It’s hard to decide which government figure was more embarrassing to watch: Injustice Minister Judit Varga, who confusedly said that the rule of law mechanism had nothing to do with the rule of law, as it was only being used against Hungary because of the “child protection law”; or Viktor Orbán, who claimed that the Hungarian government – get this – had actually won by losing at the European Court of Justice.
This whole deceitful performance, on which Fidesz is basing its propaganda, could actually be highly amusing in its absurdity, if it did not otherwise crush people and put the nearly 15 thousand billion forints worth of EU subsidies that our country is entitled to at risk. Although the perception of reality with regard to the rule of law and the ‘child protection’ law obviously depends to a large extent on whether one follows pro-government or objective, opposition media, I feel obliged to draw the attention of citizens blindly believing in Fidesz propaganda to the fact that they are being massively hoodwinked. The homophobic ‘child protection’ law and the insane propaganda built around it were created solely to provide justification for government hysteria and mendacity around the rule of law proceedings. Let me show you what makes this abundantly clear.
Let us look at the events chronologically. An important point of origin is the scandal of Gábor Kaleta, the Fidesz government’s ambassador to Peru, who was busted in an earlier international raid in February 2020, when online news portal formerly known as Index reported that 19,000 images of child pornography were found on his computer. The Foreign Ministry tried to cover up the case (so much for government resentment towards paedophilia), but only succeeded for a short time; in the end, he was sentenced to a suspended prison term and a fine of HUF 540,000, because Kaleta confessed and the prosecution did not ask for a more severe punishment. Understandably, the case caused serious uproar: even Fidesz was forced to make strong allegations after the sneak attempt; nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry has still indeed not disclosed the details of the Kaleta-affair. The governing parties have promised more effective action and legislation against paedophiles, but the Fidesz apparatus, which is otherwise prone to rapid legislation, has not been so quick to act this time. The leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group Máté Kocsis promised to set up a working group of child protection experts and to do serious preparatory work, but this has obviously delayed the process to the point where we have had to wait a year for the announcement of the anti-paedophile amendments. You will never believe what happened in the interim! That’s right, the rule of law mechanism.
A brief digression on the developments going on in parallel: back in May 2018, the then President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker announced the Commission’s proposal for a rule of law mechanism, which was the breakthrough in a long-drawn-out process. In other words, three years before the adoption of the ‘child protection’ law, the mechanism was launched, but its adoption – after much debate – took place well before Fidesz’s legislative proposal: in early December 2020. You may recall that this was when Viktor Orbán blackmailed European decision-makers that if they made the disbursement of EU funds conditional on the rule of law, Hungary would not vote for the EU budget and then everyone would get smacked on the head. It was at that time, in December 2020, that an agreement was reached that there would indeed be a rule of law mechanism, which would enter into force on 1 January 2021, but its launch would have to wait for the Court of Justice of the European Union to rule on its legality. Orbán then said in his cocky Facebook video that “we have averted the threat” and “we have successfully landed.” Well, not at all, rather he got a slap in the face. And not a small one; a big one! At home, of course, he tried to portray it differently in the propaganda press, and managed to deceive his own camp, too. However, he obviously already knew at the time that he would not be able to escape the rule of law procedures and that the European Commission would have the balls to withhold funds even in the meantime. So there had to be a plan, a diversionary tactic to justify the “Brussels attack.” Since the reality, i.e. the severity of state corruption, could not be presented, they had to come up with something else: something simple, understandable and divisive. And so, in time, this is how the amendment to the paedophile law was created. On 18 May 2021, Fidesz parliamentary group leader Máté Kocsis announced on his social media page – in several stages – that the governing party would submit a package of laws to take more effective and stronger action against paedophiles. It is important to remind everyone that two rather significant events took place before this: the sudden resignation of József Szájer, citing “increasing psychological strain”, and the discovery that he was actually fleeing from police officers climbing down a drainpipe; but also, on 11 March 2021, before Máté Kocsis’ announcement, the Hungarian government filed a complaint against the rule of law mechanism with the European Court of Justice. The latter is important for two reasons: on the one hand, Orbán obviously started counting down from this point, and on the other hand, this fact itself already casts a significant shadow over Fidesz statements about the Brussels attack, since it was Fidesz that had taken the case to the court. The ruling of which only became a “political decision” for them after it did not favour them. But let us return to the ‘child protection’ law, which was tabled long after the Hungarian government had filed its lawsuit against the rule of law mechanism, so it is logically impossible that the latter could be the reason for the former. It is also revealing that the homophobic amendments that many had criticized were only included in the original package of laws at a later stage and for a good reason. And you will not believe the unexpected coincidences that have occurred in this regard!
The Fidesz parliamentary group announced that several new bills would be added to the anti-paedophile package already before Parliament almost to the day (in the second week of June 2021), when the President of the Court of Justice of the European Union announced that the Hungarian rule of law case would be decided in an extraordinary and expedited procedure. In other words, Orbán and his mates were faced with the fact that the case would not drag on for years (or at least until after the elections), the slap in the face was coming and they obviously did not want to turn the cheek. Fidesz therefore deliberately included in the relevant law a ban on the presentation of homosexuality, or the propaganda of ‘underage sex-change operations’, which had not been mentioned anywhere or in any way and which were not even minimally present in public discourse, solely as a diversionary operation to avoid an outrageous scandal over the rule of law procedure. So Fidesz was in a hurry, they had to build up their propaganda, get the masses worked up, plant the new campaign theme in their minds, and to do this they needed time, which was getting shorter and shorter due to the expedited procedure. It is not surprising that just five days after the amendments were tabled, the Fidesz majority voted in favour of the package; then came the debates, the protests and the pro-government media service’s campaign.
The events that followed are well known: according to Fidesz, the European Union – and the Western world in general – attacked Hungary because the government would not allow violent gay lobbyists to force kindergartners and schoolchildren to change their gender. Fidesz claims that this is why recovery funds were frozen and why we are under threat of a similar outcome from the rule of law mechanism. It is quite astonishing and also self-revealing that when the European Commission launches an infringement procedure against the Hungarian government for the homophobic legal provision, Viktor Orbán announces almost at the same time that the government will confirm the ‘child protection’ measures by referendum. It is part of the deliberate fabrication of lies that the Fidesz misleads the public at a prime ministerial and ministerial level by claiming that all the debates on the rule of law are happening because of the controversial law. I am not even going to mention that the Commission does not object to any child protection measure in the cited infringement proceedings, but rather to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; in other words, none of the actual related proceedings are about what they say they are about. And it is a blatant lie, if only because of the time difference, that the rule of law procedure is also based on a dispute over the ‘child protection’ law, and even the government itself knows this. Indeed, in the official Commission transcript on the objections to the rule of law that the Brussels panel sent to the Fidesz government at the end of last year, not a single word is mentioned about this homophobic law. However, there is a lot of mention in it of state-level corruption and damage to the independence of the judiciary. Fidesz exposed its own lie when, in its letter of response sent in January this year, sent out – after the deadline and, out of spite, in Hungarian – it does not mention the ‘child protection’ law or the exclusive parental right to sexual education of minors, which Fidesz claims is the basis of all rule of law procedures. It was not included in their response letter either, because the whole case is not about that at all. Because they lied about it.
The grand Orbán plan was somewhat shaken by the European Court of Justice ruling: although they knew exactly what it would contain, it apparently caused some confusion. The reason for this is very simple: because they want to explain the inexplicable with pitiful gibberish. And that can come across as ridiculous. When a thief is shouted at, “Stop, what have you got in your hand?”, it is pathetic if he replies, “I will not have our kindergarteners operated on!” The situation is clear and obvious: where EU money is stolen at state level, it is not safe for it to be. That is the issue and nothing else. Homophobic provocation is about distracting us from reality until the elections. To say nothing of the fact that the fate of nearly 15 thousand billion forints of EU funding depends on who governs Hungary. If we are to have an honourable, transparent and honest government from April, then these funds will be available. If state corruption, the looting of public money and the disregard for European values continue, these funds shall be frozen. That is what the election in April is all about: the fate of these 15 thousand billion forints. Fidesz’s answer to this is sex-change surgery. Ours is NER-change surgery.
After the Hungarian Prime Minister’s landmark 2014 speech in Tusványos proclaiming the illiberal state, I vowed that as a European Member of the European Parliament I would write an open letter every week to warn the public of the regime’s crimes. For the 337th time I am ringing the bells of alarm, because it still seems necessary. And, because, as a radical European democrat, it is my duty to do so.
Member of the European Parliament
20 February, 2022.