. Hungary was known for winning all sorts of international prizes but, Orbán and Vajnai pointed out, nobody went to see these films. They didn’t make any money.

The result of the total reorganization of the Hungarian film industry was that for three solid years no Hungarian film was produced. But then “Coming Out” appeared. Since the money for the production came from the Christian, family oriented Orbán government, one couldn’t expect to see a real “coming out.” Moreover, since the newly organized film industry wanted high ticket sales, the plot had to appeal to the majority, conservative audience. Apparently it worked. By the end of January 110,000 people went to see the movie.

It seems that this pseudo-science is what the Hungarian public wants to believe. They can go home after the movie and discuss with friends and family the “fact” that homosexuality is an illness which can be cured, if necessary by a knock on the head. They can go on and talk in the style of Zsolt Semjén about “bearded liberals” who lead innocent children into sin by luring them into sexual deviance.

This film is a reflection of the generally phony world of Orbán’s Hungary. Falsifying history, falsifying science: all is well as long as the government’s propaganda machine, assisted by the churches, satisfies the needs of the population. Moreover, this is film is just a drop in the bucket. For instance, Péter Róska, a theologian, explains on Magyar Rádió that “homosexual tendencies” are acquired traits because “they haven’t found the homosexual gene.” The whole western world, he continues, is in danger because of the “gender ideology” that is directed by gays and feminists. This kind of pap is being fed to the Hungarian public.

SturmlandIn sharp contrast, a Hungarian-German film, naturally not supported by Andy Vajna’s fund, won top honors in the “first film” category at the Berlin Film Festival. The film, entitled Sturmland/Viharsarok (Land of Storms), is about three gay men wrestling with their sexuality in an unaccommodating environment.  A review I read of the film describes the background as something that “belongs to a forgotten Europe.” A Hungarian football player returns from Germany and gets romantically involved with a local man. Both men endure separate experiences of violence as word gets out about them. In the end the football player is murdered. Berliner Zeitung wrote a very favorable review of the film in which the reviewer emphasized that the movie is about “the dreadful logic of repressed homosexuality and the deadly hatred of homosexuals.”

Two films, two worlds. One is reality, the other reflects the awful emptiness of a mendacious world created by Viktor Orbán and his Christian Democratic allies who have a free rein in matters of education, culture, and film production.

Was Ferenc Kölcsey, author of the Hungarian national anthem, gay?

Although I realize there is great interest in Viktor Obán’s trip to London, I’m going to turn my attention elsewhere today. But before moving on, I would like to call your attention to an interview with Orbán that appeared in The Daily Telegraph today. Some readers of Hungarian Spectrum have already discussed this interview in the comments section, but, if you haven’t read it yet, it is definitely worth taking a look at. I might add here that the prime minister’s office was quick to charge that the Telegraph‘s reporter falsified certain parts of the interview. The specific passage the spokesman referred to concerns the reporter’s question whether “he could become an authoritarian strongman, the Vladimir Putin of his country,” to which he answered: “The risk is there. . . though it is much smaller if Hungary is economically successful.” “He thinks,” the reporter continued, “that circumstances have changed.”

Today I’m turning to a nineteenth-century poet, the author of the lyrics of Hungary’s national anthem, Ferenc Kölcsey (1790-1838), who became a minor online sensation in the wake of a literary historian’s revelation that most likely the greatly revered Kölcsey was gay.

Now you have to understand that the literature on Kölcsey is enormous and there is nothing he ever wrote, as far as we know, that remains unpublished. His early love poems may not have identified the object of his love, but his letters did. Since 1960 his surviving letters, all 420 of them, have been available. Among these letters are several addressed to Pál Szemere, a fellow poet, which indicate that Kölcsey’s love poems were most likely were written to him.

Ferenc Kölcsey, portrait by Anton Einsle, 1835 / Wikipedia.org

Ferenc Kölcsey, portrait by Anton Einsle, 1835 / Wikipedia.org

There were other reasons to suspect possible homosexuality. We know a great deal about Kölcsey’s life but nothing about any female companions. Here and there in some of his poems he talks about a mysterious “girl,” but that girl is nameless and faceless. We also know about his melancholic nature and his references to his unfulfilled desires. But literary historians simply didn’t want to dwell on the secret life of one of Hungary’s great poets. The author of the national anthem’s lyrics was untouchable. At least until now.

Krisztián Nyáry, a literary historian, is in the middle of publishing a series of books devoted to the great love affairs of Hungarian poets and writers. He promotes his books by publishing short “teasers” on Facebook. It was here that the other day he had a post on Kölcsey. Nyáry identified at least two men Kölcsey most likely was in love with. The first was Ferenc Kállay, a schoolmate of Kölcsey in the famous Calvinist Debrecen Kollégium, where the orphaned boy was sent at the age of six. We know relatively little about their relationship because no early correspondence between the two survived. About the second, however, Pál Szemere, a fellow poet and writer, we know a lot. I was able to read Kölcsey’s letters to Szemere and have no doubt that Nyáry correctly analyzed his feelings. The letters are available on the Internet. Szemere’s letters to Kölcsey are not so easy to access. As far as I could ascertain, in this country they are available only in Columbia University’s Butler Library.

According to Nyáry, Kölcsey’s passionate love was not returned by Szemere, who looked upon Kölcsey as a good friend and not more. Szemere was known to be a ladies’ man, and about three years after he met Kölcsey he got married. When Kölcsey learned about the impending marriage, he wrote and sent to Szemere a poem entitled “Jegyváltó” (Engagement): “„Mért e reszkető könyű szememben? / Mért ez édes órán új remény? / Bájos arcod, százszor boldog álom, / A múltban s jövőben nem találom.” (Why the fluttering tears in my eyes? / Why is there new hope in this sweet hour? / Your charming face is a hundred times a happy dream, / I cannot find in the past and the future.) And he finished his letter with these words:  „Ölellek véghetetlen szerelemmel, mint mátkád ölelni soha sem foghat – ez a szív nem a lyánykájé.” (I embrace you with infinite love as your betrothed never will–this heart does not belong to that girl.) I don’t think that he could have been more explicit.

The fact that Kölcsey had homosexual desires is not the important issue. Many poets and writers did, and this is not why I decided to talk about this case. What is important here is Hungarian society’s total inability to handle the issue of homosexuality. Surely, no scholar who ever dealt with Kölcsey’s oeuvre could have missed the obvious signs in his letters to Szemere. Yet they decided to ignore them or even to hide them from the public. The result is a misinterpretation of Kölcsey’s literary work, which centered on his contemplation of issues of love, friendship, and love of country. As Nyáry says, once he recovered from his unrequited love of Szemere, he devoted his life to the betterment of his country. As if he transferred his love from a person to the homeland and its people.

So far only the Internet crowd and the few papers that picked up the story have been buzzing about Kölcsey. I can hardly wait to see when Hungary’s literary establishment will discuss the matter. I’m curious what kind of explanations will be offered.