The Queer in Hungary’s Populist Political Landscape

Since the first election of Viktor Orban as prime minister of Hungary in 2010, the political discourse changed drastically. Orban is a huge supporter of what he calls an ‘illiberal democracy’. Nationalism, a strict migration policy and christianity are the core characteristics of his political ideology. Globalisation, multiculturalism and liberalism seem to be the opposite to his world views.

While Orban’s party -Fidesz- is considered as one of the biggest populist forces in Europe, their organisational structure tells a more nuanced story. Till Today, Fidesz is member of the European Peoples Party (EPP) in the European Parliament. This fraction consists out of christian-democratic parties who were often closely involved in key European integration events. The EPP has been very criticised for Fidesz membership.

Before Fidesz took over, Hungary MSZP-led government implemented a lot of liberal legislation. For instance, in 2008 they introduced registered partnerships for same-sex couples. One may argue that this was mainly because of EU-influence, but the opposite is true. Already since the nineties, the LGBTQI-movement has known a rapid evolvement (Buzogány, 2012). A queer identity has found its entrance in Hungary’s political and civil society for  more than two decades.

But how come a Christian-Democratic party in such a country becomes one of Europe’s biggest populist forces? To understand this, a more in-depth view on Hungary’s political landscape is required.

In 2003 – one year before Hungary’s EU-accession – a new political party emerged, Jobbik. They originated from a group of nonconformist students who did not only want to fight against the liberal ideas of ‘most other students’, but also wanted to confront the Hungarian liberal political landscape of the early 2000s (Jobbik, 2003). Their electoral success was based on a far-right rhetoric targeting minorities. But also on anti-capitalist and anti-globalist issues (Varga, 2014).

One may suggest that Fidesz initially adapted their ideology to the one of Jobbik to prevent Jobbik from further electoral gains. But 10 years after Fidesz took power from Hungary’s social-democrats MSZP, this explanation seems to be rather simplified.

Finding one comprehensive approach to populism is impossible. This three approaches seem to be the most dominant: “populism as a thin-centered ideology [1], as a form of political discourse [2], and as a political strategy [3]” . Populists try to reach a major group of the population. Populism-researchers often try to define this group (Gidron & Bonikowski , 2013, 32). Queer minorities ‘ demands obviously don’t fit within the Hungarian populist agenda.

This paper examines the differences between the three biggest Hungarian political parties – Jobbik, Fidesz and MSZP – trough the eyes of queer theory. Three concepts who determine Hungary’s political debate will be highlighted throughout this paper: ‘nation state’, ‘traditional family values’ and ‘christianity’. The last two are intensely linked to each other in the Hungarian context.

Before looking deeper into the political manifestos of this three major Hungarian political parties, the author will conceptualise the ideas of queer theory on discourse analysis and the three researched concepts as listed above.

Queer theory

Queer theory in political science is a relatively new method of interpreting discourse. As stated by Giffney in 2009 and emphasised by Motschenbacher & Stegu in 2013:

Queer theory is an exercise in discourse analysis. It takes very seriously the significance of words and the power of language.” (Giffney, 2009, 7)

The definition of queer is less important in this research. Queer Discourse Analysis rather focuses on looking to reality trough the eyes of a non-heteronormative body (Motsenbacher & Stegu, 2013, 520).

Therefore, it is important to note that queer political interpretation is at odds with the establishment of categories. For instance, the binary division between ‘men’ and ‘women’ is too simplistic in the eyes of queer theorists. For some, even the division between ‘gay or lesbian’ and ‘straight’ might be too simplistic (Motschenbacher & Stegu, 2013, 523).

Especially in politics, it is rather impossible to find situations which have not been widely influenced by heteronormativity. Even non-heternormative contexts may establish normative identities which are not in line with a queer theory analysis. Motschenbacher & Stegu define homonormativity as “assimilationist practices and outcomes that mirror heteronormativity – developments that are closely related to neoliberal practice.” (Motschenbacher & Stegu, 2013, 524).

Within the scope of this research critical discourse analysis seems to fit perfectly. It can determine the impact of heteronormativity on political issues to determine societal marginalisation (Motschenbacher & Stego, 2013, 528-529).

Nation-state

The social contract of sovereignty may be perceived as the main feature a of a modern nation-state. Many definitions of sovereignty – by major International Relations theorists like Morgenthau and Waltz – suggest that it naturally diffuses in a modern nation-state (Weber, 1998, 83).

What is perceived as “new forms of sexuality” is in the eyes of illiberal populist thinkers a threat to the traditional notion of the state (Ayoub, 2014, 138).

Therefore, queer theorist Cynthia Weber made up the concept of the – performative state -. Her performative understanding of the state sovereignty discloses ‘the natural’ from the definition. Sovereignty is part of the domain of discourse and culture. Deciding, sovereignty is ‘undecidable’ (Weber, 1998, 90).

Weber states: “ … state sovereignty gets performatively enacted through various sex, sexuality and gender codings.” (Weber, 1998, 91). This view on state sovereignty allows one to determine how states deal with sovereignty issues of other states and how they can (re)affirm state sovereignty (Weber, 1998, 92). Dealing with other states may then intrinsically be linked by sex, sexuality and gender performances (Weber, 1998, 93).

Traditional family values and Christianity

Populist perceptions on the nation-state can create an environment which makes it easier for religious groups within the society to counter the mobilisation for LGBT-rights. The historical links between religion and state also explains “queerphobic” behaviour (Ayoub, 2014). Intuitively, one may assume that queer theory and Christianity have no common ground. The biggest portion of Christian doctrines also confirm this (O’Brien, 2004, 184).

It is obvious that traditional family values and Christianity are historically linked to each other. The social movements – and also political parties –  defending these values mostly use two tactics. In the case of Poland, religious groups use a “defend-the-country-tactic”. They see granting rights to sexual and gender minorities as a deterioration of the nations’ strength. Family is seen as the most basic unit within society. In the case of Slovenia, the LGBTQI-countermovement used a “well-being-of-the-children”-strategy. Obviously, this strategy assumes to protect the states’ minors (Ayoub, 2014, 345-346).

Nonetheless, within LGBTQI-communities certain groups of queer christians rose to the forefront of the civil society in many countries. O’Brien explains this by using the notion of  religious individualism : “The way in which individual lesbians and gays reconcile their predicament is often a solitary process, one that reflects aspects of a culture of religious individualism rather than community and congregational support.” (O’Brien, 2004, 186)

A more in-depth reading of Christian doctrines, may suggest that a queer identity within Christianity has always been present. Doctrines about love and acceptance clearly match with the ideas of many queer christians. They eventually believe that the Christian institutions’ reading is  a misperception and that a loving god would ‘have a place’ for them  (O’Brien, 2004, 193-194).

A queer interpretation of Christianity might impact the institutional ideological interpretation of norms within the religion. As O’Brien puts it: “it is an occasion to examine the meaning of Christianity and how best to ‘live’”(O’Brien, 2004, 196).

Hungary’s political landscape

As mentioned in the introduction, this research is going to compare the manifestos of three political parties in Hungary. The researcher picked the three most represented parties in the Hungarian Parliament: Jobbik, Fidesz, MSZP.

Jobbik – Movement for a Better Hungary

As emphasised in the introduction, Jobbik’s ideology is based on both anti-globalism and an ethnic pure Hungary. There rhetoric both focuses on anti-migration/anti-Roma topics and the fight against poverty (Varga, 2014, 791).

The party experienced a key moment in its existence in 2009 – which led them to changing their political message. The Hungarian Guard was banned by a Hungarian court. They were the paramilitary subgroup of Jobbik. Since then, the party moved its rhetorical focus more to economical issues (Varga, 2014, 804).

For this research, two manifestos of Jobbik were examined. The first one is the manifesto on the ‘Founding Charter’ of 2003. The second one is called ‘Manifesto on the Guidelines for a Future Jobbik-led Government’, written in 2017.

The ‘Founding Charter’ establishes the so-called ‘radical’ ideology of Jobbik. The first paragraph already refers to the problems of globalisation. The paragraph mentions the ‘failure of the political parties to consistently represent Hungarian interest’ and suggest that the post-communist state system is not a ‘real democracy’.

From the very beginning, the party links economic deterioration with ethnic diversity. In the second paragraph liberalism is the culprit. In the third paragraph improvement of ‘the situation of the Gypsy community’ is seen as a ‘pseudo-debate’.

Moving on, the second section of the manifesto already paves the way for the Christian-values based ideology of Jobbik. ‘Our Christian churches and communities shall have a key role […] since they have proven […] that they can serve as the final spiritual, mental and cultural strongholds of our nation.’. The family is mentioned amongst local communities, the church and the state as the basic ‘traditional communities’.

Indirectly, the Founding Charter suggests a patriotic, strong and united nation-state with respect to other nation-states. They believe in uniting all Hungarians – including those living in territories outside Hungary. What that exactly means to the Hungarian minorities living in countries like Romania, remains rather unclear.

In an article in Politico last year, journalist Lili Bayer stated that Fidesz is ‘trading places’ with Jobbik. Jobbik is moving more to the center in comparison with Fidesz – in an attempt to remain politically relevant. This could exactly be the reading of the 2017 manifesto – aiming to participate in a government.

Noticeable, no mention is made in this manifesto to the Gypsy-Roma community anymore. In the first paragraph they state that they ‘represent[s] all people wherever they may live’. How they define Hungarians remains rather unclear. Their socio-economical component obviously gained weight in those 14 years.

A pragmatic ‘human-centred’ government over an ‘ideology- and profit driven politics’ is what they aim for. Later, they repeat their believe in a democracy based on Christian values.

Noteworthy, they see their struggle for common values and their fight against migration as their responsibility to not only ‘preserve’ Hungary, but the whole of ‘Eastern Central Europe’. Therefore they call for a closer cooperation between those states.

Concluding, Christian values and a strong traditional Hungarian nation-state seem to be the core of Jobbik’s ideology. While their manifestos often remain vague about the practical content of the statements, one may conclude that Jobbik -especially since 2009 – tries to appeal to the wider population.

Fidesz

For years, Fidesz is the most criticised member of the European People’s Party. Since they came to power in 2010 they led a government that is portrayed -both by critics and academics- as a “right-wing populist party”. Already in 2011 they changed the constitution and appointed Fidesz-friendly judges at the Constitutional Court (Müller, 2013, 140-141).

Electoral defeats led the christian-democratic party to change its ideology drastically. In 2005, -then party leader- Viktor Orban called for a round of consultation (Szabó, 2011, 57). This process was finalised by the release of a new party manifesto at the end of 2007. The manifesto was titled ‘A Stronger Hungary’.

In the first pages they state that Hungary has been ‘betrayed and plundered’ by external forces and the socialist-liberal coalition that was in power at that time. Interestingly, they admit of also been believing in the ideas of globalisation and liberal democracy (Fidesz, 2007, 4-6).

According to Fidesz, the family, the community, the nation and culture are the basis of a modern European society. It is also their opinion that the debate on these basic values regained relevance the last years (Fidesz, 2007, 6).

They believe that the family is the “most important and strongest community unit” (Fidesz, 2007, 6). Thereby they propose on building a family-friendly tax system (Fidesz, 2007, 35). No further definition on the family is given, but one can assume that their views on family values are traditional. In 2011, the Fidesz-led Hungarian government limited marriage to a union between two persons of the opposite sex in the constitution (Kovaczs, 2012 ,193).

The societal and cultural importance of churches in Hungary and Europe is underlined. While they guarantee freedom of religion, emphasis is made on the inherent historic and traditional links of the church in Hungary (Fidesz, 2007, 21-22). Later on, they mention that christian values (together with European) need to be preserved. Especially the link being made to human rights seems to  be interesting (Fidesz, 2007, 40).

Lastly, a strong, independent and sovereign nation-state seems to be a core value of Fidesz’ 2007 Manifesto. Both their domestic and foreign affair proposals prove this. They for instance state that the government should only “represent the interests of the Hungarian state and the Hungarian nation, […] on the other hand, we must also support the aims of Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries in order to strengthen stability in the region” (Fidesz, 2017, 39).

Just like Jobbik – traditional religion, a strong nation-state and traditional family values are the core of Fidesz’ manifesto.  Nonetheless, the party seems to emphasise more on the European integration of its values and does mention the importance of human rights.

Magyar Szocialista Párt – MSZP

Eight years ago, Fidesz took over the power of MSZP. The Socialist party led government coalitions between 1994-1998 and 2002-2008 (Stegmaier & Lewis-Back, 2009, 772). Upon request for their main manifestos, MSZP sent the author of this essay its 2018 Election Manifesto. Eight years after their last time in government, their views on Hungarian politics seem to be very different in comparison with Jobbik and Fidesz.

In contrast to the two other parties being discussed here, MSZP their manifesto seems to be more inclusive. In their proposals on the importance of the capital Budapest they say: “We make Budapest a city where everybody, the people living in the capital, the people living in the countryside and the foreigner feels good.” [translated from Hungarian] (MSZP, 2018, 20).

On the concluding page, MSZP reaffirms its inclusive stance: “Our common homeland, all of us are home, regardless of nationality, religion and sexual orientation.” [translated from Hungarian] (MSZP, 2018, 25).

While the definition of family is not given, they don’t explicitly exclude same-sex couples either. On the family, the manifesto only mentions more profitable taxes for families (MSZP, 2018, 18) and  budgetary help for families with their households (MSZP, 2018, 12).
The freedom of religion gets affirmed by the party (MSZP, 2018, 25), no further references are made about religious traditions.

If it comes to MSZP’s perception on the relevance of the nation-state, they pertain a more liberal view. In their opinion, the Hungarian interest can only be met through further European integration. Therefore they name explicitly the European Union and its member states as main partners – but also NATO is seen as an unneglectable partner (MSZP, 2018, 24).

Intuitively, one could conclude that MSZP is on the total opposite side of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, one should also note that concerning social rights Jobbik and Fidesz also are in favour of more left-wing proposals. Their biggest differences is on how MSZP sees civil issues like LGBTQI- and women rights.

Conclusion

This essay does not only examine the question to what extend the political landscape in Hungary is differentiated between populist and traditionalist actors, but also examines to what extend queer theory can explain the contemporary populist political landscape in Hungary.

Direct links between queer theory and Hungary’s populism are difficulty to draw. Nonetheless, from the analysis of the manifestos one can indirectly distract that sexuality and gender shape the debate.

First, the perception on the nation-state is rather traditional and realist – both by Jobbik and Fidesz. At the other hand, MSZP pertains a rather liberal point of view – with European cooperation as one of its core values.
The three parties acknowledge the importance of history and culture for Hungary. These are also one of the features Cynthia Weber uses to define sovereignty in her ‘Performative State’-concept (Weber, 1998). More traditionalist stances on LGBTQI-demands are sometimes grounded in an ideology of defending the nation of the deterioration of the nation’s core traditional values (Ayoub, 2014).

Second, all three parties acknowledge the fact that the debate on the family is a current debate. While the manifestos of Jobbik and Fidesz remain rather unclear on how they define the family, their contemporary political discourse suggests a rather traditional view. At the other side of the political spectrum, MSZP explicitly includes people from sexual minorities in their core values.

Both Fidesz and Jobbik underline the importance of Christian values. Intuitively, one can assume that Christian values automatically exclude the demands of the LGBTQI-community. Nonetheless, the work of O’Brien shapes another view: a view wherein the LGBTQI-believers have the ability to influence Christianity (O’Brien, 2004).

Overall, even when important actors in the Hungarian political landscape deny the importance of gender and sexuality, it is difficult to deny that queer elements do play a role in the political debate in Hungary.

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